The race is on to find a new SNP leader and first minister of Scotland.

Humza Yousaf announced he was stepping down on Monday after little more than a year in the hot seat.

He intends to remain in the two posts until a successor is found.

Former deputy first minister John Swinney is the first to announce he intends to enter the race.

Ex-finance secretary Kate Forbes had been tipped to join him, but has since announced she does not intend to stand and will throw her support behind Mr Swinney.

Who is John Swinney?

Edinburgh-born Mr Swinney has spent a year on the backbenches after he stepped down as deputy first minister when Nicola Sturgeon resigned in 2023.

The 60-year-old first joined the SNP in 1979 at the age of 15. He became a prominent figure in the party’s youth wing before climbing the ranks to become the SNP’s national secretary at the age of 22.

Mr Swinney has been an MSP since the Scottish parliament’s inception in 1999, serving North Tayside, and previously representing the same constituency at Westminster in 1997.

Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Alex Salmond in 2011. Pic: PA

The Perthshire North MSP, who was also finance secretary under Alex Salmond’s government, is said by his supporters to have the experience needed to lead the country following Mr Yousaf’s departure.

He took over from Mr Salmond as SNP leader in 2000, but resigned in 2004 following poor European parliament election results.

Under Ms Sturgeon, he occupied several ministerial offices, including education secretary, COVID-19 recovery secretary and again in finance – taking over from Kate Forbes during her maternity leave.

During his time as Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, he cemented his reputation as a dogged defender of his boss, as well as an SNP stalwart.

Nicola Sturgeon MSP and John Swinney MSP during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday January 11, 2024.
John Swinney is a close ally of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Pic: PA

However, he faced two close no-confidence votes in Holyrood, first over the handling of school exams during the pandemic, and then his initial refusal to publish legal advice during the inquiry into the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

He ruled himself out of the 2023 leadership race to replace Ms Sturgeon, citing that he had to put his young family first.

Within hours of Mr Yousaf’s resignation, several senior figures within the SNP voiced their support for Mr Swinney, including the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, education secretary Jenny Gilruth, and MPs Pete Wishart, Ian Blackford and Alyn Smith.

John Swinney speaks during a press conference at the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh.
John Swinney announcing his leadership bid. Pic: PA

Announcing his intention to enter the SNP leadership race, Mr Swinney admitted that his party is “not as cohesive as it needs to be” to achieve its goal of Scottish independence.

He added: “I believe I have the experience, the skills, and I command the trust and the confidence of people across this country to bring the SNP back together again and get us focused on what we do best – uniting Scotland, delivering for the people and working to create the best future for our country.”

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John Swinney announcing his leadership bid. Pic: PA

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If elected, Mr Swinney said he wants Ms Forbes to “play a significant part” in his government.

He said: “She is an intelligent, creative, thoughtful person who has much to contribute to our national life. And if elected, I will make sure that Kate is able to make that contribution.”

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Yousaf warns against toxic leadership contest

Nominations for SNP leader close at noon on Monday.

Prospective candidates will have to gain the support of 100 members from 20 different SNP branches to qualify for the contest.

Any potential ballot will then open at 12pm on Monday 13 May and will close at noon on Monday 27 May.