John Swinney swearing in Square

Swinney’s Government starts as damaged goods

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT is a reputationally challenged disaster-zone, struggling beneath myriad policy-outcome failures. There is a good reason John Swinney has emerged as SNP leader and new First Minister, unopposed. The leadership crown has become something of a poisoned chalice. The SNP has sunk so low nobody with a political future wishes to lead it.

Despite the party rallying around yesterday’s man, Swinney himself undoubtedly knows he isn’t the man for the top job. Just last year he declared he wasn’t up to it. Declining to run after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation he said his party “needs space to allow fresh talent and fresh thinking to come to the fore”. He added it was important “that somebody else take the party forward.”

It was noticeable Shona Robison, Humza Yousaf’s Deputy First Minister, quickly ruled herself out. When Jenny Gilruth’s name was touted she declined the opportunity. Kate Forbes, a woman with a political future, tentatively held her finger in the air, listened to close allies and opted to sit this one out.

The men in grey-kilts quickly moved to ensure the SNP sang from the same hymn sheet. We witnessed a rallying around the ‘party elder’, the ‘safe pair of hands’. But perhaps Honest John should read Shakespeare’s ‘Friends and Flatterers’?

Every one that flatters thee

Is no friend in misery.

Words are easy, like the wind;

Faithful friends are hard to find:

Every man will be thy friend

Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;

But if store of crowns be scant,

No man will supply thy want.

 The SNP faces an approaching General Election risking a relative wipeout as the binary equation of ‘yes = vote SNP’ finally breaks down. Scottish Labour is making gains at the SNP’s expense with pro-independence voters as they realise Scotland is in decline after 17 years of governance of which yesterday’s man John Swinney was a central architect.

Eyeing his comrades around the cabinet table, Swinney will likely wonder how superficial their support for him truly is. How many are providing words of flattery in the expectation the SNP government is already sunk – two years before the 2026 Holyrood elections? It is rare to find good friends who stay with us in times of adversity.

In Henry IV, Part 2 – Act 3, scene 1, King Richard III complains about his inability to sleep as war approaches:

And in the visitation of the winds,

Who take the ruffian billows by the top,

Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them

With deafing clamor in the slippery clouds

That with the hurly death itself awakes?

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose

To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,

And, in the calmest and most stillest night,

With all appliances and means to boot,

Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

 King Richard bemoaned how even the page boys and cabin boys could sleep, whereas he himself was cursed with worry and sleeplessness.

For John Swinney the war and worry approaching is a looming general election defeat by years-end, amid the headwinds of an SNP government no longer delivering desirable outcomes.

Scotland doesn’t require flashy policy initiative announcements; it requires competent delivery of existing services. Perhaps this explains why his announcement as effective SNP leader was so budgeted?

As First Minister John Swinney will likely soon discover an inability to sleep easy. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown because a king has to take the responsibility for what happens. Kate Forbes, a politician with a future still ahead of her, could see the writing on the wall for this incarnation of the SNP in power.

The sand has almost run through the time glass, and public patience is almost out. According to a March 26th Ipsos poll only 32% of Scottish voters believe this government “deserves” to be returned to power. And Yesterday’s man John Swinney has been a central architect of the last 17 years of Scottish Governance.

Wrecking Scotland: how the nationalists broke the economy

Humza Yousaf’s resignation and the coronation of John Swinney marks an important milestone in the collapse of the SNP. Multiple factors are now converging and the SNP find themselves in a torpor.

Three First Ministers in little over a year, the men in grey kilts ensured that was how things were to be. Yesterday’s man hardly speaks of renewal, instead an inevitable blast from the past is the best the governing party can now muster-up.

And it’s little wonder why nobody in the government wants to lead this party, just look at its record. Scottish politics has rarely been so unedifying as the SNP cabinet ministers scramble to duck the top job.

Let’s dispense with the bizarre SNP-Green pathos and review how the nationalists succeeded in wrecking the nation’s economy. Yesterday’s man should not be permitted to forget any of it. This record is John Swinney’s record.

It’s time we talk about the SNP & John Swinney’s record on taxation and the economy.

Tax and spending with ‘honest’ John

Honest John served as Deputy First Minister from 21 November 2014 – 28 March 2023, also acting Finance Secretary from 16 July 2022 – 28 March 2023.

This is a man who has been at the beating heart of Scottish Government decision making. As recently as September 2022 he was announcing £500m reduction in ministers’ fiscal plans. This was followed by a further £615m of spending cuts that November. At the time Swinney attempted to shift blame to Westminster, claiming these were “not decisions we would wish to make, but in the absences of additional funding from the UK Government.”

Only problem is the SNP’s addiction to overspending and overtaxing is well documented. The Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) reports reveal a story of a Holyrood government addicted to welfare largesse without any functional plan as to how to pay for it. In Feb 2020 the SFC warned the Scottish Government would face fresh responsibilities as welfare powers were devolved:

“The Scottish Budget continues to grow in size and complexity as more of the fiscal framework comes into operation for the first time. The Scottish Government will become responsible for a further £3 billion of social security payments from April 2020.”

Let’s fast-forward to the SFC’s May 2022 forecasts. ScotGov had introduced the Child Disability Payment and the Adult Disability Payment. The implication being the SNP had greatly expanded on Westminster funded welfare and social security programmes. As the SFC repeatedly warned over the years, any welfare spending over and above the Block Grant Adjustment (BGA) had to be found by the Scottish Government itself. In short, if the SNP wanted to be more generous than Westminster that’s fine, but just know the SNP’s additional largesse has to be funded by Holyrood.

As the May 2022 SFC revealed, “Scottish Government spending above the funding received is forecast to increase from £0.5 to £1.3 billion”

Putting it simply, the SNP by May 2022 was warned its social security decisions were opening up a fiscal gap which “must be met from its wider budget”.

Yet, by November 2022 John Swinney was attempting to pass the buck onto Westminster? Not-so-honest John was taking voters for fools and playing fast and loose with the fiscal and economic realities.

Fact 1: the SNP had long called for welfare powers to be devolved, and by 2020 they mostly were.

Fact 2: the SNP Government knew the BGA going forward would only cover UK welfare spending, anything above that and it would need to fund itself with the new tax varying powers

Fact 3: the SNP introduced a series of generous welfare programmes without bothering to think how to pay for any of it.

Fact 4: not-so-honest John decided to just blame London for the tax and spending gaps resultant from decisions made by the government he was deputy First Minister of.

In March 2022 I was already writing articles for ThinkScotland warning about this bleak picture. At the time I said,

“Scotland faces a £417m income tax revenues shortfall, despite already taxing the richest more than in England. And add to that the Scottish Government’s social security benefits are already expected to be £760 million more than the corresponding funding received. So that means by 2026-27 £760m more social security spending than received via the Block Grant Adjustment coupled with a £417m income tax revenue shortfall.”

That was then, this is now. While John Swinney was busy passing the buck onto ‘the Tories’, the government for which he was Deputy First Minister (and later Finance Secretary), has attempted to remedy the income tax revenue collapses the SFC forecast by hiking up the national tax burden.

Tax flight amid tax hikes

Holyrood has enjoyed the powers to set its own tax varying powers since 2016 and the SNP has used it to the fullest. Amid firebrand nationalist rhetoric and faux-progressive cos-playing this administration has produced a brain drain and tax flight.

HMRC analysis reveals 1,000 top earners fled Scotland to south of Hadrian’s wall as a consequence of the SNP’s predilection for over-taxing folk. An immediate consequence of changes it imposed in 2018-19 resulted in our nation haemorrhaging an estimated £61 million in tax receipts.

As top earners flee and revenues evaporate, Scotland falls further behind the rest of the UK in terms of tax competitiveness.

By way of a concrete example, if you were earning £80,000 a year and lived in Dumfries, you will soon by taking home £2,346 less each year than your friend who lived in Carlisle. It raises the question: why stay in Dumfries? For too long these tax questions have been treated as academic. But we urgently need to confront reality; top earners are now reacting to exactly this sort of scenario and we’re the poorer for it.

Matters are hardly likely to improve as Swinney emerges as successor to Humza Yousaf’s short-lived premiership. The newly announced tax-band changes plotted by the Scottish Government will see those earning £26,562 paying even more than those in England.

At risk of pointing out the obvious, the UK treasury confirms the new migration of top earners away from Scotland amid the tax hikes “would be consistent with economic theory.” Well, indeed, it would. It’s also consistent with predictable human nature.

After 17 years of the SNP Scotland now has no fewer than six income tax rates compared to just three south of the border; and, thanks to a lower salary threshold, around 500,000 Scots are dragged into paying the higher rate.

One potential SNP challenger to Swinney (turned loyalist) Graeme McCormick hailed Swinney’s return to leading the SNP as “A fresh start for our members”. Yet this is the same John Swinney who has served in each SNP cabinet except for Humza Yousaf’s 12-month interregnum. These tax and spending failures are his record.

Yesterday’s man rising to the First Ministership of a government he’s been at the heart of for 17 years is about as fresh as finding a mouldy piece of bread in the back of the fridge. And likely will prove about as useful in solving the nation’s economic problems as a broken compass in a dense fog.


As Humza falls, Swinney now finds himself pressed to reverse the business tax hikes, overregulation and anti-business policies of the SNP government.

David Lonsdale of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said there needs to be a return to an “expanding economy”, as it “is good for living standards and job prospects as well as government revenues.” In the Herald he pleaded central “to this should be an economic growth plan which eases the burgeoning regulatory burden, scraps the mooted business rate surtax on grocery stores, and finally delivers on the pledge to restore business rates parity with England for medium-sized and larger commercial premises.”

Unfortunately for Mr Lonsdale and the SRC, this is a government which has had John Swinney at the heart of it, not believing in economic growth or economies of scale. Instead Sturgeon, Yousaf, Swinney all agreed what Scotland really needed was a ‘wellbeing economy’ instead…

On April 29th I made exactly this point when appearing on UnTribal Podcast. Scotland is being governed by politicians who regard GDP as an anachronism, and insist Scottish businesses should emphasise ‘happiness indices’ over economies of scale.

A previous Think Scotland article explores this is detail, but the practical consequences of this economic illiteracy can be readily seen. If we look, we can see why SNP (and its ‘Green’ helpers) prefer to dismiss GDP.

Our GDP per person growth under the SNP – according to ONS data – is slow compared to nearly every other UK region:

As if this weren’t bad enough, Scotland’s productivity rate is lower than the rest of the UK. And our gross domestic product per person is increasing slower than in England. Meanwhile the Office for National Statistics reports productivity output per hour of labour fell at three times the rate of England.

The CBI/KPMG Scottish Productivity Index from 2022-23 confirms this isn’t something newly discovered in March 2024. Back then the Productivity Index found “While labour productivity in terms of output per hour worked increased by 1.2 percent in the UK, Scotland’s productivity was unchanged in 2021.”

Throughout the lifetime of Humza Yousaf’s ‘wellbeing economy’ shtick – inherited from Nicola Sturgeon – the CBI/KPMG report was declaring to anyone bothering to read it that “It’s clear Scotland boasts a wealth of human capital, but we’re not making the most of it”

Should we find any of this a surprise given we’re led by nationalist politicians who dismiss GDP as an anachronism, deem economies of scale a second order priority?

According to the latest data (October 2021 – September 2022) Scotland’s percentage of economic inactivity due to long-term sickness increased from 29.6% in 2021 to 31.9% in 2021. An increase of 2.3 p.p in less than a year.

For those interested in the comparison, the UK average is 25.8% and England’s 24.2%. Scotland’s 31.9% means in regard to economic inactivity due to long-term sickness we’re failing against our benchmark comparisons. The short- and longer-term trends look bleak.

The SNP’s mishandling of the cost-of-living crisis, longer for NHS treatment waiting times is leading to conditions worsening to such an extent that more people are becoming eligible for disability benefits. NHS waiting time targets being missed, cancer care delays, abysmal mental health access are all contributors resulting in many Scots being sicker.

If we had a competent government much if not all of this could be avoidable and the economic inactivity crisis could be brought under a firmer control. As things stand, it’s a worrying indicator as to the economic health of the nation.

On 22nd March 2023 John Swinney spoke to Holyrood of “this government’s determination to pursue a wellbeing economy” which would track broader outcomes beyond GDP. Swinney echoed Scottish ‘Green’ MSP Maggie Chapman who had previously insisted “We must move away from the artificial and archaic framework of GDP if we are to deliver the effective, revolutionary, transformative economy that is fundamentally human”

Scotland labours beneath poor per person growth, unchanging productivity and a “wealth of human capital” that “we’re not making the most” of. Why? Because we’re stuck with an SNP government dominated by thinking like Swinney and Chapman who dismiss GDP as “archaic”.

And for the record, Gross domestic product (GDP) is, putting it so simply even Ms Chapman and ‘honest’ John might understand it, is the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period. In short, Swinney can’t fix what ills Scotland’s economy because he’s signed up to the faux-progressive Scottish ‘Green’ insistence that GDP is ‘archaic’, even though it usefully provides policy makers with an economic snapshot of a country.

Yesterday’s man doesn’t represent a “fresh start” for Scotland, merely more of the same.


Imagine if Conservatives had brought back William Hague to serve as party leader and Prime Minister? What would that communicate to voters about the state of the governing party? Yet this scenario is exactly what the SNP’s men-in-grey-kilts are busy foisting upon Scotland. Only difference is, unlike William Hague, John Swinney was at the heart of government from 2007 through until November 2023.

After 17 years of governmental architecture which John Swinney was central in constructing Scotland faces myriad economic challenges.

GDP growth per person is slow compared to the rest of the UK. Productivity stagnant, economic inactivity due to health closes growing worse each passing year. All parcelled up within an administration that dismisses economic realities in favour of happy talk about ‘wellbeing’.

Tax flight is leaving the fiscal balance weakened as the nationalists hike taxes up beyond sustainable levels. Scotland is in relative decline and less competitive than it can or ought to be.

When you have to deny being an interim leader, it rather implies you are. Our New First Minister will soon discover he is surrounded by fair-weather friends. Meanwhile hurtling down the tracks is a general election debacle driven by fundamental problems.

John Swinney might be capable of getting civil servants to implement what he wishes, but he’s hardly a skilled technocrat. As with Nicola Sturgeon, who, as deputy he served loyally, there’s paltry evidence he knows how to pull the levers of power to obtain desirable outcomes. Yesterday’s man is simply filling-in time to retain power as disaster approaches a failing SNP government weighed down by 17 years of failure.

John Swinney’s own colleagues don’t think he’s the man for the moment. Ironically this time last year, ‘honest’ John felt so too. Nothing has changed, except leading this SNP government is a poisoned chalice nobody wants to be responsible for. Time for a new election, Scotland deserves its say as the SNP foist yet another unelected leader upon the country.

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Photo by Scottish Government – Court of Session, CC BY 2.0,


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