John Ramsay Swinney (born 13 April 1964) is a Scottish National Party politician who is currently the Deputy First Minister of Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. He previously held the post of Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, until that role was divided into two posts in the second Sturgeon government as a result of the expansion of the Scottish Parliament's financial powers. He is also the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Perthshire North, having previously represented North Tayside (1999–2011). Perthshire North takes in Highland and East Perthshire, the Carse of Gowrie and the Perth City Centre ward of Perth and Kinross Council.
Background and early career
Swinney was born in the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, the son of Kenneth Swinney, a garage manager. His uncle Tom Hunter was awarded the Victoria Cross whilst serving with the Royal Marines in World War II. He was educated at Forrester High School, before attending the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with an MA Honours degree in politics in 1986. Swinney joined the SNP at the age of 15, citing his anger at the way in which Scotland had been portrayed by television commentators at the Commonwealth Games. He involved himself in the SNP Youth Wing and gradually became more active in the party, becoming firstly the SNP Assistant National Secretary and then the National Secretary in 1986, at the age of 22.
Swinney was a research officer for the Scottish Coal Project (1987–1988), a senior management consultant with Development Options (1988–1992), and a strategic planning principal with Scottish Amicable (1992–1997). In the SNP, he served as National Secretary until 1992, then Vice Convenor, later Senior Vice-Convenor (Deputy Leader) 1992–1997. At the time of the 1990 leadership contest he supported Margaret Ewing in her bid to become SNP leader, but this did not stop him becoming politically close to the man who went on to win that contest, Alex Salmond.
House of Commons
He stood down as a Westminster MP at the 2001 general election in order to avoid splitting his time, in line with all of his colleagues who found themselves in a similar 'dual mandate' position.
Leader of the SNP
The leadership contest in 2000, caused by Alex Salmond's decision to step down as party leader, was marked by serious argument between the Gradualist wing of the party, who in the main supported Swinney and the Fundamentalist wing, who in the main supported Alex Neil. Swinney won the contest but the media raised some doubt about his ability to lead the party following poor SNP performances in the 2001 UK General Election and the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary Election. He defeated a leadership challenge from Bill Wilson in 2003, defeating Wilson by 577 votes to 111.
Though retaining its two seats at the 2004 European elections, in a smaller field of 7 (Scotland up until then had 8 MEPs) the Scottish press and certain elements within the fundamentalist wing of the Party depicted the result as a disaster for the SNP putting further pressure on Swinney who resigned soon afterwards on 22 June 2004.
After the SNP emerged as the largest party following the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election, Swinney led coalition talks with the Scottish Green Party. He was later appointed Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth in the Cabinet of the minority SNP government.
As response to Swinney not notifying the Scottish Parliament that he had let the Scottish Variable Rate lapse due to not funding this tax mechanism, the Scottish Parliament voted to censure him and called his actions "an abuse of power". Subsequently, a freedom of information request showed that even if Swinney had funded the mechanism, problems and delays in the HM Revenue & Customs computer system made any collection of the tax impossible. The Scottish Government added, "The power has not lapsed, the HMRC simply does not have an IT system capable of delivering a ten-month state of readiness."
Cabinet Secretary for Education
Following the election of the SNP to lead the Scottish Government following the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Swinney, for the first time in nine years, was shifted from his roles as Cabinet Secretary for the Economy to Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, a move which highlights the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to education and early years education over the course of the parliament.
He joined the Scottish National Party in 1979 at the age of 15 and has held several posts within the party at local and national level, including National Secretary, Vice Convener for Publicity and Depute Leader. In 2000, Swinney was elected Leader (or National Convenor) of the SNP, becoming Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament. He stood down as SNP leader in 2004 and became Convener of the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee.
Swinney was previously a Member of Parliament (MP) for Tayside North in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, before taking the same seat in the Scottish Parliament's 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections. In 2007 he achieved the largest constituency vote for any candidate in Scotland. At the election in May 2011, he was re-elected with 18,219 votes, and a majority of 10,353. Swinney's vote was the second highest in Scotland, second only to the then First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP.
Born in Edinburgh, Swinney was educated at the University of Edinburgh, and prior to his election to the UK Parliament in 1997, he was employed as Strategic Planning Principal with Scottish Amicable. Swinney is married and has three children.
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- "John Swinney says sorry over tax power giveaway". Telegraph.co.uk. 24 November 2010.
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- UK taxman killed off Tartan Tax
- "New First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to announce Cabinet reshuffle". STV News.
- John Swinney MSP
- Scottish Parliament – John Swinney MSP
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by John Swinney