Blackford: Voters sent SNP very clear message in cautious backing for Swinney

John Swinney must show voters he can be trusted as First Minister after a “very clear message” was sent to the SNP in the General Election results, a former Westminster party leader has said.

Ian Blackford, who led the SNP in the Commons between 2017 and 2022, appeared to back Mr Swinney’s leadership, but added there “isn’t really anybody else” who could take on the job.

It comes after the SNP fell to just nine seats at Westminster, down from 48 in 2019.

The party was dealt a further blow on Saturday afternoon when the final UK constituency seat – Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, was taken by the Liberal Democrats.

While the seat is new under boundary changes, it encompasses part of former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy’s Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat which was lost to Mr Blackford in 2015.

General Election 2024
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney (Jane Barlow/PA)

In an interview with the Sunday Mail, Mr Blackford said the results showed the electorate had delivered a “very clear message”, adding: “They’re p****d off.”

He said: “You can’t sugar coat any of this. It’s up to John what the party does but the electorate have delivered a very clear message to us – primarily they’re p****d off.

“I don’t think anyone is pointing the finger at John and saying he has to go,” he said.

“He’s inherited this and he has to own it in terms of fixing it.

“It’s not long until 2026.

“You’ve got some time and it can be turned around but you need to demonstrate that you can be trusted.”

Asked by the publication if Mr Swinney would be able to turn the party’s fortunes around, he said: “Time will tell but there isn’t really anybody else, so he’s the man for it.”

Mr Blackford also addressed the fallout between former Edinburgh South MP Joanna Cherry and former leader Nicola Sturgeon after the former lost her seat following Thursday’s election.

Ms Cherry blamed the SNP’s poor electoral result on “a lack of debate” under Ms Sturgeon’s leadership.

Ms Cherry was famously sacked from the party’s Westminster frontbenches under Mr Blackford’s leadership after she disagreed with his and Ms Sturgeon’s direction, particularly over gender reform laws.

In response to Ms Cherry’s comments on election night, Mr Blackford said: “She is just someone who is bitter, never mind losing her seat.

“I have to look at everything I did when I was Westminster leader and of course I did have a good relationship with Nicola.

“Should I have pushed more on certain things? I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, a veteran former SNP minister, who served as health secretary under Alex Salmond, said current leader John Swinney should quit and pave the way for “fresh leadership”.

Alex Neil, who has since backed Mr Salmond’s Alba party, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Nicola was the main author of this defeat along with Humza and John.

“They must take responsibility and make way for a fresh leadership team headed by Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn.”