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SNP Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Backroom boy moves to the fore
John Swinney
Mr Swinney celebrates his victory
Ten years ago a youthful John Swinney declared Alex Salmond as the leader of the SNP.

Now Mr Swinney, for so long seen as the natural successor to Mr Salmond, has been chosen to lead the fight for independence, defeating his challenger Alex Neil by two votes to one.

During the campaign, Mr Swinney's supporters stressed his credentials as someone who has been known and trusted across the party, having been a member since he was 15.

However, there were charges from his critics of being too close to Alex Salmond and not stressing independence enough.

Tayside North MP

Mr Swinney replied that independence has and always would be his objective and, on that issue, he differed with Mr Neil only on the question of how and when that could be achieved.

Mr Swinney, who rises from the post of deputy leader, dislikes the label gradualist, arguing that independence would be achieved by increasing the power and influence of his party, using the Scottish Parliament as a platform.

Alex Salmond and John Swinney
The old and the new: Swinney and Salmond
Mr Neil insisted that independence had to be achieved sooner rather than later and independence, not devolution was "the settled will of the Scottish people".

Mr Swinney was elected the Westminster MP for Tayside North in 1997, beating the Conservative Bill Walker and he won the same constituency at the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Like other nationalist colleagues with a dual mandate, he has chosen to concentrate his effots within the Scottish Parliament.

The 36-year-old was elected deputy leader of the SNP in December 1998.

He was born in Edinburgh in April 1964 and graduated in politics before pursuing a career in Scotland's financial sector and working in later years as a strategic planning principal with Scottish Amicable.

Mr Swinney rose through the ranks of the SNP swiftly and was elected national secretary at the age of 22.

He has been viewed as a key thinker and a "safe pair of hands" with excellent management and campaigning skills.

'Penny for Scotland'

During the campaign, his team emphasised his deep roots within nationalism.

Recently, Mr Swinney has been particularly credited, along with Mr Salmond, with tailoring the party's economic policy to a growth and business-friendly approach.

Alex Neil
Alex Neil pushed Mr Swinney hard
Mr Swinney is the convener of the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee.

He has warned that the party needs to ensure that its approach is broad enough to encompass "middle Scotland": business and home owners, in other words, as well as the deprived council estates.

However, he has dismissed any suggestion that he would be the middle class leader.

The SNP, he said, must argue for all of Scotland, pointing out that he drafted the "Penny for Scotland" policy by which the nationalists promised to reverse - north of the border - an UK tax cut of 1% on the basic rate and to divert the cash to social need.

Future tax policy, he said, will be settled at the time of forthcoming elections.

Opposed to Trident

Mr Swinney is pro-European, believing that it would be in Scotland's interests if the UK were to adopt the Euro currency at the earliest possible opportunity.

He favours European co-operation over conventional defence forces.

Delegates at the SNP conference
Party policy is formed at conference
In line with long-standing SNP policy, he is completely opposed to the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Mr Swinney has described devolution as "the greatest mistake the Unionists ever made", arguing that it will lead to the end of the union.

He had pledged to "reconnect" the grassroots party with the "strong team" which has been built in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Swinney has taken steps to ensure that his political pitch is distinctive and not simply seen as a continuation of the previous leadership.

For example, he decided against choosing Mike Russell as his campaign director, asking education spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon MSP to perform the role.

Mr Russell is a prominent MSP, a senior SNP strategist and the former party chief executive.

But he was a key Salmond aide - and Mr Swinney feared his presence at the head of the campaign would look like political continuum, rather than a new beginning.

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