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SNP Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK
Emphatic SNP win for Swinney
John Swinney
The new SNP leader received a standing ovation
John Swinney has won an emphatic victory over Alex Neil to become the leader of the Scottish National Party.

After an agonising delay for the two contenders - caused by a recount in a ballot for a backoffice position - Mr Swinney's win was confirmed by 547 votes to 268.

The 36-year-old, who was the party's deputy leader, takes over from Alex Salmond, who earlier this year announced his intention to stand down after 10 years at the helm.

Mr Swinney was cheered by delegates at the party conference as he was declared winner.

He called on the party to speak with one voice as it made the final push to achieve independence.

'Real opportunity'

In his victory speech Mr Swinney called for party unity and said the SNP now stood the most realistic chance in its history of securing independence.

"In the years of Alex Salmond's leadership we have moved from the fringes of Scottish politics to the centre stage," said Mr Swinney.

John Swinney
Mr Swinney won by 67% to 33% in the vote
"We have made such progress that I believe I stand here as the first leader in the history of the SNP who has a hard-headed opportunity to lead our party into government and our country onto independence."

Making reference to the party divisions that have sometimes surfaced, Mr Swinney said he would be a leader for all members of the SNP.

"Throughout this campaign I have said that I will deliver inclusive leadership. And I will.

"And with it I will foster and encourage democratic debate in our party about policy, tactics and strategy.

"Let us all be clear. Once the democratic voice of this party has spoken, I expect this party to speak with one voice."

Strategy differences

In the race for senior vice convener, the party's shadow justice minister Roseanna Cunningham defeated shadow transport and environment minister Kenny MacAskill by 457 votes to 323.

The vote for treasurer saw the former holder of the post Ian Blackford soundly beaten by Jim Mather.

Alex Neil
Alex Neil fought a hard campaign
Mr Blackford, who was suspended from the position after revelations about the party's financial affairs, lost by 632 votes to 143.

Defeated leadership contender Alex Neil said he believed it was possible the endorsement he received from Mr Blackford damaged his campaign.

"It is possible it was damaged by that, yes. It probably didn't help my campaign, because he was associated with my campaign," he said.

"But, at the end of the day the decision is the decision and that's it."

Mr Swinney has been one of the driving forces behind the SNP's strategy of seeking a referendum on independence after forming a government in Scotland or securing a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster.

The strategy was one of the key differences between himself and Mr Neil, who favoured a more direct approach to seeking independence.

But Mr Swinney ended his speech by calling on the party to follow him to independence from Scotland.

He said: "This is the hour for a nation to be reborn, this is the hour when Scotland at last and forever can change for good.

'Great choice'

"Let us make our vision real, let us bring independence alive for the people of Scotland, let us persuade and persuade and persuade about the case for independence.

"Let us make our make our parliament complete, come with me and let's win our nation's freedom."

Mr Neil said he hoped to meet with Mr Swinney in the coming days to discuss the possibility of a position in a reshuffled cabinet.

But he added: "I am disappointed at losing, but it's John's day. I wish him all the best as new leader."

Alex Neil and John Swinney
Alex Neil and John Swinney together before the vote
Mr Salmond, as the outgoing leader, paid tribute to his successor: "The party has made a great choice in John as the new leader.

"He will emerge as an outstanding SNP leader, and will take Scotland to independence."

He added: "Over the course of the campaign, I have seen John grow in the leadership role.

"He will emerge as a very substantial orator and political leader of Scotland."

Shadow finance minister Andrew Wilson said: "It is a fantastic result for John personally, and also for the SNP.

"Its favourite son has become the leader. He has won the party's trust overwhelmingly, and it's up to him and the party to go out and win the country's trust."

The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"John Swinney was always the favourite"
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