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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Swinney secures victory
John Swinney
John Swinney increased his winning margin
John Swinney has decisively defeated the challenge to his leadership of the Scottish National Party.

The SNP leader secured just over 80% of the vote over Glasgow activist Dr Bill Wilson at the party's conference in Inverness.

Mr Swinney, who has led the SNP for three years, had predicted that up to a third of the party could vote against him.

But in the end the protest vote fell short of one-fifth of party delegates, with Mr Swinney being backed by 577 votes to 111.

This is the moment when this party draws a line, this party moves on, and I expect every single member of the party to move on today
John Swinney
SNP leader
The winning margin was far greater than when Mr Swinney first became leader of the SNP, defeating rival Alex Neil by a 2-1 majority.

After the vote he said the conference had been a turning point in the party's history and appealed for new debates to replace "the corrosive re-running of past contests".

"This is the moment when this party draws a line, this party moves on, and I expect every single member of the party to move on today," he said.

Defeated Dr Wilson said within minutes of the result that he had no intention of giving up the argument but that he could not see himself standing again.

But he insisted he had prompted the party to reconsider where it was going.

'Grassroots voices'

"Many people that voted might have voted for John but agreed with many of the things I was saying.

"The point was I came in at the start to try and raise the arguments, I felt strongly that the grassroots voices were not being heard and I came in to try and make that voice heard."

The scale of the result now gives the SNP leader the mandate he was after when, in a watershed speech to the conference on Friday, he sought to stamp his authority on his bickering party.

Bill Wilson
Many people that voted might have voted for John but agreed with many of the things I was saying
Bill Wilson
The speech won a rousing reception and a standing ovation.

At a hustings meeting on Friday night, Dr Wilson faced a barrage of hostile questions from activists.

Mr Swinney appeared confident enough at that event to drop his usual measured oratory, declaring that his goal was "to tell the Brits to get off".

Defending his referendum policy, Mr Swinney told activists: "I want to make sure there are no roadblocks on the way to independence.

"If we have some uncertainty about why people have voted for the SNP, the unionist parties and the Brit establishment will put up every roadblock to stop us succeeding.

Hustings row

"We need to get in the driving seat of Scottish politics and Scottish government, and put the big question - do you want independence, yes or no - and then tell the Brits to get off."

Dr Wilson, defending his challenge, faced a barrage of critical questions.

Telling the activists that little progress had ever been won by reasonable people, he declared: "Progress comes from people who refuse to be reasonable, who stand up and say, this is our argument, this is our position."

He (John Swinney) has allowed his mask to slip and resorted to a language of anti-English bigotry
Anne McGuire
Deputy Secretary of State for Scotland
He claimed that the SNP's "nervousness" about its flagship independence policy had cost it lost votes and eight lost seats at the Holyrood elections.

Labour's Deputy Secretary of State for Scotland Anne McGuire hit out at Mr Swinney's victory and the language he used.

Mrs McGuire said: "He has allowed his mask to slip and resorted to a language of anti-English bigotry which should be beneath a modern Scottish politician.

"This slide into extremism has obviously been enough for his party to put him on probation rather than sack him but he should reflect on whether the people of Scotland will respond as warmly to this relapse into 19th century nationalism."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andy Cassell
"This has been a bruising and damaging period for the Scottish Nationalists"



SEE ALSO:
SNP leader looks to the future
27 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Swinney makes plea for unity
26 Sep 03  |  Scotland
SNP challenger claims 'victory'
26 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Crunch vote for Swinney
25 Sep 03  |  Scotland
MSPs turn backs on Swinney
19 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Leadership challenger slams Swinney
14 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Swinney launches leadership defence
13 Aug 03  |  Scotland


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