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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
SNP leader looks to the future

BBC Scotland political correspondent Kirsten Campbell
At the Scottish National Party Conference in Inverness

John Swinney professed himself delighted with his re-election as SNP leader after he fought off a grassroots challenge by a margin of four votes to one.

The SNP party conference
The leadership challenge overshadowed events
"A resounding victory" was how he described it.

He won 577 votes to Dr Bill Wilson's 111 votes.

And having taken 81% of the votes cast he called for an end to party infighting, insisting the door must now be shut on such corrosive internal arguments.

This leadership challenge has certainly overshadowed the party's 69th annual conference.

It has laid bare the fundamental disagreement within the party over how to deliver independence.

Existing party policy requires a referendum, which would probably take place in the third year of an SNP administration.

But Dr Wilson and his supporters think that is a waste of time.

Policy victories

They argue the current position devalues independence and that the minute the SNP is able to form a Scottish government then it should begin negotiations to end the union.

But moves to allow this to be discussed at conference were thrown out.

For John Swinney personally this has been a very successful four days.

In the eyes of some delegates he has finally taken on the mantle of a leader and asserted his authority for the first time. He won significant policy victories.

Dr Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson said he stood for the grassroots
All MPs, MSPs and MEPs will in future be obliged to pay a monthly levy to party headquarters.

And a new central membership system was also approved, to the surprise of many.

It is the first of the internal reforms promised in the wake of the election and was unpopular with Dr Wilson, who saw it as part of a "new Labour centralisation" of the party, removing powers from the branches and handing it to headquarters.

But the proposal won the backing of the party after Mr Swinney personally endorsed it.

The SNP leader hopes a line will now be drawn under this affair.

He is urging members to "take on the London parties, and not each other" but a quarter of the delegates in Inverness this week failed to support him.

Looking ahead

And those who actively opposed him are showing no signs of staying quiet in future.

Dr Wilson may have pledged loyalty to his leader, but he also said it would be hypocritical of him if he did not speak out for his own beliefs.

John Swinney may have beaten his critics by a greater margin than even he expected, but he has not silenced them.

And in truth he probably never will.

However his attention now must turn to the European elections.

A poor result for the SNP in June 2004 and John Swinney's leadership abilities will come under scrutiny once more.

Swinney secures victory
27 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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