John Swinney wants to run Scotland. So who the hell is he?

John Swinney is going for a second bite of the cherry.  

After a dramatic week in Scottish politics, the veteran former leader of the country’s ruling Scottish National Party confirmed Thursday he’s ready to run all over again.

Announcing a bid for the SNP leadership at a press conference in Edinburgh, Swinney said: “I want to unite the SNP, and unite Scotland, for independence.” 

That might be a lot harder than it sounds.

Swinney’s return to frontline politics comes just over a year after he stepped down from the second highest office north of the border — but what a year it’s been.

Swinney’s vying to replace Humza Yousaf, who resigned after just 13 months in power following a botched conclusion to an SNP-Scottish Greens power sharing agreement. 

A veteran politician, Swinney can pitch himself as a safe pair of hands. It’s not yet clear if he’ll face a challenger, although Kate Forbes — who made her own unsuccessful bid for the leadership last year — is mulling another go. He promised Thursday that, if elected, he wants Forbes to play a “significant part” in his team.

Swinney’s already swept up the endorsements of SNP big-hitters including its Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education Jenny Gilruth.  

But he’s vying to take charge of a party deeply divided on … just about everything.

If he becomes SNP leader he’ll be Scotland’s first minister — but then faces the tricky task of leading a minority government or stitching back some kind of coalition. Westminster elections are just around the corner with the party trailing in the polls. Oh, and the SNP itself is subject to an ongoing police probe over its finances.

Speaking Thursday, Swinney accepted the SNP “is not as cohesive as it needs” to achieve its aim of breaking away from the United Kingdom.

“That has to change. I could have stood back and hoped others would sort things out — but I care too much about the future of Scotland,” he said.

Here’s POLITICO’s snap guide to the man vying to enter Bute House as Scotland’s first minister.

Second time lucky? 

Swinney, who celebrated his 60th birthday earlier this month, is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of party leadership. 

He steered the SNP ship between the turn of the century and 2004. But his leadership was widely criticized. The party went backwards in the 2001 general election and shed eight seats in the 2003 elections to the Scottish parliament. 

Despite winning a leadership challenge later that year, poor European election results in 2004 and a perceived lack of charisma saw Swinney ousted by party apparatchiks – dubbed the “men in gray kilts.

He’s been around the block

The SNP hopeful has been immersed in politics for a while. He became the SNP’s national secretary at just 22 and served as then-leader Alex Salmond’s deputy between 1998 and 2000. 

Elected MP for Tayside North during the 1997 New Labour landslide, he entered the Westminster parliament for just one term, before making the leap to the Scottish Parlaiment in 1999. 

He’s served in some big roles since then. Swinney was secretary for finance when the SNP entered government in 2007, and served for the whole of Salmond’s tenure. 

That period covered the financial crash and Scotland’s bruising independence referendum — as well as a rapid ascent for the SNP in Scottish elections.  

He’s a Nicola Sturgeon loyalist — who didn’t want the top job last year

Swinney kept his job when Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Salmond, and got a grand promotion to Scottish deputy first minister. 

For five years he was education secretary during a tricky time which saw Scotland tumble down the rankings and two votes of no confidence over an exams controversy in 2020

When Sturgeon announced her sudden resignation last February, Swinney joined her, leaving government and the SNP frontbench after 16 years.

He spoke about helping to “create some space” for a “fresh perspective” on Scottish independence by departing frontline politics. 

Sturgeon heaped praise on his time in office, saying she could not have wished for a “better partner in government.” That quiet life out of the spotlight did not last long.