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by Kirsteen Paterson
09 May 2024
The SNP's Dallas moment: John Swinney emerges from the shower

Bobby Ewing, Dallas

The SNP's Dallas moment: John Swinney emerges from the shower

Like Bobby Ewing in the shower, John Swinney has returned and asked Scotland, “Honey, what’s the matter? You look like you just saw a ghost?”

Yes, the man who told us all he was out of the game is back. And, as with Bobby and the Dallas audience, Swinney’s return from the political afterlife has set some hearts alight and left others with a sense of confusion. Was the last 13 months of Scottish politics really all just a dream?

I guess once a much-loved character departs there’s always a clamour to bring them back, and after 13 months on the backbenches, Swinney’s move not just to the frontbench but into Bute House is the stuff of fanfiction. The growth in appetite for the amateur material has marked an interesting cultural shift in the past few years and generated big media hits of its own. For instance, the EL James franchise 50 Shades of Grey was initially fanfic based on vampire saga Twilight.

Both have got a significant fanbase, and indeed Swinney has a sizeable following of his own. After all, as he’s keen on reminding us, he’s won every election he’s put his name to since 1997, backed as he has been by thousands of voters. That, surely, is the definition of #SquadGoals, although we don’t have a name for Swinney’s squad just yet. Not every leader gets that honour. We had Sturgeonites, but not Yousafites. Perhaps if his tenure had been longer, he’d have got there.

But however numerous the FM’s fans are, there are those who, to paraphrase his own words, are yet to be persuaded. “As finance secretary he broke local finances and slashed the budget for local services,” Labour’s Anas Sarwar told FMQs. “As education secretary he abandoned teachers, standards declined, the attainment gap widened, Scotland fell in the international league tables and shamefully he downgraded the results of working-class children. Now, as first minister, he is trapped by the past, defending his own record while Scotland’s children pay the price.” “For 16 years, John Swinney has been at the heart of an SNP government that has let down pupils, parents and teachers,” said Douglas Ross of the Conservatives.

Bobby Ewing never had to deal with any of that.

The comments were made during Swinney’s first proper go at FMQs. Yes, he’d been there plenty of times, slapping the desk and earning a reputation for having the parliament’s loudest laugh. But now he was In Charge. Like when Bobby, the second son of the Ewing oil dynasty, reluctantly took over the family business.

Swinney, too, said he wasn’t champing at the bit to succeed Yousaf and had to give it “careful consideration” before stepping up. “I care too much about the future of Scotland and the Scottish National Party to walk on by,” he explained, later promising the Presiding Officer all his heckling will stop. “I have changed,” he said to chuckles from colleagues.

But as DFM himself, Swinney was a reliable and vocal wingman, someone who could be relied upon to bellow down criticism and hype up his leader. In short, he was the kind of figure he himself needs. We’ll need to see who will emerge as Swinney’s ‘Swinney’, but whoever takes on that mantle will be an important co-star to our new leading man.

Bobby Ewing’s TV resurrection was such a cultural moment that it is remembered almost 40 years later. A good number of our current MSPs will know it only from memes, young as they are. It proved a reset for Dallas after viewing figures dipped and Swinney wants to achieve the same sort of reset for the Scottish Government and the SNP.

The American soap ran until 1991 and has been brought back several times in various guises. I guess it’s about giving the people what they want. Swinney seems confident that Scotland will vote for his party again in 2026. Some might say that’s beyond belief. But the SNP has defied the predictions of pollsters for years and the plot twists mean fact has often been more outlandish than any fiction. Just as long as we don’t need to see him in the shower.

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