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3 key issues Dundee voters quizzed John Swinney on – as politics expert delivers her verdict

The first minister was grilled by readers of The Courier at an exclusive subscribers' event.

Voters in Dundee quizzed John Swinney on the NHS, housebuilding, independence and the environment at an exclusive event for subscribers of The Courier.

The Perthshire politician answered questions directly from the public for the first time since he became first minister just over three weeks ago.

And a political communications expert who was in the audience praised his effort, saying he looked like a leader who took finding solutions seriously.

We’ve rounded up some of the key questions Mr Swinney faced below, alongside some analysis from Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment.

1. Patient transport cuts

The first question of the evening came from Jacqui Lawrie, who works in a dialysis unit in Fife.

Ms Lawrie said: “What do I tell my patients who’ve been denied [patient transport] to get them into life saving treatment?

“I have an 80-year-old lady who is talking about withdrawing treatment because she’s been kicked off the list,” she said.

John Swinney event Dundee
An audience member asked the first minister a question. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

A visibly concerned Mr Swinney said: “I am troubled to hear those issues, and I would be happy to help in any way I can to resolve those issues,” he said.

The first minister also set out his assessment of the challenges facing the NHS, including issues with recruitment.

He said: “We have staffing levels that are much higher than when the SNP came to office. But the problem is filling them, because we are short of people in our working age population.

“Some of that is a consequence of Brexit, because we’ve lost people providing health and also social care.

“If you lose your social care workforce, that leads to delayed discharge which means hospital get more congested.”

2. What will the SNP do about overcrowded prisons?

Pat Kelly asked the first minister what the government would do to improve community justice given the overcrowding in prisons.

Mr Swinney highlighted how seriously he is taking the issue, revealing his first meeting with a senior official was with the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service.

Nearly 200 people attended. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

The Scottish Government has also introduced legislation to allow for the early release of some prisoners.

He said: “We’ve legislated for a presumption against short sentences, but there is still a lot of short sentences given out.

“We have to make it credible for the judiciary not to apply a short prison sentence by having more appropriate community alternatives.”

3. What will John Swinney do to help housebuilding?

Michael Pratt, co-founder of Invertay Homes, told Mr Swinney it had become harder and harder to build homes in Scotland.

He said there was now a lot more government intervention, making the costs higher.

From 2025, all new homes in Scotland will have to meet the so-called Passivhaus standard, meaning they will be highly energy efficient and well ventilated.

John Swinney Dundee
John Swinney speaks to David Clegg, editor of The Courier. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

Mr Pratt said: “This really rapid progression towards net zero is having a very tangible effect on the cost of housing.”

He added that decisions had to be made about whether the focus was on building affordable homes or chasing net zero targets which will make homes more expensive.

Mr Swinney said: “If we don’t build houses to high energy efficiency standards, we end up with people unable to afford houses because of the energy costs.

“There is a need for us to align our intervention very closely with mortgage providers. Some of the efficiency measures will enable people to afford more of a mortgage payment.

“I’m conscious we need to have a development climate that’s supportive of developers. You will have a number of regulatory factors and they have to align around support to undertake the development.

“But if I look at the current situation, I’m not satisfied all of those are lined up.”

Expert on ‘insightful’ FM – and one area for concern

Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment, an expert in political marketing, was in the audience.

She said: “John Swinney was reflective and insightful in his comments, and avoided just using sound bites and spin.

“Mr Swinney also actively listened to questions from the audience, which has the potential to build a strongly positive relationship with voters in Scotland.

Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment speaks to John Swinney. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

“He even asked them questions back, and when a builder raised an issue he had not previously been aware of, avoided giving generic waffle and instead conceded he would need to look further into it.

“This suggests a leader who takes solving issues seriously and is more interested in action than talk, or more focused on delivering actual solutions than communicating ideas.”

But she warned the one area the first minister fell down was in his pitch to voters for the General Election.

John Swinney ‘must reset SNP brand’

She explained: “His answer offered nothing new; it focused on independence which is not achievable in the immediate future, instead of saying voters should put SNP MPs back in Westminster to advocate for x, y and z.

“And this hits at the core challenge for Swinney. He needs to reset the SNP’s brand, and can only do this by designing a new political product which offers new policy proposals that convincingly address voters top concerns.

“He has no choice but to go through that election, but he should be planning time out after it to go around the country, either informally or in a public listening tour or conversation, to identify new challenges – and solutions – to actually improve people’s lives.

“He then needs to develop his distinctive brand that is separate from the Sturgeon years and gives voters a reason to vote, yet again, for the SNP in 2026.

“None of this will be easy. But given Mr Swinney’s reflective listening style on show at this event, he would have a chance of succeeding if he can remain determined to do things differently and return maturity to Scottish politics.”

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