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Graeme McCormick has pulled out of the race to become SNP leader and instead endorsed rival John Swinney as Scotland’s next first minister.

Mr McCormick’s decision not to pursue a leadership bid leaves Mr Swinney as the only official candidate after Humza Yousaf announced he is stepping down.

Mr Yousaf said he was resigning last week after he decided to end the power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Green Party.

In a statement shared with Sky News, Mr McCormick, a party activist, said he had had a “lengthy and fruitful conversation” with Mr Swinney, adding that he had “met the threshold set by the party rules”.

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“John and I agreed the challenges which the SNP, our government and our people face, and explored new thinking on a range of issues which I am confident, as they are advanced, will inspire activists both within the SNP and wider independence movement in the following weeks and months,” he said.

“This is a fresh start for our members and our politicians, and I’m sure that John’s determination to deliver Independence will be rewarded at the forthcoming general election.

“I have therefore concluded that I shall not proceed with my nomination for party leader but instead support John Swinney’s nomination for party leader and first minister of Scotland.”

It means the party will avoid a three-week leadership contest, which would have been triggered had Mr McCormick not stepped aside and received. the required 100 nominations.

Barring a bombshell – Swinney will become leader tomorrow

The SNP establishment is quietly breathing a sigh of relief after a wildcard challenger pulled the plug.

Grassroots member Graeme McCormick has been a thorn in the side of the party hierarchy for a long time, but the truth is he never stood a chance of becoming leader.

Apparently, he was gathering the required 100 signatures from party members on his clipboard at an independence rally in Glasgow on Saturday. It doesn’t get more grassroots than that.

His move to trigger a contest would have delayed the inevitable Swinney win, but it would have forced the party to spend three weeks having another internal debate.

It would have been difficult (and embarrassing) for Mr Swinney and co as they try and pull a divided party back together.

Mr McCormick told Sky News he had a discussion with Mr Swinney on Sunday, and it seems the pair came to some sort of agreement.

Many will see this as a small diplomatic win for the incoming first minister as he uses soft power to spare the SNP’s blushes.

Barring a bombshell, Mr Swinney will become leader tomorrow and first minister of Scotland on Tuesday as Humza Yousaf packs his bags and heads for the same door he kicked the Greens out of a few weeks ago.

Read more
Who is John Swinney?
What direction will the SNP take?

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Swinney warned potential challengers from entering the race, saying it would delay the party from “rebuilding”.

“My bid to become SNP leader has received very, very comprehensive support within the SNP. I have sent out a message which is about unifying the SNP to strengthen our party and win Scottish independence,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips.

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Yousaf: ‘I’m sad my time is ending’

“I think that is necessary as the SNP is not as cohesive today as the party needs to be, and my campaign has attracted very wide support.

“So I think the SNP has got a chance to start rebuilding from the difficult period that we’ve had under my leadership and, bluntly, I would just like to get on with that as quickly as I can do because every day that we spend in an internal contest, which I think we all probably know the outcome of, we delay the ability for the SNP to start its rebuilding and I want to get on with that as quickly as I possibly can do.”

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General Election 2024: Sunak ‘to double down on National Service plan’ as Tories and Labour focus on security

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General Election 2024: Sunak 'to double down on National Service plan' as Tories and Labour focus on security

Rishi Sunak is expected to continue championing his controversial plans to revive National Service by urging employers to prioritise job applicants who have served time in the military.

The prime minister said all 18-year-olds would be made to undertake a form of “mandatory” National Service if the Conservatives are re-elected on 4 July.

Despite growing criticism of the plans – which Tories estimate would cost £2.5bn a year by the end of the decade – the Financial Times reports the prime minister is set to double down.

Mr Sunak said one way to “get the most out of National Service” would be to encourage bosses to “consider those who complete the armed forces placement during job applications”, the paper reports.

Critics from across the political divide have dismissed the plan as unserious, while leading military figures are sceptical over how it would work.

But Mr Sunak will hope his pledge could boost his bid to narrow a yawning gap in the polls between the Tories and Labour as campaigning enters the first full week.

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Is National Service a good idea?

Security will also be the focus of the day for Labour, with Sir Keir Starmer expected to say in a keynote speech “economic security, border security, and national security” will form the “bedrock” of the party manifesto.

“The very foundation of any good government is economic security, border security, and national security,” the Labour leader is expected to say.

“This is the foundation, the bedrock that our manifesto and our first steps will be built upon.”

Read more:
Which countries have National Service and how does it work?
National Service pledge derided as ‘deeply cynical’ by defence insider

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Acknowledging some voters may be unsure of Labour’s credentials around national security, he is expected to say: “Whatever the polls say, I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election.

“They’re fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the ­Tories but they still have questions about us.

“Has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders and our security?

“My answer is yes you can – because I have changed this party. Permanently. This has been my driving mission since day one.”

Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Tapa Military Base in Estonia, where British armed forces are deployed as part of NATO commitments. Pic: PA
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Voters can trust Labour on security matters, Starmer says. Pic: PA

According to The Times, Labour would bring together MI5, police and Whitehall departments to carry out a 100-day review of all the threats that Britain faces, including from Russia and Iran, if it wins the election.

Campaigning for the election is expected to ramp up in the coming week.

Sir Ed Davey will be north of the border launching the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign with Scottish leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.

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Refusing mandatory National Service won’t lead to prison, home secretary says after Tory policy launch

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Refusing mandatory National Service won't lead to prison, home secretary says after Tory policy launch

Nobody would go to jail for refusing to comply with National Service under a Conservative government, the home secretary has said.

In the Conservatives’ first policy announcement of the general election campaign, Rishi Sunak said on Saturday he would introduce a new form of mandatory National Service for 18-year-olds if his party wins the vote in July.

They would be given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year.

The announcement came two days after defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison told the Commons the government has “no plans” to reintroduce National Service and doing so would “damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources”.

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Cleverly questioned on National Service plan

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‘Refusing National Service won’t lead to jail’

The military option would be selective but questions have arisen over whether any teenager who refuses to do either option would be punished.

Talking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “There’s going to be no criminal sanctions, nobody’s going to jail over this.”

He added that “nobody will be compelled to do the military element” but said those who do will be paid – while those who choose to volunteer will not be paid.

Mr Cleverly said the main point of the policy is to make sure “people mix with people outside their bubble” for “community cohesion”.

He said those who choose the military option “will be motivated to join the military” after spending a year with the Armed Forces.

Mr Sunak released a video on TikTok on Sunday explaining the new policy to young adults.

No plans to reintroduce National Service

The military service announcement came just two days after defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison answered a question from fellow Conservative Mark Pritchard about whether an assessment had been made to reintroduce National Service.

Dr Murrison said: “The government has no current plans to reintroduce National Service.”

He said the “demanding, increasingly technical, nature of defence” means highly trained, professional men and women are needed to best defend the country.

“If potentially unwilling National Service recruits were to be obliged to serve alongside the professional men and women of our Armed Forces, it could damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources,” he said.

Dr Murrison added that if National Service recruits were in separate units it would be “difficult to find a proper and meaningful role for them, potentially harming motivation and discipline”.

‘Surprise’ policy move dreided as ‘deeply cynical’ by defence insider


Deborah Hayes

Deborah Haynes

Security and Defence Editor

@haynesdeborah

The prime minister appears to have had what some insiders regard as a belated epiphany about the critical importance of defence – and now even National Service.

It was just four months ago that Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson slapped down the outgoing head of the army for advocating the need for civilians to be trained to fight given the dangers of living in what the defence secretary has called “a pre-war world”.

General Sir Patrick Sanders had simply been using a speech to state a blunt reality – war and preparing for war is a whole-nation effort as demonstrated daily by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Ukrainian citizen soldiers are fighting and dying on the frontline.

Rather than support him, a Downing Street spokesperson at the time said that “hypothetical scenarios” involving possible wars were “not helpful” and ruled out any move towards a conscription model for the military.

Read full analysis here

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Cohesive society

Despite this clear rejection of the idea, the Conservatives have made it their first new major policy announcement.

Mr Cleverly said: “We want to build a society where people mix with people outside their own communities, mix with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different income levels.

“The bulk of this is about helping build a cohesive society where people mix outside their bubble.”

The Conservatives said the National Service programme would cost £2.5bn a year and would be funded by cash previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

Read more on Sky News:
Labour could lose votes on defence – but probably not because of Sunak’s big bet on security

James Cleverly speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky News
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James Cleverly speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky News

But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Liz Kendall, accused the policy of being “yet another unfunded spending commitment”.

She told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “That UK Prosperity Fund is supposed to be used to tackle economic inactivity and helping people get back into work so that really undermines another one of their arguments.

“This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick.”

She added that it does not deal with the big challenges facing young people, and said Labour has a “fully costed, fully funded plan to give young people those real opportunities that they need to build up”.

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‘Deeply cynical’ Sunak’s ‘policy surprise’ doesn’t change the fact next PM will have no time to play politics with defence

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'Deeply cynical' Sunak's 'policy surprise' doesn't change the fact next PM will have no time to play politics with defence

The prime minister appears to have had a belated epiphany about the critical importance of defence – and now even National Service.

It was just four months ago that Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson slapped down the outgoing head of the army for advocating the need for civilians to be trained to fight given the dangers of living in what the defence secretary has called “a pre-war world”.

General Sir Patrick Sanders had simply been using a speech to state a blunt reality – war and preparing for war is a whole-nation effort as demonstrated daily by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Ukrainian citizen soldiers are fighting and dying on the frontline.

Read more on Russians winning production war:
Ukrainians forced to pretend in training

Rather than support him, a Downing Street spokesperson at the time said that “hypothetical scenarios” involving possible wars were “not helpful” and ruled out any move towards a conscription model for the military.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the chief of the defence staff, and David Williams, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), apparently even summoned General Sanders for a dressing down over the remarks.

But the army chief had not been suggesting conscription then – just as the prime minister is not doing so now.

He had simply been talking about the need for civilians to be ready to serve.

Given that context, Mr Sunak’s sudden announcement that he would introduce a new form of National Service for 18-year-olds, including the chance to spend 12 months serving in the armed forces, sent eyebrows within the MoD soaring skyward.

“Deeply cynical,” was the verdict of one insider.

Another told Sky News: “This is a policy surprise to me. I haven’t seen it discussed in the Ministry of Defence.”

The need for greater national resilience is a theme that Sky News has been exploring as part of its series Prepared for War?

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Sky News asks: Is the UK ready for war?

We revealed in April that the government has no national plan for the defence of the UK or the mobilisation of its people and industry in a war.

The rallying cry from Mr Sunak for National Service comes after he chose to make defence a central theme of his election campaign even though as prime minister and chancellor he was accused by insiders of pushing back against demands from the military for more funding.

He only finally committed last month to a timeframe for a pledge to lift defence spending to 2.5% of national income from just over 2% at present – saying this would happen by 2030.

Mr Sunak then turned on Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, for failing to give the same guarantee – even though that had previously been his position, too.

The main problem facing either the Conservative or Labour leader when it comes to defence is that repeated cost-saving cuts to the armed forces under both administrations since the end of the Cold War have left the UK weaker.

Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, growing threats from China, an increasingly aggressive North Korea, and the potential for war with Iran in the Middle East means the world is more dangerous now than at any time since the Cold War.

Read more:
Teenagers will not be jailed for evading National Service
Adam Boulton: Labour could lose votes on defence

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Could China invade Taiwan?

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This will force defence to be a priority in terms of actions rather than just words for whoever becomes the next prime minister.

In fact, their first foreign trip will likely be to Washington on 9 July – just four days after taking office – for a major NATO summit against the backdrop of looming US presidential elections and a potential return of Donald Trump to the White House.

Goals for the summit – which will mark 75 years of the alliance – will include a collective bolstering of defences and resilience to deter external threats as well as a need to demonstrate internally to Mr Trump that NATO is value for money.

Given the gravity of the moment, there will be no time for playing politics with defence.

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