John Swinney is set to become SNP leader and First Minister next week after his main potential rival Kate Forbes announced she will not be running against him.

Nominations in the contest close at noon on Monday and barring no surprises from any wildcat candidate the veteran parliamentarian the Perthshire North MSP is expected to be confirmed as party leader shortly after midday.

He could then be formally elected by parliament as First Minister on Tuesday and sworn in as the seventh First Minister of Scotland on Wednesday.

The latter will involve a short ceremony at the Court of Session in Edinburgh where he will take the oath of office, known as an “official declaration”, and pledge allegiance to the King.

READ MORE: Mairi McAllan: SNP did not want another 'bruising' contest

Mr Swinney could also unveil his new cabinet on Wednesday and like Humza Yousaf, face his inaugural First Minister's Questions (as First Minister) on the Thursday.

One of Mr Swinney's main messages in his speech to supporters when he launched his campaign at the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh on Thursday was the need to unify the party - admitting it was polarised.

"I have to accept that my party is not as cohesive as it needs to be. This has to change," he said in his speech on Thursday morning.

The Herald: SNP MSP Kate Forbes pictured during her party's leadership contest last year. Photo Colin Mearns.

“Just as we must fight against the polarisation of our politics, we cannot allow the SNP to be polarised."  

He heaped praise on former finance secretary Kate Forbes saying if he became First Minister she would have a "significant role" in government.

“We have many talented people leading the work of the Scottish Government. I want Kate Forbes to play a significant part in that team. She is an intelligent, creative and thoughtful person, who has much to contribute to our national life. And if I am elected, I will make sure that Kate is able to make that contribution," he said.

Mr Swinney declined to say if Ms Forbes would be given the role of his deputy when questioned by reporters after his speech.

That is certainly the expectation among some. However, it would mean a demotion for Shona Robison, who was Humza Yousaf's deputy and also finance secretary in Mr Yousaf's government.

It will also be interesting to see if Mr Swinney makes any other changes to his top team. For instance, will Neil Gray, Jenny Gilruth and Mairi McAllan remain in their respective roles as health, education and net zero secretaries?

And in terms of other ministerial appointments, will allies of Ms Forbes such as former business minister Ivan McKee and her former campaign manager Michelle Thomson, be handed roles in government in a further move to unify the party and heal divisions?

Mr Swinney also underlined in his speech that there would be a shift of focus of his administration onto growing the economy to fund and deliver public services and fight child poverty.

How will that ambition be reflected in the new cabinet and ministerial team? Will policy areas be reviewed perhaps to give more weight to the needs of business and economic growth?

A further issue to watch out for will be whether there will be less government focus given to policies around transgender rights.

The policy was given a significant focus under both Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf but has been hugely difficult for the SNP in regards party unity.

The gender recognition reform bill - blocked in the end by the UK Government - saw a large revolt of SNP MSPs in 2022 over plans to make it easier for transgender people to legally change their gender through a process of self-declaration.

It was telling, that when asked by a reporter on Thursday to say whether a transgender woman was a woman, Mr Swinney was keen to moved the question on.

He responded: “If our politics is defined purely and simply by these questions, I think we’re not addressing the core issues and challenges that people face in our society. So, today, I am going to address the core challenges and priorities that face people in our society.”

Does such a shift of direction onto bread and butter issues mean less of a focus on the debate over transgender rights?

If so, will prominent advocates of gender self-identification such as equalities minister Emma Roddick remain in her role or be moved to another portfolio or out of government altogether?

And longer term, what will happen to plans to ban conversion therapy, a commitment to the Greens in the now defunct Bute House Agreement?

Should Mr Swinney press ahead with such plans he is likely to meet opposition from some in his party. But if he does not, others in his party could be unhappy.

Geoff Aberdein, the former chief of staff to Alex Salmond when he was first minister, predicted that Mr Swinney and Ms Forbes would “have a refreshed approach to government” that provided “a lot more focus on people’s priorities”.

He told Glasgow University’s Spotlight podcast that many planned policies would be dropped, adding: “I think there is going to be a much sharper focus on the economy as part of that reset.”

And what will the reset mean for the post of minister for independence? Jamie Hepburn was handed the role by Mr Yousaf when he became First Minister.

But one of Mr Yousaf's last acts in government was to drop a speech on independence at Strathclyde University in Glasgow to make an announcement in Dundee on spending for affordable housing. Will Mr Swinney's reset mean the scrapping of the minister for independence?

Over the coming months, as a general election looms, and then a Holyrood election is held in 2026, the new First Minister will have to unite his party, keep it united, and drive the key legislation of his minority government - reforms he wants to see tackle the core issues of economic growth and social justice - through parliament.

Mr Swinney will require all his experience and political skills to steer a steady course.