The once seemingly all-conquering SNP looks to be heading for endgame as Nicola Sturgeon is arrested and her
Keen observers of politics north of the Border will have noticed that all is not well with the party of Government in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Party.
Some are going so far as to suggest that it’s time in the sun is over.
Let’s look at the evidence.
Firstly, the recent shenanigans over the party’s finances. As everyone must know by now, the SNP raised just over £666,000 from party members and supporters which was to be ring-fenced (or hypothecated if you prefer) to finance campaigning for the next Scottish independence referendum.
It then transpired that this not inconsiderable amount could not be identified in the party’s published accounts. After various protestations that it was “woven through the accounts” were dismissed and it was revealed that the party could only show it had roughly £97,000 in the bank, formal complaints were lodged by disgruntled independence activists and Police Scotland became involved. Their investigation, Operation Branchform as it is called, has now been ongoing for two years. During this time and at various stages former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon resigned as party leader, has been arrested and questioned by Police Scotland, and the house that she and her husband share has been searched.
Also arrested has been her husband, Peter Murrell, former Chief Executive of the SNP, and party treasurer Colin Beattie. I should stress that none of them have been charged with any offence at this stage; it’s an active investigation and I have no desire to fall foul of Scottish contempt of court laws and be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure in one of his less salubrious institutions. No speculation from me.
Next, around the time all of this was happening there was an SNP leadership election, prompted by Ms Surgeon’s resignation. A lot was a stake because whoever won would also become by default the First Minister. It was a bad-tempered affair and in the end Humza Yousaf, the self-proclaimed “continuity candidate”, won the day.
Yousaf’s performance in previous ministerial appointments had been underwhelming up until then and so it has proved again as First Minister. He clearly lacks the required leadership skills and his first 100 days or so in power have been marked by dithering and indecisiveness. He appears to be a people pleaser and I don’t think he’ll be in post too long; other more powerful and competent individuals are waiting in the wings.
He has not been helped, however, by inheriting the SNP’s increasingly disastrous coalition with the Scottish Greens. Without them his party would not have an overall majority in the Scottish parliament and delivering the SNP’s programme for government might be more difficult.
I have argued elsewhere that consensus politics results in better legislation generally speaking and so won’t repeat myself here. The problem is, though, that the Greens are bonkers, out to lunch, wired to the moon, however you want to describe it. They’re not even particularly green, they’re Marxists masquerading as environmentalists.
Not for nothing are they called the “watermelons” – green on the outside but red within.
Most of the SNP government’s current travails with legislation can be laid at the door of their coalition partners: the unworkable Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) has been delayed until October 2025 and it is doubtful whether it will ever see the light of day; the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) proposals, which would have seen 10% of Scotland’s seas placed under draconian restrictions on fishing and recreation, were abandoned after an outcry from the fishing industry; and an energy policy which eschews exploitation of Scotland’s oil and gas resources whilst welcoming imports of both from elsewhere.
I could go on (and on) but I think you get the picture. Not that the SNP needs much help to make a complete Horlicks of their own policies and practices. Just look at the contract for two ferries to be delivered for Hebridean routes and being built in Ferguson’s yard on the Clyde – five years late and three times over budget.
Or Scotland’s state education system, once the envy of others and now in a state of seemingly terminal decline. Or various government investments in economic projects which even the dogs in the street knew were likely to fail. And, most recently, the proposal to decriminalise all drug use in Scotland, which quite frankly is barking mad.
And then to the polls. Hardly surprisingly, voting intentions for next year’s Westminster General Election show support for the SNP melting away like an ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Current predictions indicate that the party may lose up to half of the 44 seats it currently holds. Small wonder, then, that six sitting SNP MPs have indicated they will be standing down.
These include Ian Blackford, former party leader in the House of Commons, and Mhairi Black, current deputy leader. All of made various statements for their reasons for going, but the truth is that they all know they’re going to lose their seats anyway and are resigning to avoid the indignity of electoral defeat.
Whether the looming reverse in Westminster will be replicated in the next Scottish parliamentary election in May 2026 remains to be seen. Holyrood uses a proportional representation voting system unlike Westminster’s first past the post one so a direct read across from one to the other would be flawed.
But the SNP is worried, no doubt about it. Meanwhile Humza Yousaf is doing his best to remain calm and project business as usual, but nobody’s buying it. His time as head of the Scottish government may be limited.
As we say in Scotland, his jaiket’s on a shoogly peg, and I don’t think anyone is inclined to rescue him.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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