Monday 20 March 2023

Is the SNP finished?


Before we get too excited about the events of the weekend, it is worth remembering that there is still a significant chunk of the Scottish population who want independence. It’s hard to measure this chunk exactly. It is normally less than 50%, but it is normally more than 40%. It may drop a bit due to Sturgeon and Murrell resigning. It may drop a bit more due to the election for the SNP leader descending into chaos and the dishonesty about how many SNP members there are, but it’s still the case that around half the people you meet in Scotland, your colleagues and neighbours want independence.

But this is not to say that the rather shall we say sudden departures of both Sturgeon and Murrell are not significant. But the significance is that the explanations for why they went are not on the surface sufficient. Suddenly we wake up one morning and Sturgeon is going. There is no obvious reason why.

Murrell perhaps went because he had been less than open about the SNP membership figures. This could conceivably have serious implications. After all SNP members pay a certain amount of money into the SNP. If I say that there are 100,000 members but there are really only 70,000 then this will change the SNP’s income. If only Murrell knew the true figure of members, then only he may have known the true figure in the SNP’s bank balance.

But this on its own is not enough to force someone to resign so hastily that apparently, he had an ultimatum to go by 12 o’clock and resigned at 11.56. Which of us after working for 25 years for a company would be forced to resign within a couple of hours if the only thing, we had done was underestimate the membership or the extent of our customers?

There are all sorts of sensible political reasons why Murrell might have wanted to keep secret a drastic fall in SNP membership. The reason is that this is something not merely damaging to the SNP, but to its chances of independence. The SNP needs its members to canvass in elections and to campaign if there were ever to be a second referendum. If SNP members are leaving it implies that they no longer believe that the SNP can deliver its promise of independence.

This is the canary in the coal mine. If members are leaving it is reasonable to suppose that voters will leave the SNP too. If those who are so committed that they wish to pay the SNP every month no longer want to do so why will the less committed get out of bed to vote for the SNP?

But none of this is enough to explain either Sturgeon’s sudden departure or Murrell’s. We keep waiting for more.

The story about Humza Yousaf being the anointed successor to Sturgeon, so much so that nearly the whole of the senior SNP supported him, is that he could be trusted to continue the Sturgeon dynasty and keep a lid on whatever secrets if any were contained in its archives.

But it no longer looks as if Yousaf will win. Kate Forbes is obviously more talented, and Yousaf is now tainted with whatever has caused the SNP to implode this weekend, because both Murrell and Sturgeon desperately wanted Yousaf to be the next First Minister.

Forbes is a nice person and a decent human being. Don’t underestimate this. Any party will benefit from a decent human being leading it. It was Boris Johnson’s moral flaws as much as anything else that destroyed him.

But Forbes has a couple of problems. One she is a young mother with a very young child. What if she were to have another child? Would that mean a First Minister taking maternity leave? But more importantly how can she lead a party whose senior members have made clear that they don’t want her to be leader.

The membership may have wanted Liz Truss, but the MPs didn’t, and she lasted a little over a month.

Forbes if allowed could be a good long term leader of the SNP and could also benefit Scotland. If Scotland wants to be independent, it has to cease being dependent on the UK. So, you first and foremost have to get rid of the dependency culture in Scotland, you have to get people working and you have to start making a profit rather than spending millions on boats that won’t float.

Competence should be at the heart of the independence movement, because without it there is no chance of persuading the majority of Scots that we would be better off leaving the UK than staying a part of it. Run Scotland well for twenty years, focus on that rather than independence and you just might find you have won the argument.

But the SNP’s tragic flaw is impatience it always has to have a referendum next year, so it does nothing to run Scotland well and so is never actually ready for its referendum.

Forbes therefore won’t have the chance to create the prosperous, profitable Scotland, because her own party if it does not split from her will not let her. It will waste its time on virtue signally and demand Forbes does in months what she could only do in decades.

Things could get worse. If honest, decent human being Kate Forbes goes for a forensic investigation into the SNP or even if she doesn’t there is every chance that scandals of which we have yet no idea may be waiting to come out. With Murrell and Sturgeon gone and Yousaf perhaps gone too, who is to stop it all coming out now.

No one knows the level of scandal at the heart of the SNP. Activities in Bute house that the Procurator fiscal thought worthy of a criminal trial came out years after they allegedly happened. Who is to say there are not more such activities. That at least would be a more reasonable explanation for recent events than the ones that we have been told.

The SNP is wounded no matter who leads it from now on. Its best chance is to honestly confront its faults and move forward, but that might be the equivalent of hitting the heads of the five families and might be so scandalous that nothing would remain.

Support for the SNP will fall in the short term. Perhaps as much as ten percent. Support for independence may fall a similar amount, which would put it out of reach for the foreseeable future.

But we still have a battle. Large numbers of Scots especially young Scots still want Scottish independence. The SNP is weakened. It is perhaps even finished if more scandal comes out, but we will still have to persuade our friends, neighbours and colleagues to go back to the time when most of us were quite content to be both British and Scottish.