— Shaun Morris
Humza Yousaf has been elected leader of the SNP, and will be Scotland’s next First Minister after securing a narrow victory in the party’s messy leadership election.
Yousaf narrowly beat Kate Forbes in the final vote, 52% to 48%. Despite the controversy surrounding Forbes’ socially conservative views, and the de facto ‘continuity candidate’ status of Yousaf, the race was much closer than anticipated.
This leadership contest sparked turmoil in the party after Sturgeon’s sudden exit. The idea that the party would then democratically decide its future backfired immensely, revealing the divisions within the SNP and the bankruptcy of its leading politicians.
Throughout the short two-week campaign, a palpable anxiety among SNP members was rising. A trio of mediocre politicians had stepped forwards to offer platitudes and hollow promises to the public, while sniping at each other and recklessly raising criticisms of their own government.
Then the party HQ was engulfed in the scandal, as the party boss Peter Murrell resigned over his attempt to conceal the party membership figure. Murrell has been responsible for several irregularities while heading the party bureaucracy. His interim replacement Mike Russell candidly described the situation in the party as a “mess”.
Sturgeon was compelled to deny this was the case, calling the crisis “growing pains”. As the membership figures finally revealed, however, quite the opposite is true! Since the last Westminster General Election in 2019, the SNP membership has declined by 43%.
This represents a significant drop from the party’s peak popularity, and a possible hollowing out of the party ranks. The SNP may still be the largest party in Scotland by a big margin, but there is clearly a rapidly diminishing enthusiasm for the party.
Overall, the contest has underlined the crisis in Scottish nationalism. The cause of independence has been led into a dead end by Sturgeon and the previous leadership clique that is now departing. The SNP leaders’ ‘strategy’ — if you could call it that — to pressure the Tories in Westminster into granting a second independence referendum has failed.
These constitutional methods were always bound to fail, dependent as they were on the consent of the ruling class and their Tory representatives.
This impasse has demoralised many in the movement. Local groups such as Airdrie for Independence have withered over the years despite continued SNP election victories. They now see an independent Scotland as far away as it was in 2014, and see pressing issues like the cost of living cutting across the independence question.
Humza Yousaf does not offer much hope. While in his victory speech he appealed to ‘no more hollow promises’, he still felt obliged to claim “we will be the generation” to achieve independence for Scotland. His only proposal to make this happen, however, is to continue on the same path that has led nowhere.
This cynicism and dishonesty is just the start. As well as claiming the mantle of leading the independence movement, Yousaf will also have to wield the austerity axe. Already the Scottish Government has announced over £1.2 billion in cuts at Holyrood, while local councils across the country follow suit with cuts to budgets and jobs.
In the past period, the SNP could afford to hide their austerity measures to a certain degree by pushing minor reforms like the baby box scheme, increases to certain benefits, eliminating prescription fees etc. This policy is no longer possible, as the economy shrinks and the narrow margins of Holyrood’s budget get even narrower.
The SNP is coming up against the limits of its reformism, which are the very real limits of capitalism in an epoch of crisis. Tory-style austerity cuts, counter-reforms and battles with the working class are on the horizon. Already the Scottish Government has been beset by strikes and potential industrial action, as it imposes derisory pay offers on some of the lowest paid.
The SNP’s petty-bourgeois leaders will not be able to govern as before, channelling a certain amount of discontent against the status quo into their own support base as they did in the past with Tory austerity, Brexit, and of course independence. Increasingly the class anger rising in Scotland will be directed against them, and they will have to contend with it.
More and more workers and young people are realising that they should not put any trust in the likes of Nicola Sturgeon or Humza Yousaf — either to fight for the democratic right of self-determination, or for the interests of the working class in Scotland.
Instead, we must fight on our own terms and with our own programme: for a Scottish Workers’ Republic and world socialist revolution!