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!
Yesterday, in a bombshell speech, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she will be stepping down as SNP leader and Scottish First Minister.
Sturgeon’s resignation comes at a time when her party and government are looking increasingly rudderless: battered by a litany of failures and false starts, and now facing a stormy period of strikes, austerity, and crisis.
Many are now asking ‘where next?’ for Scotland’s governing party and the leadership of the independence cause. This has been left as an open question, to be resolved in only a matter of weeks at the SNP’s special March conference.
End of the road
The First Minister had telegraphed her intentions to retire for months previous to Wednesday’s news. On several occasions, she has publicly pondered her legacy and potential for a life after Scottish politics. Some have even rumoured that she has her eyes on a job at the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the suddenness of the announcement still came as a shock. Many expected Sturgeon to lead the party into the next Holyrood election.
In her speech, Sturgeon rejected speculation that her decision was made off the back of controversy surrounding the Scottish parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill. A ‘culture war’ has been whipped up by the right-wing press over this issue in recent months, much of which has been directed at her personally.
This, and other “short-term” issues were not the reason for her resignation, Sturgeon said. Rather, she had come to believe that her tenure as SNP leader had naturally come to an end.
She apologised to her supporters for such a dramatic exit, and lamented about the “brutality” and polarisation of politics (one senses that a dreadful self-indulgent memoir may be in the works already).
Notably, the First Minister confessed frankly how she felt personally defeated over the independence question and her mixed record as head of the Scottish government.
By her own admission, Nicola Sturgeon is not the person to lead the indy movement forward. All the bold pronouncements about ‘Scottish democracy’ and the possibility of a second independence referendum have come to nought.
Throughout her eight years at the top, Sturgeon has presided over several stalled attempts to move the independence campaign forwards.
She has deployed combative language to fire up the troops, and even announced dates for referenda, only to then order a return to the barracks and postpone the decisive battle – which never comes.
This has demobilised, disorientated, and demoralised many in the rank and file of the independence movement, who feel they have been led up and down the hill too many times.
Last year saw defeat for Sturgeon in the UK Supreme Court, with judges denying Holyrood the authority to call a new referendum without approval from Westminster. This was never a serious strategy.
This setback has been followed by yet another disorderly retreat over the plan to use the next UK general election as a de facto indyref.
Sturgeon says that she stands by this proposal, which will be the central issue at the special conference in March. But it is clear that doubts over this ploy are solidifying within the upper ranks of the SNP.
Sturgeon will defend the idea of a de facto referendum it seems, but only from the Holyrood backbenches. Meanwhile, the SNP national executive has opened the door to this plan being scrapped altogether.
Between now and then, the carefully-concealed divisions within the SNP’s leadership clique could come to light as a new leader is chosen. Leaving no obvious successor, speculation has already begun over who will be the next First Minister. And importantly, will they have any new ideas about how to advance the independence movement?
Whoever follows Sturgeon will inherit a worsening situation for the Scottish government. The outgoing SNP leader is personally popular. And she has keenly defended the reforms achieved in her time: expansion of free childcare; greater access to higher education for pupils from deprived backgrounds; baby boxes; newly-devolved powers, etc. Scotland now, according to her, is “fairer”, at the very least.
All of this has been achieved by working within the narrow margins of devolution, and by emphasising the contrasts between the Scottish government’s priorities and those of the Tories in Westminster.
This approach has produced eight election victories for the SNP since 2014, which has helped to keep the independence question high on the agenda.
For most of the past ten years the SNP have been unbeatable – muddling their way through Brexit, the pandemic, political scandals, and other controversies with broad support from the electorate.
The foundations of this regime now face a dramatic collapse, however. With the whole of the UK going through a deep crisis of rampant inflation and looming recession, worse than the rest of Europe and the G7, the room for Holyrood to manoeuvre on economic issues is getting tighter and tighter.
The Scottish government is already locked in battle with striking workers, who are fighting to defend their living standards. Furthermore, Holyrood is preparing to impose eye-watering austerity on public services that are already stretched to the brink.
Acting finance secretary John Swinney, one of Sturgeon’s closest allies, has made no bones about it: Scotland faces “four very difficult years” of austerity ahead, with cuts to public sector spending and jobs on the cards.
Similarly, despite facing the worst crisis in its history, the Scottish NHS is set to see attacks on nurses, hospitals, and patients. And schools will be hard-pressed to deliver even the legally required minimum standards of education, as resources are cut back and teachers are pushed to breaking point.
Far from offering a contrast, the same austerity policies approved by the Tories in Westminster are also being prepared by the Scottish government. There is nowhere for them to hide.
They will throw up their hands and say that there is nothing that can be done. But all this does is underline the pro-capitalist character of the SNP leaders – proving that the working class cannot rely on them to genuinely fight against the Tories.
Not even crumbs
While the axe looms overhead, the reality of the past period – of the SNP’s reformist agenda, with rhetoric about “social justice” and a “fairer Scotland” – is now coming into plain view.
Speaking at Bute House, Sturgeon could not avoid questions over the “regrets” and outright failures of the past decade.
This includes her government’s failure to close the educational attainment gap between rich and poor students. This landmark reform was once Sturgeon’s absolute priority. But it was later quietly abandoned after making little headway.
There is a similar story for reducing child poverty, which now stands at its highest level ever (24%); reducing deaths from drug and alcohol addiction (the highest in the EU); fuel poverty (affecting over 600,000 households); or homelessness and housing insecurity (the highest since 2002), etc.
Councils have lost £2 billion in funds through council tax freezes and falling budgets from Holyrood. This has created a black hole for local services and workers. The largest share of this burden falls on just one council: Glasgow, with a deficit of £500 million.
Even targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have been consistently missed, despite the growth in renewable energy supplies.
It is increasingly clear that, behind the warm liberal façade, the SNP governs in the interests of the capitalist class, with crumbs thrown to the rest of us. Now, we will not even get the crumbs.
Crisis of reformism
This is the real situation facing our class. And no doubt it is the reason Sturgeon has decided to throw in the towel at this time.
The Scottish government faces intractable problems. Holyrood is unable to deliver any meaningful reforms. In fact, Swinney has pronounced that they are now considering counter-reforms aimed at boosting the ‘efficiency’ of public services – a direct result of the limits of capitalism closing in around them.
The SNP leadership also cannot point a way forward for the independence movement, since they are unwilling to challenge the ruling class’ denial of Scottish self-determination with anything but hollow words.
The formula of SNP dominance in Scotland has always been based around these variables. But now they are trending towards zero, and the SNP machine is threatened with a catastrophic breakdown.
All else remaining equal, the majority of the working class in Scotland will continue to lend their support to the SNP. But they will do so less enthusiastically, holding their noses.
This is similar to the position that the Labour Party found itself in after generations of betrayal. And it only took one opportunity – the 2014 referendum – for the anger against Scottish Labour to be expressed; for workers and youth to move in the direction of independence; and for the party’s support to crumble overnight.
At root, this reflects the crisis of reformism; the inability to solve the problems facing the working class within the confines of capitalism.
For a Scottish Workers’ Republic!
On announcing her resignation, Nicola Sturgeon offered many “reflections” on her time as First Minister. No doubt there will be many others writing glowing or critical political obituaries of her. As an individual politician, she accumulated enormous personal authority and responsibility. Both her supporters and her detractors labelled her the ‘Queen of Scotland’. But the forces that shape society are much bigger than her, or her party.
Capitalism – in Britain and globally – is in a deep crisis. The class struggle is in full swing. This is pushing the working class and the bourgeois SNP leaders into direct conflict with one another.
This conflict sat below the surface for many years. And for a while, appeals to national unity in the cause of independence helped to paper over the cracks and class contradictions within the SNP. But now this is becoming untenable, as many in the wider movement are rapidly realising.
“As the immediacy of a referendum moves further away, people are more inclined to focus on what is up close and personal,” writes Jim Cassidy in the National, on behalf of Airdrie for Independence.
“Jobs, pay, working conditions, energy prices, fuel and food costs are all uppermost in peoples minds right now,” Cassidy continues, “and we run the very real danger of losing support as people grasp for the quickest solution over the best solution.”
The mass independence movement must base itself on this struggle of the working class. This means establishing a fighting programme to secure self-determination for Scotland.
Our goal is not to achieve the capitalist independence proposed by the SNP tops, which will change nothing, but to establish working-class power and socialism.
Only by relying on the collective strength of our own class, and preparing for a determined revolutionary struggle of workers and youth, can we overcome the current impasse, and push aside those forces who stand in our way.
Such a programme must be based on the call for a Scottish Workers’ Republic and world socialist revolution. This is the slogan that we, the Marxists, will raise in the battles ahead: on the picket lines, in our neighbourhoods, and in the independence movement.
Ever since their election victory almost two years ago, Boris Johnson and the Tories have tried to convince voters that ‘austerity is over’. And many commentators, including some on the left, have bought into this idea.
As the SNP begin their fourth term in Government, the stage is set for the next phase of the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing conflict between Holyrood and Westminster over a promised Independence referendum.
On 11 May, the Victoria Biscuit Works, a biscuit factory in Tollcross in the east end of Glasgow, was earmarked for closure by its owners Pladis. This is a move which puts the jobs, and livelihoods, of hundreds of workers under threat, and represents a flagrant attack upon the working people of Glasgow by the capitalist class.
Having struggled through the COVID catastrophe, heroic NHS staff are now working flat-out to treat the millions on waiting lists. At the same time, private health providers are looking to profit from the crisis.
While hospitals struggle to recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, an ongoing backlog of 4.7 million patients brings a new threat to our ailing healthcare system. Meanwhile, private healthcare corporations rub their hands in glee at the prospect of further profits.
In response to the massive demands of tackling the pandemic, almost the entire capacity of the private health sector was bought up by the NHS. £400 million per month flowed from the public purse to private companies, to allow access to more beds and other resources.
Private sector CEOs bragged of ‘collaboration’, as public and private health care bodies ‘worked together’ to protect patients’ lives. Apparently, the much-maligned privatisation of the NHS was its saving grace during a time of need.
It should come as no surprise that these claims of private-public ‘unity’ are hollow and false. For the private sector bosses, the pandemic was a profit-making bonanza.
Some companies saw a 50% growth in their revenue from the NHS thanks to these public-private ‘partnerships’. While claiming to be ‘independent’ healthcare providers, many rely on the NHS for up to 80% of their income.
A well-resourced NHS would render these one-sided ‘partnerships’ redundant. The private sector uses buzzwords like ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ to hide the truth: this is a unity of the public purse with the bank accounts of the parasites.
Although many corporations are keen to continue this lucrative set-up for years to come, they stand to make money even if these deals fall through. Long waiting lists encourage patients to go private to ‘skip the queue’.
This is the cold calculus of capitalism in medicine: margins matter more than treating disease.
The Tories have been unashamedly complicit in colluding with the private sector. Health Secretary Matt Hancock used a private ‘VIP’ Whatsapp group to coordinate PPE deals with dubious companies. While under-paid, overworked staff were forced to wear bin-bags due to PPE shortages, one contract fixer was paid £21 million for his ‘services’.
The SNP have been more shamefaced about the privatisation in NHS Scotland. Tens of millions of pounds have been paid to profit-seeking private providers to expand health service capacity, while the SNP claims to have drawn a red line on profiteering in the NHS.
Alongside ballooning waiting lists, it has been reported that there are 45,000 ‘missing cancer patients’ across the UK due to a drop in GP referrals and screening services. Cancers will inevitably be detected and treated later than they could have been, harming thousands.
Even when these patients are referred to hospital, many will not be seen on time. While COVID may have exacerbated this problem, data shows that services have struggled with efficiently treating patients for many years.
The health and social care sector has been decimated by over a decade of austerity, affecting resources and staff. The pathetic 1% pay rise offer for nurses is a spit in the face of those who sacrificed their lives to protect us. The 4% coughed up by the Scottish Government is not much better, and has provoked deep indignation among healthcare workers.
Even after our NHS staggers out of this pandemic, the colossal debts piled up during the pandemic will at some point need to be paid. The capitalist class will ensure that it will be workers – through cuts to their wages and their publicly-provided services – who will be made to pick up the bill.
It is argued that private hospitals help to ‘take the burden’ off the NHS. But the NHS wouldn’t need such ‘help’ if the healthcare facilities currently in private hands were instead part of the NHS. And, of course, if the NHS was properly funded and resourced.
Let’s be clear: this health emergency is avoidable. Right now, millions are waiting for procedures that would relieve them of pain and anxiety. We should be using all the facilities at society’s disposal to clear this backlog safely and quickly.
Instead, private hospital owners will only help if there is a guarantee of fat profits. They are effectively holding millions of the sick and vulnerable to ransom.
Instead of forking out millions from public funds to convince millionaire shareholders to help us, these companies should be urgently nationalised. In doing so, we could rapidly allocate resources to those in need.
Nationalise all private sector healthcare assets without compensation!
Pay our health heroes a fair wage!
For a union-led mass recruitment drive of health workers!
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