The SNP’s problems only seem to go from bad to worse, with the party now caught up in a police investigation surrounding former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell. In a matter of months, the political authority of Scotland’s once-unassailable governing party has plummeted.
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!
The contest for Scotland’s next First Minister and SNP leader is well under way, with three candidates vying for the top spot. Approximately 80,000 SNP members have begun voting to determine the who will lead the Scottish Government through a period of crisis and class struggle.
Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation has left the party unprepared, with no obvious successor lined up to replace her. Nor is there much enthusiasm amongst workers and youth for any of those who have stepped forward to fill her shoes.
There has been no seamless changing of the guard, as there was from Salmond to Sturgeon. Instead, a vacuum has opened up.
This has left many SNP members desperate to hear serious proposals for the future of the party, and for the independence movement. In early polls, over two-thirds of SNP supporters were undecided about who should take over.
Despite all the hustings and media coverage, it has only revealed the superficiality of Holyrood politics and the bankruptcy of the SNP leadership clique.
From the outset, the various leadership campaigns have been a disappointment, to say the least. At first, the race was dominated by the controversy surrounding initial frontrunner Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary.
MSPs who had endorsed Forbes rapidly withdrew their support, after she stated that — given the opportunity — she would have voted against gay marriage legislation owing to her Christian beliefs. Forbes also opposes the recent Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
This sparked a rather ugly, intense focus in the media on Forbes’ religious views, as a member of the Free Church of Scotland (the ‘Wee Frees’) — a roughly 8,000-member Protestant denomination known for its fundamentalist beliefs.
This then spilled over into journalists questioning Health Secretary Humza Yousaf whether, as a devout Muslim, he is sincere in his support for LGBT people. Naturally, many people found this whole debacle to be offensive and divisive.
There can be no defending Forbes’ reactionary views. These are clearly a source of embarrassment for most of the SNP. But the attention given to them is a distraction from the real class questions that Scottish workers need answers to.
In a poll by Opinion Matters, only 5% of SNP voters said that the candidates’ religious beliefs were important. This compared to 58% who said that priority is to have a plan to help people with the cost-of-living crisis. Similarly, 53% said that the next SNP leader should be focussed on improving the NHS, education, and public services.
On these essential questions, however, there is nothing that really separates the candidates apart. All are practically committed to the programme of austerity that the Scottish Government has planned, with public services facing ‘four difficult years’ ahead.
In the various hustings, all candidates could only make ‘wishy-washy’ promises in order to win the approval of those immediately in the room.
2023 will likely be the worst financial year for Holyrood in its history, with billions in budget cuts and thousands of jobs on the chopping block.
Nor have there been any fresh answers to the problem of where the campaign for independence is going.
The short notice of the leadership contest has ensured that the planned March conference has been postponed indefinitely. And neither Forbes nor Yousaf have really said much about what the movement should do next, apart from continuing to “make the case” for independence.
Despite essentially being a stand-in for arch-anti-Sturgeonite MP Joanna Cherry, Ash Regan is the only candidate defending the outgoing First Minister’s proposal for a ‘de facto referendum’ at the next UK general election.
Much of the SNP hierarchy have backed-off from the de facto referendum idea altogether. Their plan now is to essentially do nothing, while continuing to ask nicely that Westminster grants a referendum.
Regan may be speaking up against this, but even she has no clue how to actually fight Westminster’s veto, as shown in a string of embarrassing interviews and hustings appearances.
One can almost feel the negative mood building up around the SNP, brought on by this surprise leadership contest which has shown us anything but the ‘talented politicians’ Sturgeon predicted would succeed her. Instead, the party looks like a train coming off the rails.
The first STV televised debate was particularly tense, with the three candidates raising their criticisms of each other frankly, and highlighting each others’ shortcomings without much explanation for their own. For those watching, the arguments just ran in circles.
For supporters of the Scottish Government, it appeared as though several high-profile Ministers had only bad things to say about their own Government. Moreover, the very existence of the current pro-independence coalition with the Scottish Greens seems to be in doubt if either Regan or Forbes win.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s closest allies, has announced that he is also retiring from frontline politics once the new SNP leader is chosen — the timing is no coincidence. With Swinney and former depute leader Angus Robertson ruling themselves out of the leadership contest very early on, and party boss Peter Murrell under pressure to retire along with his wife (Nicola Sturgeon), it looks like the First Minister’s resignation will really mark a turning point.
A new generation of politicians are rising to the top in the SNP: those who have only ever known the party to be in power in Scotland, and with the (false) promise of a second indyref within touching distance.
The situation they will inherit is a dire one, however: economic crisis, austerity, sharpening class struggle, and a dead-end for the independence movement.
This moment must provoke some serious re-evaluation among independence supporters — the majority of whom are workers and youth.
The bourgeois methods of the SNP leaders has led to an utter impasse. The only way forward is through militant class struggle, in the fight for a Scottish Workers’ Republic!
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.
Several months from Nicola Sturgeon’s bold pronouncement that there will be an independence referendum next year, we are still waiting for the Scottish Government to make any kind of move towards making that a fact.
After months of speculation, and years of parliamentary co-operation the SNP and Greens have agreed a deal to work together in Government, titled ‘Working Together to Build a Greener, Fairer, Independent Scotland’. The agreement now guarantees a Government majority in Holyrood committed to delivering an independence referendum within the term.
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.
This May’s Holyrood elections will be a landmark event. With the coronavirus pandemic receding for the moment at least, after over a year of hardship for millions, and the SNP on course to form the Scottish Government for a fourth term, the question of Scottish Independence is being thrust to the forefront.
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