Just six weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon shocked the entire political system by announcing his resignation as prime minister. An air of mystery surrounded the decision. Why, since the SNP was electorally impregnable, is now the time for such an abrupt exit? Why wasn’t there? In these respects, the last months of the Battle of Yellow on Yellow were very beneficial.
By the end of her time as Prime Minister, Sturgeon had become an accomplished magician. As the party grumbles and crackles in late 2022, she has advanced a series of measures that will inspire a face of near-term unity.
In October, the prime minister wrapped up the SNP’s meeting, with her legal team finalizing discussions for a Supreme Court showdown the next day. The atmosphere in the hall was lively and optimistic — but the court’s decision a month later forced a second thought. Without the right to hold a referendum in Holyrood, Sturgeon settled on “Plan B” and the SNP would hold the next general election as a “de facto” referendum. Objections were discussed at a “special conference” on independence scheduled for March, giving leaders time to solidify their case.
At every turn, political drama and sleight of hand gave a lively impression. Sturgeon assured activists: Separation from Britain was within reach, and discord would ruin the precious Ming vase.
But under Sturgeon, independence everytime within touching distance. His 2015 election manifesto for the SNP proposed to hold a referendum by the end of 2017. After that, the goalposts he was moved to the “common sense” vote in the fall of 2018. Then the “referendum bill” was discussed and we could see IndyRef2. Held by the end of May 2021. And most recently, Sturgeon promised that he would hold a referendum in late 2023, which the Supreme Court granted.
Every time the goalposts changed, every time the schedule was tinkered with, great, if unseen, sacrifices were made. A de-facto referendum plan ended up being one of too many strategic ploys amid rising expectations within political parties.
Thus, the Prime Minister’s abdication was presented as a humble Ardern-esque farewell, betraying mistakes, misunderstandings, and utter exhaustion within the SNP machine.
The shattering of the party’s internal norms during the leadership’s election campaign was a result of acknowledgment of concerns about the old regime. Ash Regan and Kate Forbes’ record-bashing was aimed at Humuza Yousaf above all else, and had the deliberate effect of getting Nicola Sturgeon into the shootout. Their candidacy received 40.7% and his 11.1% respectively of the first priority vote, highlighting that there are core supporters within SNP membership who want change.
Forbes ran her campaign with a relatively clear commitment that she would revamp SNP. social democratic profile as an FM. Her vow to pursue “a smaller, more focused government to accelerate reform” became a subtle challenge to the ideological underpinnings of Sturgeonite rule. It also served as an independent strategy. Liberal economic policies spread the appeal of independence across Scottish classes and interests, creating a sustained majority towards the dissolution of unions over time.
Yousaf, on the other hand, was a shameless ‘continuation candidate’. At the start of the race it meant he was in a good position. Essentially by default, he has the support of most of his MSPs and his MPs in the party, and his victory on Monday means violations of the SNP rule norms are minor at best.
Yet Yousaf faces increasing internal difficulties. Thus, the soon-to-be-crowned prime minister’s statement that he would seek the power to hold another referendum “soon” speaks for itself. This strategy is tried and tested. Choose new strategic paths to independence, stir up separatist fervor, and quell party grievances.
But if it didn’t work for Sturgeon, why did it work for her “continuity” predecessor?
Of course, stepping up the pitch for independence is an obvious political incentive for Yousaf. The second-preference divide on Monday was him 52:48 between Yousaf and Forbes. This mirrors the Brexit referendum and is highly ominous for his political outlook. He needs to put the party together again.
The revival of the “special meeting”
Last week, the SNP was scheduled to meet in Edinburgh at a ‘Special Democracy Conference’ to discuss whether the next election should be held as a de facto referendum.
It is now expected that Yousaf will announce a new date for the gathering. But after a bitter struggle, the intra-party debate over independence strategy would reignite at a time when activists were calling for action. Regardless, the FM has vowed to use “all necessary means” to achieve independence by 2028. for a party?
Thus, the meeting, like the campaign itself, could prove to be a devastating channel for party grievances. Needless to say, Ash his Regan, who has taken the most radical stance on the Scottish independence issue of the three leadership candidates, made an ominous promise yesterday: “I’m just getting started.” Backed by her 11% of first-choice applicants, she will feel justified enough to bring her own opinion to her meeting.
Yousaf’s most important question is the totem: how will he act realistically to his party’s independence expectations in the absence of a clear political line. We promised to put it in “Gear 5”, but as Nicola Sturgeon can attest, the cycle from creating expectations to crippling descent is simply not sustainable. With Labor and Conservatives smelling blood and internal cohesion broken, Yousaf’s sense of being stuck could prove the existence of the SNP.
https://www.politics.co.uk/news-feature/2023/03/28/can-the-snp-stomach-another-independence-setback/ Can SNPs survive another setback of independence?