The SNP: on the verge of collapse?

As Nicola Sturgeon exits the top job, her party is left looking around asking what is left?

SNP collapse
The latest scandal is unique for the SNP in that it threatens to dent their capacity for winning elections
(Image credit: Illustrated/Getty Images)

For years, the SNP was “admired, feared and envied” for its iron discipline, said Severin Carrell in The Guardian. But just a few weeks after Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation, a once “impregnable political edifice” looks close to collapse.

Consider the extraordinary events that led to the resignation last week of Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and, for 24 years, the SNP’s chief executive.

‘A dented capacity for winning elections’

A few weeks ago, the media reported that the SNP had been haemorrhaging members. The story was rubbished by the party’s press office, but when the candidates vying to succeed Sturgeon demanded to know exactly how many people were eligible to vote in the contest – amid concern about possible vote-rigging – the SNP had to admit that it now had around 72,000 members, far below the 104,000 it had been claiming.

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The SNP’s head of communications, Murray Foote, resigned, but in so doing, he implied that he’d been lied to by his own colleagues. A day later, Murrell was advised to resign, to avoid a no-confidence vote. Murrell and Sturgeon had exerted a “vice-like grip” over their party and the “government machinery”, said Tom Harris in The Daily Telegraph.

Nothing happened without their say so; and Sturgeon’s power of patronage extended well beyond the SNP.

Yet none of the scandals that hit her administration – not even the police inquiry into the missing £600,000 that was crowdfunded to fight a second referendum – dented the SNP’s capacity for winning elections.

‘Sturgeon hegemony has crumbled’

Now, however, the Sturgeon hegemony has crumbled, and it’s all going to pot. The SNP has been revealed as “a rabble at war with itself”, said Neil Mackay in The Herald (Glasgow).

In this leadership contest, we’ve seen candidates trashing each other and the SNP’s entire record; “Stop the Steal-type claims countered by howls of ‘Trumpianism!’”; and threats of court intervention.

The SNP sells itself as a progressive party, yet one of the three candidates, Kate Forbes, is a social and fiscal conservative. On paper, she looks unelectable, said Stephen Bush in the FT, leaving the race clear for Humza Yousaf to win.

Although his ministerial record is ho-hum, he benefits from the support of the party establishment. Or there is Ash Regan, the slightly bolder choice. But this race is hard to call, because the SNP is such an odd beast.

It now looks like a conventional party of the centre-left, but it is not, because to support it, you still need to believe in only one thing – an independent Scotland. Beyond that, we don’t know much about what members think or want. Next week, we may start to find out.

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