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The SNP won’t be easy to kill

The SNP has not regrouped since Nicola Sturgeon's resignation. Credit: Getty

April 11, 2024 - 11:30am

It’s been said that Scottish voters vote in generational blocs. During the Eighties, Nineties and early 2000s, it was Labour which carried the national flag, uniting the country’s urban heartlands against the Conservatives. Yet from the late 2000s into the 2010s and the early part of this decade, this has been the role of the SNP, uniting those same communities against Westminster more generally. Are we, ahead of the coming general election, about to see another generational shift in Scotland?

That question is posed this week by a new YouGov poll which puts Labour in front of the SNP for the first time since the independence referendum of 2014. The lead was still within the margin of error — 33% to 31% — but then these small gaps matter in Scotland, where dozens of Westminster seats are on a knife-edge. YouGov now thinks Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour party will win 28 seats in the country to the SNP’s 19. This wouldn’t just be a symbolic shift of power in Scotland; it would also require SNP MPs physically to shift out of their front-row seats in the House of Commons to be replaced by the Lib Dems.

If it happens, this will feel to many like the beginning of the end of an era. Ever since 2007, when Alex Salmond beat Labour to become First Minister of Scotland, the SNP has been powered by a sense of inevitability. Crushing victory after crushing victory was used to assert the historical certainty of SNP dominance and the cause of independence. It was all just a matter of time. To opponents, desperately trying to hold aloft the withering case for the Union, it felt overwhelming.

These days, the mood is different. The entire argument around independence and the Union has rarely been less salient: in another poll this week, only 15% of Scots said it was relevant in deciding how they would vote in the election, the lowest figure recorded. If Labour does indeed deal the SNP a thumping defeat this year, pushing the Nationalists to the back row of Parliament, then the SNP’s strategy of confident assertion will be exposed as a floppy Scottish soufflé, a political Ponzi scheme.

The Nationalists have only themselves to blame. The inevitability of SNP supremacy has been undone not just by the ongoing police investigation into the party’s finances, which has wrecked its reputation for internal competence and discipline. More damaging than this bizarre plot line has been the failure since Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation last year to rebuild afresh.

The hate crime legislation introduced by Humza Yousaf over the last two weeks has been a case in point. Veering all over the road as they seek to explain the plans, SNP ministers have simultaneously declared that the proposals are urgently required to stem a rising tide of hate speech and that they are little more than a tidying up of previous laws. It looks incoherent and rudderless. At least, on the bright side, one of the SNP’s ferries finally rolled off the slipway last week — six years late.

Yet many of us who have seen the party up close over the past few years will reserve the right to be cautious when predicting its collapse. While the Scottish weather is against the SNP just now, the climate is still nationalist. And Scotland has not gone gooey for Keir Starmer, with a lot of former SNP voters instead shifting to undecided. What’s more, beyond the Westminster vote, the SNP also have the chance to bounce back two years later at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2026. Generation Nat has been ill-served by the post-Sturgeon period, but reports of the SNP’s destruction remain premature.


Eddie Barnes is director of the Our Scottish Future think tank.

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David GTD
David GTD
1 month ago

Good article and, unfortunately, all too true. The dire incompetence and the rottenness of the SNP will remain an irrelevance to a large proportion of the Scottish electorate- that motley and substantial conglomerate of economic non-contributors such as the many grifters on benefits or those non-working for the huge and useless public sector; all of whom rely on the bribery of the SNP and its hatred of business and people who work hard and therefore earn decently. And the SNP is adept at winning over the as yet not fully developed brains of young voters who soak up all its cynical Woke initiatives with gusto. That was really what all this hate crime nonsense was all about.

Kevin Godwin
Kevin Godwin
1 month ago
Reply to  David GTD

Eloquently and succinctly put!

Tom K
Tom K
1 month ago
Reply to  David GTD

Spot on, sadly.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago

I do think less attention has been paid to the idea that while every independence advocate or spokesman is necessarily all-in 100% and often regardless of consequences, however savage; many other supporters are not.
The other side of the coin contained in Salmond’s boast that ‘they started at 25% and reached almost 45%’ in 2014′ is ‘they started at 25%’.
The first punch on the nose they got, again, little analysed by our supposed professional pundits and telly box experts, was delivered by Ruth Davidson.
In 2017, in what was nationally a disastrous campaign for Conservatives, Davidson delivered big gains in seats and the SNP vote share was 36.9% well down on their 44.7% in 2014.
THis was at the height of the Murrell-Sturgeon-Swinney-Lloyd imperium.
The assertions about SNP support and the supposed inevitability of an endless rise have often been made in the teeth of evidence to the contrary.
For too long, Sturgeon was treated as nothing but a convenient source of anti-Brexit and Anti-Tory invective by UK news organisations, to fuel the fire for the Maitlis era Newsnight and Snow era C4News, ITN and Sky.
The Scottish media have often been beyond craven in avoiding even the mildest criticism of the SNP, (until very recently), one or two honourable exceptions aside.
The fact is, much SNP support and a big slice of supposed independence support is far softer than the ultra committed spokespeople and endless references to themselves as ‘the voice of Scotland’, would suggest.
Inde, for a long time the biggest issue north of the border has been overtaken by more general culture war issues, ironically created by Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf under the truly bizarre influence of the hapless and incompetent Scot Greens.
I think in the GE election later this year, they will do well to poll 30%. But we’ll see soon enough.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
1 month ago

Honest article! If the opposition parties in Holyrood got their act together and offered a decent alternative to the SNP administration we might see the SNP knocked off it’s perch, but I’m not holding my breath!

Iain Anderson
Iain Anderson
1 month ago

The problem being Stuart that the offer to Scotland by Labour will be daft ideas like ‘elected mayors’ (a way to reduce Holyrood influence and a ruse to enable UK central control of budgets) and the return of tuition fees. I wish them luck!

Juan P Lewis
Juan P Lewis
1 month ago
Reply to  Iain Anderson

Elected mayors is a good thing

Tom K
Tom K
1 month ago
Reply to  Juan P Lewis

Only if you are a mayor or one of his chums appointed an advisor. Bristol got rid of theirs and he was actually one of the better ones in many ways.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago

I would like to be able to say that the SNP were a uniquely terrible party. Unfortunately they aren’t. All in the UK are currently dire except maybe for the SDP.

Tom K
Tom K
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob N

Come again? The SNP may not be uniquely terrible. But terrible they have been – not just in their complete inability to make the case for indepenence (well, there really isn’t one, except their fundemantal schtick of xenophobic guff mixed with menaces) but in their complete Yuselessness at politics more generally.
That’s not to defend either the hapless Fake Tories, or a Labour Party still ridden by factions currently keeping powder dry untl their supposedly nailed on Westminster landslide. But out of the lot I would say that the SNP have even managed to outdo the Tories in being a rudderless mess whose policies make no sense to anyone.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

I hope it is a Stalingrad. I think the Scottish people have the choice over their own nation re independence. But the SNP don’t have the copyright or ownership of the mantle. The Uk and the western world, at least, is going through a political shift. The conversations on line are changing. Geopolitics wider than the west is changing. Let it happen.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
1 month ago

“It’s been said that Scottish voters vote in generational blocs”. Going back another generation, in the 1960s more than 50% of the votes cast in Scotland were for the Conservatives.

Fabio Paolo Barbieri
Fabio Paolo Barbieri
1 month ago

The SNP has been on a path to a severe beating ever since the man who single-handedly led them to triumph after triumph, Alex Salmond, was hounded into the courts by the people he had put in power. The fact that the campaign against him ultimately failed was the first intimation of Nicola Sturgeon’s bad judgment; and the fact that the prosecution stank of anti-male resentment has something to say about Sturgeon’s addiction to plasterboard pseudo-feminist attitudes, that was soon to lead the whole party into the trap of extremist trans attitudes – something that actual feminists were already fighting against, sometimes at great personal cost. Hamza is in this the perfect successor to Sturgeon, and his grotesque hate crimes bill is the inevitable follow-up to her active enforcement of such measures as placing male sex offenders in women’s prisons on their own word that they “felt” like women, and the hounding of active women’s shelters that would not allow men in dresses in. That was asking for the mass of commonsensical people, male and female, to turn against them, I am glad to hear that they are.

John Dewhirst
John Dewhirst
1 month ago

The elephant in the room for Scottish politics is the economy and in particular the number of Scottish wealth generators. The hounding of higher-paid taxpayers has equally handicapped the financial options of a Scottish Government. An incoming Labour administration will struggle to transform or redress the issues that currently undermine SNP support – matters of education, drugs, healthcare or infrastructure – and inevitably the SNP will bounce back. The fact that for the majority of Scots, Labour is the only alternative to the SNP demonstrates that Scotland is trapped in the same two party straightjacket as Westminster.