Ferrets in a Sack
The SNP's leadership contest is storing up bitterness and enmity that it will be hard to move on from.
The SNP leadership started as a comedy but it has become a horror movie.
Last night Kate Forbes and Ash Regan wrote to the SNP demanding that they be told the total number of voters being balloted in the election for the leader of their party. Meanwhile, Kate Forbes campaign went further demanding independent observers for the election:
The implication here is that Nicola Sturgeon’s Finance Minister believes there is a chance that Nicola Sturgeon’s husband could put his finger on the scale on behalf of Nicola Sturgeon’s Health Minister.
Extraordinarily, SNP HQ initially refused to release details of how many ballots have been issued, claiming the running of the election was nothing to do with them. The SNP’s Deputy First Minister was put up to do interviews on the matter yesterday and was clear that this was a matter for the SNP, an organisation he thought he might have heard of once, but he wasn’t sure. We have learned by now that nobody in the SNP ever knows anything about what is going on in the SNP.
There was a time when the SNP’s membership total wasn’t so secret. In fact, their Chief Executive was publishing the total several times a day. An hour ago the numbers were confirmed, finally, reluctantly by SNP HQ. The party has lost 30,000 members since the last Scottish Parliament elections and 54,000 members since the last General Election. Like Nicola Sturgeon, they have decided that to walk away from the SNP.
Such a drop is a problem in itself, but the bigger issue for the SNP is that their press officers have been lying to the media about the size of their membership for the last few weeks. If there is one thing that is sure to destroy a political party it is a breakdown of trust between journalists on the peope they rely on to get accurate information.
Just look at how categorical the lie was a couple of weeks ago:
How can the SNP’s communications office be trusted on anything now?
Failing the Smell Test
Those of us with long memories of nationalist paranoia recall the #UsePens campaign from 2014 which was based on the idea that British security services would, on the night of the count, be sitting with erasers rubbing out the Yes votes cast using the pencils provided in polling stations. Then there was ‘Operation Scallop’, which aimed to tail the vans picking up ballot boxes in order to make sure that the same spies didn’t switch them for pre-stuffed ones.
It’s hard not to enjoy the conspiracist mindset that runs through the SNP being turned on themselves. The Times published an important Leading Article on this:
“The SNP has spent years pandering to conspiracists within its own ranks. The hostility towards the press evident during recent hustings is the latest example of paranoia that poisons rational debate.
Each year, for instance, SNP politicians rubbish, or at least call into question, the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figure, hinting that data compiled by the Scottish government’s own statisticians cannot be trusted.
Such manoeuvres may be useful for fostering outrage but they are also a cancerous lesion on the body politic. The SNP risks being bitten by an attitude it has itself done much to nourish.”
When conspiracy theorists meet a secretive, controlling establishment, something has to give. And it is worth remembering that, just because you are paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Concerns about Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon’s stewardship of the party came to a head around the issue of a fundraising drive for independence launched in 2017. Some £600,000 was raised for this “ring-fenced” fund but at the end of 2019, the party had only £96,000 in the bank. The website launched by Murrell for the fundraising appeal is now defunct and www.ref.scot now, appropriately enough, directs you to online casinos where you can throw away your money.
After complaints that spending these funds on the day-to-day expenses of the party may have constituted fraud, Police Scotland launched the disappointingly-named Operation Branchform.
Then in early Spring 2021, a group of senior SNP figures resigned from their positions. Marco Biagi, who had been brought in to run the independence campaign at the start of the year walked away. Three members of the party’s Audit Committee resigned. Then the party’s treasurer, SNP MP Douglas Chapman, resigned complaining that he wasn’t being given the information he needed to do the job:
"Despite having a resounding mandate from members to introduce more transparency into the party's finances, I have not received the support or financial information to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer.”
A few days later he was joined by Johanna Cherry MP who similarly raised concerns about transparency and her ability to scrutinise the work of the party.
It was revealed last year that, around this time in 2021, Peter Murrell had given a personal loan of £100,000 to the SNP to help out with cashflow issues. This was not declared to the Electoral Commission as it should have been done. The First Minister has not answered questions about when she knew that her husband had transferred £100,000 to the party she leads, and won’t say whether this came from a joint bank account saying such questions were “a matter for him.”
The police investigation continues…
Can the SNP be Led?
It’s hardly surprising that when Kate Forbes is told that she can’t be told how many ballot papers have been issued in the leadership campaign, she thinks something is amiss. The venom in the reaction to her completely reasonable request has exposed just how bitter this contest really is.
President of the SNP, and privatisation fan, Mike Russell hit out at those who were helping the SNP’s “enemies”. His tweet was wholeheartedly endorsed by Humza Yousaf. SNP MPs piled in suggesting Forbes was “a disgrace” and “Trumpian”.
Writing in the Daily Record, Paul Hutcheon questions whether the SNP can recover:
“Voters have long seen the SNP as a disciplined party of the centre-left. Now the three candidates in their leadership contest are squabbling about same sex marriage, abortion and conversion therapy. Nicola Sturgeon largely kept her party together, but it is hard to see how the SNP can recover from one of the ugliest contests in decades. The three TV debates between the three leadership candidates, including last night’s head to head on the BBC, showed the SNP is divided and broken. Humza Yousaf, still reeling from Kate Forbes’ brutal attacks on his record in government, has implied his main rival is a Tory who will lose progressive voters to Labour. Forbes has effectively said the Health Secretary is an incompetent lightweight who would be an even worse First Minister. It is impossible to see how either can serve in each other’s Cabinet.”
If the endorsements Humza Yousaf has received from the party establishment do carry him over the line he will have to do what he has been utterly unable to do throughout his career: lead without making mistakes. As I write this he demonstrated yest again the composed and self-assured manner we have come to know from the prospective First Minister:
In Case You Missed it…
If it is possible for something to be both unbelievable and expected at the same time, it is the news that the two Cal Mac ferries have been delayed again. John Swinney told parliament today the Glen Sannox, the ship launched by Sturgeon with painted on windows and a pretend funnel, now won't be ready until Autumn 2023. The second, unnamed ferry won't be ready until March 2024. To rub salt into the wounds, the news comes after the Scottish Government’s auditors criticised £87,000 in bonuses paid to the bosses at the yard.
In another conspiracy theory, SNP’s Finance Secretary, and the party’s leader in the House of Commons both continue to claim that Scots pay more for electricity than others in the UK, despite there being no evidence of this.
New figures showed the number of Scots dying at a higher level than births for another year. If we had governments committed to making devolution work, rather than spoling for fights, we would be having the conversation about tailoring immigration policy to the needs of our economy and society. But we don’t. And we’re not.