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I Can't Get it Out of My Head
A round-up of the latest analysis of the SNP's crisis.
The forensic tent is packed away and the evidence cataloged, but there is still so much to talk about in the ongoing SNP crisis. I thought it would be useful to do another round-up email drawing together the big developments and the best of the analysis.
The sense of chaos and crisis within the SNP is growing.
After the arrest of Peter Murrell and the search of Nicola Sturgeon’s home, the recriminations are begging within the SNP. An SNP source blamed East Renfrewshire MP Kirsten Oswald for helping Peter Murrell to block efforts by Deputy Leader Keith Brown to improve financial transparency.
The party, which has already found itself without a chief executive or a director of communications, now finds itself without auditors after its accountancy firm resigned from the role. This is more than just an embarrassment. To abide by electoral law, the SNP must file its accounts with the Electoral Commission by July 7th.
Another bad opinion poll for the new leader showed their lead over Labour for the next general election shrink by five points. Meanwhile, Labour are stepping up their campaign to force and then win a byelection to replace shamed former SNP MP, Margaret Ferrier.
Whatever happens with the police investigation into the party, the images and events of the last few days will leave a lasting mark. Andrew Liddell in the i certainly thinks so:
“None of this then started or will finish with Murrell’s arrest, but as an incident it serves to epitomise how far the SNP has now fallen. With a shovel and a wheelbarrow in the former leader’s back garden, the SNP has been left dead and buried.”
There were already question marks over his mandate. Yousaf will find it hard to dismiss the feeling that his narrow victory, as a candidate who repeatedly defended Murrell’s stewardship of the party, would not have been won had his members known what was coming.
Brian Wilson in The Scotsman makes the point that nobody in Scotland voted for this SNP. He thinks resisting calls for an election will only damage the SNP further:
“Ms Sturgeon’s old mantra about Scotland having voted for the SNP, therefore they were licensed to do what they liked, is already sounding like a very auld sang. She got her narrow majority off the back of Covid. Now she’s gone. Her party is a mess and there is no mandated majority for the First Minister. As dramatic events continue to unfold, diversions from the work of government will become overwhelming. The absolute certainty is that Scotland did not vote for what we are currently landed with.”
“I don’t think independence can be secured right now”
To this backdrop, asked if he thought his claim during the leadership election that Scotland would be an independent state within five years was still realistic, Humza Yousaf said it was, although he wasn’t as adamant as during the contest:
“I’m not saying we absolutely will, given that none of us can say with absolute certainty what the timeline looks like, and we’ve seen events can change
Professor Sir Tom Devine, who had previously supported leaving the UK, spoke to the Times he was amused to hear Yousaf make the claim that the SNP would deliver independence on that timeline:
“The situation of the moment is the SNP leadership should be focused not on independence but on regaining some degree of credibility among the Scottish population, by paying attention to the many social and economic ills of our country.”
The man brought in to steady the ship after Murrell’s resignation instead spent this morning sounding like he was ready to scuttle it. Interim SNP Chief Executive Mike Russell’s interview in the Herald is remarkable:
“In my 50-year association with the party this is the biggest and most challenging crisis we’ve ever faced…”
“I’ll do as much as I can, but it’s true that the last few weeks have been pretty wearing….”
“Like it or not, the party has chosen Humza to do this…”
“I don’t think independence can be secured right now”
This begs a question asked by Alex Massie in the Times:
“if independence is off the agenda for the foreseeable, predictable, future, what is left to be on it? What is the big idea? Yousaf doesn’t know and nor does anyone else.”
Trippin Over Something That Isn’t There
The clearest sign that the SNP is not the party it was is the hapless communications response to this crisis. In the last edition, I wrote about how Humza Yousaf had inexplicably allowed himself to be drawn into protracted comment on the crisis. Since then he has continued to work to place himself at the centre of this damaging story.
The SNP’s Westminster leader’s interview with The Newsagents podcast was quite something. he comes across as an excitable and detached pundit rather than offering a reassuring voice amid the chaos of the party he helps lead:
One of the rules of politics is that you don’t repeat a difficult premise in your response to a question from a journalist or challenge from an opponent. When you do so you make the story your denial of that idea, which only repeats and amplifies it. That is why it can be so frustrating watching politicians answering, or rather not answering: they want to choose the question.
However, while other politicians ignore the question and choose to answer an easier one that wasn’t asked, Yousaf has an inexplicable urge to ignore the question and instead think up something infinitely more damaging to talk about.
In this case, the damaging idea Yousaf should have been avoiding is whether self-described Sturgeon-continuity candidate Yousaf would have won had party members known what was coming. Could it even be the case that the arrest of Peter Murrell was delayed until after the contest, he was asked. His response was:
“To me that sounds like a conspiracy theory, that we were in cahoots with Police Scotland about the timing,"
Unsurprisingly our hapless First Minister woke up the next day to a pile of newspapers all containing ‘Yousaf denies SNP in cahoots with police’.
Mike Russell is right. This is the SNP’s biggest crisis. The novice leader doesn’t appear to be up to this moment.