Supporters’ loyalty is tested by the crisis in the Scottish National Party
David Kemp has been a member of the Scottish National Party for most of his adult life, but the 85-year-old Glasgow native says the controversy, which culminated in the resignation of outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s husband as SNP leader, could be the final straw.
The SNP and its cause for Scottish independence have been in crisis since Sturgeon announced last month that she was stepping down as party leader. The three candidates to succeed her have annihilated each other in government, and her husband, Peter Murrell, resigned as party leader after admitting it had 30,000 fewer members than claimed.
“To be honest I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while and the only thing that held me back was loyalty and a desire for Scottish independence,” said Kemp, who was secretary of Edinburgh University’s Nationalist Club in the 1950s. “I can’t stay in a party that’s so dysfunctional.”
Discipline, which has been a central feature of the SNP as Scotland’s decentralized government since 2007, is now on the wane amid disputes over its strategy for overcoming a Westminster bloc in a second independence referendum and other issues, including a controversial attempt to reform gender recognition , legislation collapsed.
Given the SNP’s woes, whoever is elected party leader on March 27 faces the difficult task of restoring party unity and revitalizing a decentralized government that has come under mounting criticism after 16 years in office. They could also pave the way for a revival of the Scottish Labor Party, the once dominant pro-union party which currently only holds one seat in Westminster, Scotland.
Gerry Hassan, a professor of social policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, said Sturgeon has been able to stem longstanding strains within the SNP that have now been uncovered. He added that the party remained more popular than its rivals, but its prospects seemed to have peaked
“This is a long-term crisis. . . really a watershed,” he said. “Either they gently recede for a while or they might even fall off the cliff for a while.”
The loyalty of Kemp and many other SNP members was recently tested when Sturgeon pushed for an unpopular law that would make it easier for trans people to have gender reassignment surgery officially recognized.
The bill was blocked by the UK government and controversy over transgender issues was sparked when a rapist was briefly held in a women’s prison after being convicted in January.
However, tensions had also been building over what critics saw as overly tight control of the party by Sturgeon and Murrell, a lack of internal democracy, and questions about the use of funds raised for a prospective referendum and the subject of a police investigation are.
Some in the party were also impatient with Sturgeon’s inability to overcome Britain’s veto on their efforts to hold a second independence referendum after Scots voted 55-45 per cent to remain in the union in 2014.
Sturgeon’s proposal to use the next UK general election as a de facto referendum was rejected by many of her own MPs. The candidates to replace her – Health Secretary and bookmaker darling Humza Yousaf, Treasury Secretary Kate Forbes and former community security minister Ash Regan – have all rejected the plan.
Michael Russell, President and interim chief executive of the SNP, admitted on Sunday that the party was in a “huge mess” and had lost the confidence of a significant segment of the Scottish public.
“What happened was not good for the party and not good for Scotland and we need to change it,” Russell told the BBC.
Regaining public trust may be complicated by doubts about the integrity of Regan’s SNP leadership election. On Monday, she demanded that members who had already cast their votes be allowed to change their votes. Russell said this would be “massively disruptive and confusing”.
The party last week admitted about 72,000 members were eligible to vote in the leadership election after claiming at the start of the contest that it had nearly the 104,000 members it reported at the end of 2021.
The controversies would make it difficult for whoever gains the lead to secure “real legitimacy and momentum,” especially when their margin of victory is slim, Hassan said. “You will face difficult, rocky times,” he added.
Angus MacNeil, an SNP MP who criticizes Sturgeon and is a Forbes supporter, said that while the party would suffer in the short term, its popularity was being sustained by the hunger of many Scots to leave the union.
“Supporting the SNP is more about a desire for independence than a belief in the SNP’s particular brilliance,” he said, adding that the internal disagreements showed that “the independence movement is capable of finding its home in to bring order”.
Kemp said he supports Forbes as leader and may give the party another chance if it wins. But the retired TV producer said the SNP’s recent “complete mess” has likely done serious damage to the party’s central cause.
“I haven’t seen independence in sight for years,” he said. “And nobody is sadder than me to say that.”
https://www.ft.com/content/c78affa6-544d-4ae1-a6f7-cc7df8e95ff7 Supporters’ loyalty is tested by the crisis in the Scottish National Party