Humza Yousaf, the new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), will not attend a major pro-independence rally on 6 May. Instead he will be at the coronation of King Charles in his capacity as first minister of Scotland.
It’s hard to imagine a decision that better illustrates how the SNP is a mainstream, non-insurgent, non-threatening force. It has no plan to overturn the Westminster government’s refusal to allow another independence referendum, despite very widespread support for one, and majority backing in the Scottish parliament.
The SNP is in crisis. Peter Murrell, the husband of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, was arrested last week in connection with an investigation into SNP finances. Murrell resigned as the party’s chief executive last month, a post he had held since 1999.
Police Scotland are investigating claims the party used £600,000 of donations from activists to support the campaign for a second independence referendum for other purposes.
There are allegations that the money, which was meant to be in a ring-fenced fund, had been misappropriated. The party has denied any wrongdoing. The police said Murrell had been released without charge “pending further investigation”.
The SNP has also faced questions about a £107,620 loan Murrell made to the party in 2021 “for working capital purposes”. The party did not declare the loan to the Electoral Commission until more than a year later, a breach of election finance rules.
The Sunday Mail newspaper says in August 2021, a month after police launched a probe into the party’s finances, Sturgeon told the party’s NEC, “We don’t need to talk about the finances. The finances are absolutely fine.” And there are recurrent questions about the SNP government’s helpful handouts to Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance business empire, a symbol of its liking for millionaire and billionaire businessmen.
It strains credibility to think that all these allegations, and the anticipated knock on the door from the cops, weren’t a major factor in Sturgeon’s decision to step down. But the entire SNP strategy is now in the spotlight. Until quite recently, Sturgeon pretended there would be a referendum in October this year.
Then she said the next general election would be a substitute for a referendum and that if parties backing independence won a majority then by some magical means all obstacles to holding a vote would melt away.
That has now gone out the window. SNP president Mike Russell said last weekend that to gain independence, a period of sustained campaigning was required because it was not achievable at the moment. He told The Herald newspaper, “In my 50-year association with the party, this is the biggest and most challenging crisis we’ve ever faced, certainly while we’ve been in government. I don’t think independence can be secured right now.”
When the Spanish state battered Catalan independence supporters and arrested Catalan political leaders after an unauthorised referendum in 2017, huge numbers of people took to the streets. Nobody demonstrated after cops took Murrell into custody.
No doubt, British nationalists and unionists are delighted that the SNP is reeling. It diverts attention from the democratic outrage carried out by the Tories and the Supreme Court in denying an independence vote.
But it’s not surprising there is so little enthusiasm for the SNP. It offers no alternative to collapsing, real wages, a failing NHS, gathering environmental collapse or any of the other effects of capitalism. It’s a moth-eaten vision of what Keir Starmer’s Labour would be like.
Under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, the SNP won eight consecutive Scottish and general elections. That era seems over. The Labour Party is likely to be one of the beneficiaries, grabbing seats as voters turn away from the SNP. But that won’t be any sort of alternative.
The SNP’s crisis should underline the need for a defiant independence movement that isn’t afraid of strikes and confronting the British state. And socialists have to be at the forefront of supporting and extending all the battles over pay, climate action, and against racism.
Keir Starmer's Thatcher praising speech
Historian John Newsinger writes