This farce is now a national embarrassment

by | 3 Mar 2023

The rigging of this SNP leadership election makes Scotland look pathetic. The Scottish media's failure to understand or reflect what is going on makes it look ridiculous. These are dark days for Scotland's reputation.

Politics in Scotland as we know them are falling apart. As they do the light that is being cast on Scotland as a modern, developed democracy is humiliating. The scale of this is becoming breathtaking. The implications of this are not yet being taken seriously.

Where to start in my attempt just to spell out how pathetic things have become? I think I’ll kick off by asking how it can possibly be the case that the election of a new First Minster is being wholly run by the husband of the previous leader, a man who is subject to a recently-escalated police inquiry into fraud who is expected to be interviewed under caution imminently?

Or more specifically the question, how this has passed without comment in the Scottish media? Name me a country anywhere in the world where a Chief Executive in that position would not be removed from immediate responsibilities or where the media would pretend it wasn’t an issue.

The rigging of this election is so blatant that even a political ingenue couldn’t miss it. Let’s start with its seriousness. We are telling people that Scotland is a major democracy, a true nation, a serious viable prospect as an independent country. In fact so serious is it that the First Minister is to be selected based one week for nominations and three weeks of campaign, from a cold start, on a total budget of £5,000.

Candidates were left no time to fundraise (I can imagine why they didn’t want people to see which candidate would attract donors) even with a ridiculous cap. It means that none of the candidates has a hope in hell of sustaining a professional team. The First Minister of Scotland is such an august role you are expected to win it with a team of volunteers you had one week to put together.

Just in case anyone might actually be able to put together a considered bid for First Minister under these conditions, the next step is to require the candidates to turn up at 14 hustings over the course of just over two weeks. Most of these are in person and they’re spread all over Scotland.

Of course no-one got to hear about the party’s hustings until all the tickets were already allocated. The first hustings had seats that should have been for local members taken up with staff from SNP HQ. Murrell has hand-picked audiences (the stories of constituency conveners not being able to get to hustings are very real).

And they were this close to getting away with locking the doors and having the candidates talk in private to a partisan audience from one of the campaigns. The hustings are being chaired by people who have already endorsed one of the candidates.

So if it all looks a bit Bugsy Malone (and it does), that’s by design – Humza is so weak that making the whole contest look low-grade is basically the strategy

This is all taking place with no effort at all being made to pretend that the entire resources of the SNP are not being put in the hands of one candidate. The party’s election rules (for example use of email lists) are being broken with such impunity that the only conclusion is that the SNP machine has nothing but utter contempt for its members.

This is all because their candidate is so weak that even with the full machinery of the party, its researchers, its event organisers and all the rest he doesn’t look fit to be a First Minister. The other two candidates were in no position to launch a campaign in the week available to them (one was on the backbenches, one was on maternity leave) but had to anyway.

Neither Ash nor Kate spent ten years believing this was their manifest destiny, being groomed for power at every stage. So both will grow in stature over the course of a campaign while Humza peaked years ago. The SNP machine knows this and so is making sure they can’t.

You can just keep going on and on and on with the petty little psychological games and outright corruptions being perpetrated. I was amazed to discover that at least one candidate was being badgered by whips into attending parliament to ask a pointless scripted question during the first week of a three week campaign. Seriously? That’s just harassment.

So if it all looks a bit Bugsy Malone (and it does), that’s by design. Humza is so weak that making the whole contest look low-grade is basically the strategy. It’s not that he’s not being challenged by candidates that could grow to be serious leadership challengers. Its that neither of them can become that in a week with a budget of £5k.

But this whole, transparently corrupt affair is at least being held to account by the media, isn’t it? Except no, not even nearly. The news reporting has been pretty straight on the whole but the commentary has had my jaw hanging down. Scotland’s astute commentator class has decided it is going to monster the candidates and fail to mention the context.

They’re unprepared say the commentators. Of course they’re fucking unprepared. They had a week and a bit to write a fucking manifesto. From scratch. With no notice. And they were being cross-examined on detailed policy on live TV within days of discovering there was going to be a vacancy.

Does the media think that a politician alone (say at home nursing a child or just having resigned from government on a matter of principle) walk around with a full grasp of policy and strategy in every policy area pre-formed in their head? Is our media truly that naïve, truly that ill-informed, truly that clueless about politics?

One commentator says he looks forward to hearing the candidates’ economic strategy (two weeks, £5k, no professional team…). Another wants greater detail on the independence plans (two weeks, £5k, no professional team…). It’s like making those commentators write a full exposé of corporate corruption in an hour and then me complaining it’s poorly researched.

What they have never done is lead in holding the SNP to account for its serial corruption. They stared at their feet when money went missing from the SNP accounts. Scotland’s liberal commentators and political journalists seem to have been so mesmerised by Sturgeon that they couldn’t see past her. They still call her a towering politician despite all the evidence.

Because the evidence is right in front of your eyes. I’ve worked in politics for 30 years and the only time I’ve seen an all-out meltdown in a government which compares with what is happening to the Scottish Government was the Truss administration (or possibly Black Wednesday). And that was over in a couple of weeks.

The Scottish Government is now an unrelenting deluge of fuckwittery

Just as a reminder people, it is not normal that major, keynote pieces of legislation fall apart on a daily basis. The SNP has lost the National Care Service, Deposit Return and Gender Reform legislation into a pit of incompetence in four weeks, its state-owned ferry company is on the verge of liquidation, the health service crisis is incredibly real – nothing at all isn’t going wrong.

It is an unrelenting deluge of fuckwittery. This isn’t ‘the complexities of governing’. This is ‘the administration run by Sturgeon and Swinney was incompetent which is why it achieved next to nothing and is now collapsing ‘. The rats are deserting the ship they sunk but the media lionise the rats as towering figures while tearing shreds off two people after a week of trying to think of a way to put this all back together again.

The SNP is collapsing. I was at an event yesterday and I was taken aback by who it was that was expressing shock at what is going on. Everyone (but the commentator set) can see this. Party members are angry. The SNP is being eaten alive from inside by what is now effectively an LLP of insiders sucking the party dry for their own benefit.

This is not how a serious political party picks its leader. This is not how a serious nation picks a leader. Dear god this isn’t how a serious bowling club picks its honorary president. People can see this happening. They can see the utter lack of seriousness in this failing party. No-one should pretend that the mass exodus of party members is over. If this is the standard of the SNP it is only just beginning.

There is genuine questions about whether the SNP is properly solvent. That leads to the one bright spot which is that as an unincorporated association without limitation on liability, the members of the NEC are individually liable to pay for the results of a successful legal action on the corruption taking place. And of course Murrell is in enormous legal jeopardy and Sturgeon is gone. The corruption is a result of their stewardship of the party.

At the moment the entire machinery of the SNP is being put to work to pretend that the Scottish Government isn’t out of ideas and in permanent crisis and that everything is totally fine in the party. It seems to be either inexplicably complacent or in utter denial. And if that sounds like Scottish Labour in 2010 that’s because this moment is like Scottish Labour in 2010 – but worse.

The world can see this and we look like absolute idiots. This is a big moment in the SNP’s history and it is shaming itself. I’m disgusted with the whole thing. It feels like Scotland’s reputation is being dragged back decades just now. That the SNP machine would rather humiliate the nation than risk a fair contest which might result in a candidate who would reform it tells you all you need to know.

Hell mend the SNP. God help Scotland.


Full Disclosure:

I am in touch with two of the campaigns. I have met with both the Forbes and Regan campaign teams at their request and have been feeding in Common Weal policy positions, which is a normal activity for a think tank seeking to influence policy. If the Yousaf team contacted me I’d do exactly the same for them. In addition, because Ash is a former colleague and has by far the least logistical support I have done a little more work on policy for hert on a personal basis. And when I found out that Ash has not had access to the professional media training the other two candidates have had I offered to do one two-hour media training session earlier in the week. But that is all my involvement – I am not a formal part of any campaign and am deliberately maintaining appropriate distance as someone who is not a member of the SNP.

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