So there we go, the SNP machine does seem truly unstoppable. Even with a candidate that their own people don’t think is strong, even after a weak campaign, even though it fell apart in the middle of the operation – still the SNP Machine always wins. The SNP as a party is apparently impossible to reform. And god knows it needs it, because it looks like Scottish Labour in 2007.
A series of conversations over the course of the last week had braced me for this. I spoke to too many people who were sick to death of the party and its manipulations but who couldn’t vote for a candidate who was anti-abortion and didn’t think Ash Regan looked as if she was ready to be a First Minister.
They really believed that ‘somehow, something’ would be better than it looked like it would if they just went along with Yousaf. That somehow everything he said on the campaign trail would turn out not to be true, that he would become a reform candidate after all and that somehow the SNP would synthesise ‘the best of what Forbes and Regan said during the campaign’.
And it is that on which our hopes now rest, that the SNP machine will somehow reform itself. Let me be really, really clear here – there is no vote which is in the hands of the party membership which enables the party to be reformed in a member-led way.
If branches call for constitutional amendments to be debated at conference, it is entirely within the power of the Machine to prevent them getting on the agenda. The only governance-related vote which cannot be taken away from them (so far) is to elect members of the NEC. But they tried that once and the NEC was then stacked so that even if every candidate elected is a reform candidate, still they won’t have a majority on the NEC.
Had any candidate other than Yousaf taken over we might have had an open process for appointing a new Chief Executive. Again, I don’t know the procedure well enough to be certain but I am pretty confident in stating that it will be the Machine which picks its new Chief Machinist.
No, if there is any path to internal reform for the SNP I can’t see it. The SNP’s members can like it or not, they can tell themselves whatever they want, but they have just opted not to reform the party but to keep everything like it is. I really, really don’t want to hear them moan about it when they get what they voted for. This is the party they wanted.
But what if we take the fight for independence out of the party political realm? Well, again, they had that chance with two of the three candidates. Two candidates offered to open the campaign out, to focus on government in government and let the civic movement lead on the campaigning. Meanwhile one candidate stood on a platform of keeping it in-house.
And that is what the SNP’s members voted for. The SNP just voted to reject the civic movement and maintain total SNP dominance. That is what they will get. The same Machine which has run the ‘official campaign for independence’ over the last eight years will be doing so again for the foreseeable future.
That is the outcome of today – an unreformed and unreformable SNP running the same ‘independence campaign’ it has been for years and delivering the same government outcomes that it is currently delivering
In addition, two out of three candidates offered to do government differently and one promised to do it exactly the same. And the SNP members voted for the same, for more of the government we currently have. Which is quite remarkable in its own way.
That is the outcome of today – an unreformed and unreformable SNP running the same ‘independence campaign’ it has been for years and delivering the same government outcomes that it is currently delivering.
I wonder if SNP members can see what this looks like from the outside. I wonder if they understand the message that this gives to the people of Scotland. ‘That’ll do them fine’ is what it sounds like to me. They genuinely think this is all perfectly good enough.
Where does this go to? Well first it is going to lead to a government mess beyond anything you’ve seen so far. The Scottish Parliament’s finances are about to face a major squeeze (partly as a result of a botched negotiation during the Smith Commission process). Everything is going wrong at the same time and the money is about to run out.
It is genuinely difficult to see who is going to turn this round. I don’t want to be unkind, but it certainly isn’t Humza. Nor is it his team. Nor the current government incumbents. This is a disaster waiting to unfold.
The impact on the SNP’s electability is something else we will soon see. Yousaf starts his term as the least popular First Minister ever. On his first day. His approval ratings might climb from there, but if you were to put money on them either rising or falling, which one would it be? How low an approval rating can you get to and still stand to lead the country again?
Of course we will soon get a test case. For a whole host of reasons I’m unconvinced there is any candidate who could have prevented SNP losses at the upcoming General Election. It is going to be hard to prevent it being framed as ‘the election to turf the Tories out of Downing Street’ and, along with the Scottish Government’s travails, would suggest there will be losses.
But Yousaf may be sitting at -30 per cent approval by then and the government mess is going to get worse and worse. I do not think it unlikely that he could shed 15 seats. It isn’t a good look for your first election.
(All I can say is that the spineless MPs all ‘did their duty’ and endorsed Humza – usual honourable exceptions – so he is their boy. That means they own their approaching unemployment. No-one will shed tears for them. A nine per cent swing in votes finishes Stephen Flynn’s short reign. Again, that is the choice he made.)
In 2007 the Scottish Labour Party decided that its fundamental problem was absolutely everyone but itself – and now the SNP has just done exactly the same
This is the overwhelming problem for the cause of independence – under Yousaf the cause simply doesn’t look credible. It is going to be very, very difficult to persuade anyone that independence is an active, viable, achievable reality for any time in the near future.
This result will demoralise the remaining activists keeping what movement there still is going. I’m an activist who never, ever stopped turning up and doing my bit. I don’t know whether that is something I’m willing to do any longer. I know I’m not alone.
All of this reflects a single question that all of this throws up. For the last eight years we all knew who was in charge of the SNP. It was run almost wholly by Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell. The assumption from everyone I spoke to when this contest began was that Peter Murrell (and by extension Nicola Sturgeon) would still be running the SNP if Yousaf won.
What I don’t really believe is that anyone who nominated Yousaf as a leadership candidate thought that he would end up making decisions autonomously and on his own. I think it was always assumed that he would be the first among equals in a ‘Machine Team’. But since that assumption was initially made, the Machine itself has shed all its senior figures.
That is the biggest question out of all of this – who is actually running the SNP now? Is it really Humza Yousaf? Or if he’s a frontman for a party establishment, who is that establishment any more? This is a big issue. If it is what it looks like to me, Yousaf is the front man of a team of second-rate councillors and third-rate government apparatchiks. That is terrifying.
As best I can tell the SNP just offered a big Fuck You to the independence movement and a big Fuck You to Scottish voters. Right now it is hard to feel that the SNP is anything other than contemptuous.
This attitude was taken once before by a Scottish political party. It was Scottish Labour in 2007 when it lost the Scottish Election. It could have listened to that message, reformed itself and stayed in contention. It decided instead that its fundamental problem was absolutely everyone but itself. The SNP has just done exactly the same.
So as I debate my own future, I simply ask this question – the SNP very, very clearly does not believe it owes us anything. Which raises the question – why on earth does it think we are due it anything?