The SNP leadership election result mirrored the Brexit vote: 52-48%. Will it prove as fractious as the EU referendum of 2016 that continues to divide the UK?
It certainly suggests that the SNP is split down the middle between social democratic/social liberal and economically and socially conservative wings. And that its grasp on power is loosening after almost 16 years.
The pretty derisory 11% first preferences for Ash Regan confirms that the Alba ‘insurgency’ is already a spent force. On the other hand, Kate Forbes’s 47.9% in the second round suggests that the days of the centralising, semi-autocratic rule of the party leadership under Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell are over. Had she had more time to prepare her campaign she might well have (deservedly) won: taking on the SNP ‘establishment’/Scottish Government and galvanising a ‘revolt’ by the party base clearly won more backing as the truncated campaign progressed.
Hardly surprising, then, that Humza Yousaf – criticised by his rivals as the embodiment of SNP failure in government – talked of change rather than continuity. From his opening citation of the legacy of Labour leader John Smith, he effectively talked of a fresh start: on poverty, criminal justice reform, health service delivery, small business support, social and economic revival. Long promised by his predecessors; patchily delivered if at all.
He made two striking promises: to enable Scotland as “a European nation” to return to the EU and, of course, to be part of/command the “generation that delivers independence for Scotland.” He’s young (38 on April 7) but both these goals will be hard to deliver within a decade and, even with the best will in the world, the next 12-15 years. What’s more, his tenure at the top of party and government may prove short if election results next year and again in 2026 go the wrong way as well they might.
That’s for the days and months ahead to decide. They may prove tough, cruel even for the “first Muslim to be elected as national leader in any western democracy” (h/t @sundersays) and (almost certainly) first ethnic minority leader of the Scottish Government. That should merit some goodwill for Humza Yousaf. He won’t enjoy it for long, if at all. If Sturgeon’s reputation is already being shredded, he doesn’t have one to defend. A hard rain gonna fall on him. And, more than likely, his party too.
Featured image via Scottish Government flickr CC BY-SA 2.0