The coming implosion of the SNP sees Starmer and Sarwar finally inching towards common sense

by Rob Marchant

As the SNP ship is seen to drift, perhaps inexorably, towards a disastrous new era with Humza Yousaf currently its most likely captain, we have to ask ourselves how they ended up here.

As John Rentoul rightly argued on Twitter last Friday, the party has been in decline for some time, of which Sturgeon’s exit is a symptom rather than a cause. One cannot help but think that more is likely to come out about their funding irregularities; but the trigger for the final dam-burst was clearly Sturgeon’s decision to die on the hill of gender self ID, a highly unpopular – not to mention fundamentally damaging to women’s rights, and unworkable – policy.

Rather than listening to Scottish voters, Sturgeon then decided to double down so hard, that she triggered the first-ever invocation of Section 35 the Scotland Act; that is, an overruling of the bill by Westminster.

Crying “an affront to democracy” when you simply do not like the law as it stands makes you look foolish; and one use of Section 35 in a quarter-century of devolved government is hardly evidence of heavy-handedness by Westminster, rather of checks and balances operating exactly as they were designed to.

The sum total of all this has not only undermined the SNP as a credible political force, but has almost certainly set the SNP’s touchstone, the cause of Scottish independence, back years if not decades.

But that is only the start of the SNP’s woes. For a start, think of the hand dealt to Sturgeon’s successor: the party’s electoral hegemony, despite its lacklustre record in government, has arguably been the result of poor competition to replace them. That is, it is largely the near-collapse of its erstwhile big rival, Labour, since the mid-2000s, which has allowed them to continue in power with such so little actually delivered. This is unlikely to change.

Next, now the benighted self ID policy has gone through to become law, there will undoubtedly be  a consistent drip-drip-drip of media fallout from it; of a similarly shocking variety to the perfectly timed case of self-identified transgender rapist “Isla” Bryson, slated for a women’s prison despite the obvious bad faith of the man’s declaration as transgender.

Only the press will be waiting for it this time. Every disaster story which comes out – and there will be many – will be a nail in the coffin of the SNP, in its current incarnation at least.

And that is not the only disaster that the hot potato of self ID bequeaths the new leader: two of the three candidates for leader – Forbes and Regan – are openly gender-critical and hence against it, but they are not the two most likely to win. The third and favourite, Yousaf, even though he might slyly try and back away from it if elected, will likely be held to it by his coalition partners, the Greens, who threaten to walk away if self ID is dropped. And a win by one of the other two candidates would be even worse for the coalition anyway.

All of this awaits the incoming leader, to whom Sturgeon has unceremoniously lobbed a hospital pass.

Now let’s suppose Yousaf does become leader. Where Sturgeon might be a politician we Labourites might strongly disagree with on a range of issues, there is no denying that the SNP under her leadership has been a formidable machine, which has largely beaten Scottish Labour to an electoral pulp over the last decade or two.

Yousaf, on the other hand, is thought by many to be a walking disaster of a minister, who has failed at pretty much every job he has ever been given. It is really difficult to see the SNP turning things around before the next election in 2025, especially in the event of him being in charge. And if the SNP wins that election in such poor shape, it is only because the other parties, particularly Labour, have failed to convince.

All this said, where does it leave Labour? The positive sign is, from statements by both Sarwar and Starmer over the weekend, that they have now seen the edge of the abyss on self ID and are now inching the party back to sanity, north and south of the border respectively.

The problem they have is that, for many Scottish women, it may be too late. Sarwar, clearly the most promising leader Scottish Labour has had in some years, has been fairly sure-footed until this issue.

But he has now lost the trust of the bill’s many detractors in the country, by whipping his MSPs to vote for self ID. He calls the leadership election a “reset opportunity” for the self ID bill – and yes, he and his colleagues did try to amend some of the worst aspects out of the bill – but neither detail is likely to cut much mustard with the bill’s increasingly visible and vocal opponents in the country.

Starmer has been more equivocal on the subject and said for the first time on Friday that it is “not a priority” for Labour, hopefully a signal that self ID will be quietly watered down or left out of next year’s general election manifesto.

But for many of Labour’s potential supporters, they may still be seen as beyond the pale; a party which will deliver the same kind of dumb wokery as the SNP, but without Indy. And if you like your Indy full-fat and without wokery, you can vote for Alba, Alex Salmond’s new party. If Labour is not careful, it could even be the Tories who benefit from the SNP’s current slump in the polls.

In short: in terms of making its long-awaited comeback, Scottish Labour might at this point have been shooting at an open goal. But its unforced error in voting with the SNP last Christmas means that it may well still end up missing.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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