The SNP’s impending collapse is an opportunity, but also a warning, for Scottish Labour

by Rob Marchant

While the Tories writhe in anguish about how large their defeat is likely to be, spare a thought for another party, which might conceivably end up worse.

It’s been difficult to keep track of everything that’s gone wrong for the SNP over the last year or so.

First there was the shock resignation of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her own arrest. Not to mention that of her husband, who was later re-arrested and charged, on suspicion of embezzlement.

Her successor Humza Yousaf, in power for just over a year, continued to pursue Sturgeon’s tremendous unpopular policy of gender self ID, and was himself forced to resign after the failure of a widely-criticised bill curbing free speech and the subsequent collapse of the coalition with the Scottish Greens.

Now we have John Swinney, who has been in office for a further 21 days, during which he has: used up political capital trying to save a disgraced MSP friend, only to fail in the end; pushed for recognition of a terrorist state, even though his role has no powers whatsoever over foreign affairs; has been unable to say what a woman is; and the icing on the cake was when Rishi Sunak called a general election unexpectedly early, meaning that they now look to receive a terrible drubbing at the polls sooner rather than later.

Indeed, a poll a few days ago, when put through the well-known Electoral Calculus model, predicted it could end up with as few as seven seats; a total wipeout. Oh, and their Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, would lose his seat, although he remains bullish about their prospects, in a “Chemical Ali” kind of a way.

Yousaf was fond of saying that this coming general election should be seen as a plebiscite on Scottish independence – but they’re not saying that any more.

Because that might mean accepting that Scots are, on the whole, not the slightest bit interested in independence, at least while their public services are in such a parlous state.

Surprisingly, few commentators seem to be looking forwards to what happens after that, either: if they do end up decimated, then Swinney will be leading a zombie government in Holyrood, bereft of legitimacy, limping along until the next Scottish election in 2026, and that is if it can avoid a vote of no-confidence and a snap election long before that.

Indeed, if the defeat is truly bad, one wonders if the devolved government can survive the year, even with a change of leader.

All this makes it difficult to escape the impression of a party, and a devolved government, in absolute meltdown. And this is fantastic news for Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour, the likely beneficiary of most of those votes switching away from the SNP.

But hidden in this rosy picture lies a warning: do what they did in alienating Scottish women, Anas, and you’ll end up the same.

Anneliese Dodd’s recent failure to smell the same coffee that Starmer and Streeting seem to be smelling on the gender debate, following the Cass report’s uncovering of a child-mutilation scandal, and Anas Sarwar’s seemingly similar weakness to “be kind” on this subject, could mean that they fail to capitalise as much as expected on the Tories’ and the SNP’s respective collapses.

In Scotland, unthinkable though it might sound, they could even end up gifting marginal seats to the Tories, for whom this policy is one – about the only one, if truth be known – where they are making a more attractive proposal than Labour. Or worse, they might just give the SNP a chance to recover in time for the Scottish election, if they could select a more credible leader, such as Kate Forbes, who knows what a woman is.

It’s time for Scottish Labour, grown perhaps too used to oppositionist politics over the last decade, to realise it needs to step up to a completely different level, if it is serious about power. Starmer has done it at UK level, now so must Sarwar.

The stakes are high. If the stars align, it could be soon forming a new Scottish government; or it could be back in limbo, having squandered a precious opportunity to be taken seriously again north of the border.

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

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