With a sharp drop-in support, high-profile arrests, growing party rifts, and nearly 16 years in power, can the Scottish National Party (SNP) survive as Scotland’s most powerful political force for much longer?
SNP campaign material from 2011 just before the SNP started their second term in government. More than a decade later they are still hold power. Credits: Ewan McIntosh
It is rare for any political party to govern a country for over 15 years but the SNP through the introduction of popular policies, political use of Scottish nationalism and some luck have managed to do just that in Scotland since Alex Salmond became the first minister of Scotland following the 2007 Holyrood election.
However, since Nicola Sturgeon’s recent resignation as party leader and replacement with Humza Yousaf the SNP has entered a semi-crisis. If this crisis will spiral into the party’s downfall or be weathered, is still to be seen.
I spoke to Strathclyde professor of politics and polling expert John Curtice about what the current polling slump may mean for the SNP and the reasons behind it. He started by cautioning that the next Holyrood election is still a “very long way off” and pointing out that they have plenty of time to potentially recover by then; the next election is scheduled for 2026.
But Prof Curtice added that “the SNP have certainly taken a hit, not just in connection with recent events [legal scandals] but also in connection with the change in leadership”. Pointing to the drop in polling after Humza Yousaf became leader due to his lack of popularity with Scottish voters and previous SNP voters.
With even a slim majority of SNP members (51.8%) not voting for him in the first round of the leadership election.
This raises the critical issue of the growing split in the party between its more progressive and socially conservative wings. This internal tension was mostly kept at bay by Sturgeon’s popularity, but the recent leadership election has brought these tensions to the surface.
Through Humza Yousaf’s narrow victory and the way in which all three candidates in the election contrasted themselves to each other quite starkly.
Kate Forbes positioned herself starkly to the right of Humza Yousif in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon. Credits: Wikimedia Commons
Prof Curtice explained that due to recent circumstances the “social liberal vs social conservative divide” has become “a source of particular division within the party”. Suggesting that this could lead to a loss of socially conservative voters to Alba and liberal voters to the Green Party, but cautioned that this is far from inevitable. The Green party’s average post Humza Yousaf’s election polling is now 2.1% higher than in the 2021 election.
Prof Curtice also cautioned that a split seems unlikely and that we should not be so quick to see this as the end of the SNP.
The other main factor behind the party’s decline in the polls according to Curtice were the legal financial troubles of the party. The party’s decline has come alongside a police investigation into how nearly £700k raised since 2017 for an independence referendum was spent improperly.
This investigation involved high ranking arrests including Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband.
Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP, was arrested as part of a Police investigation seriously tarnishing the SNP’s image. Credits: Scottish Government