Reflections on Old SNP – 20 July 2023


Winnie Ewing’s memorial service brought an attendance from across the political spectrum, joined by business and civic leaders. No less would be expected for someone who transformed Scottish politics and left a deep mark on Scottish society.

As eulogies from Alex Salmond and Alex Neil detailed her energy catapulting the SNP from a fringe group to a serious political party with her victory in Hamilton in 1967, helping keep the flame burning after the rout of 1979 and encapsulating the scene in 1999 with the words that “the Scottish Parliament adjourned on 25th day of March, in the year 1707, is here-by reconvened.”

Primarily though the service was a gathering of Old SNP to pay their respects to a titan of their movement, coming from around the country not just the Highland and Islands. But the divide between Old and New SNP was evident. Many there were either no longer members or suspended in one instance and for those still in the party, increasingly marginalised and disgruntled.

The First Minister and Nicola Sturgeon appeared rather detached, if not isolated. Some of that’s of course an age thing but it was also political. The Old SNP embodied by Winnie Ewing was a broad church even when the party adopted a formal position as a moderate left of centre party. It had always been radical but had eschewed a formal position. But latitude was given, tolerance displayed, and free spirits were welcomed. That allowed for those like myself and Alex Salmond who had been in the once proscribed Left Wing 79 Group to form common cause with Winnie and others.

What mattered was the commitment to Independence, that was what united all irrespective of views on other issues. But New SNP’s now dangerously displaying dogma and diktat on identity and other issues yet losing its focus on independence, dividing both the party and movement.

On Independence Angus McNeill MP speaks for many still in the Party when he says not just that opportunities have been wasted but there’s neither direction nor strategy. There’s no Plan B and Nicola’s not there any more to have a cunning plan. More and more it’s simply a mantra. Nobody ever doubted either Winnie’s sincerity on or commitment to independence, that some senior figures are questioned on theirs speaks volumes.

Compounding that the friendships made and respect for the Party earned by Winnie’s being undermined. The fishing sector that revered her and voted for her by the boat load looks askance at discussions on HPMA’s. The aid for the Highlands and Islands that she prised from Europe’s now undermined by Scottish Government vacillation on the A9 and A96. Whilst she was regarded with warmth, there’s SNP Ministers now who are openly held in contempt and by Party members not just the public. Whilst Winnie sought to embrace all to the cause, New SNP has been arrogant and exclusionary.

The SNP leadership’s now circling the wagons becoming strident and authoritarian. But being left of Labour isn’t enough to save them. It’s not hard given Starmers craven acceptance of Tory dogma, more importantly it’s not enough to motivate the faithful. They want some old-time religion and some passion and belief. Having attended the service Humza Yousaf would do well to learn from Winnie Ewing, not persist with Continuity Sturgeonism.