SNP and Westminster – 18 May 2023


Westminster elections are rarely comfortable for the SNP. The 2015 landslide unique, coming in the lea of the referendum and garnering a galvanised Yes vote, as opposed to divided Better Together parties. Normally, it’s much harder to motivate independence supporters for an election to an institution they disdain, and some query why it’s even contested.

It’ll be even harder now. The sheen has come off the SNP, worn from without by 16 years of power in Scotland and undermined from within by scandal. Headlines unremittingly grim from the arrest of senior players to the grinding down of vital public services and it’s not going to get any better. A new and untested leader.

Westminster elections see the SNP fight for relevance not just profile. The latter will be hard enough. An October or even winter election next year make TV debates between party leaders even greater in importance. Adverse weather, dark nights and with all parties struggling to motivate activists makes the media even more important. But the big set piece debates will be Sunak v Starmer with Yousaf side lined and when seen on the back foot on devolved issue failings.

On the Party stance they cannot form a government and are pledged to oppose a Tory one. That leaves them seeking relevance as King Makers or as Labours conscience. Both are a hard sell. Starmer has ruled out a deal and that won’t change. They don’t need to as they know SNP can’t oppose them.

As for keeping Labour left they’ve hardly a track record to sell. In 2015 Angus Robertson sat them down on the Green Benches with the absurd intent of becoming the “real opposition”, something they could never be given simple arithmetic and something as an Independence party they should certainly not have been seeking. Even when the SNP leadership and circumstances changed nothing was extracted. Pledging to do so now rings hollow when they cannot point to any successes over 8 years.

Having ruled out a plebiscite election motivating independence supporters will be hard. As in 2017 the real fear must be that voters sit on their hands. They suffered then and as things stand history could repeat itself. They’ve also divided and disillusioned many SNP supporters as polls showing SNP support lagging that for independence confirm.

There’s though a way to galvanise the Independence vote and that’s to have a united front for the Yes Movement and pushing for an independence mandate. The SNP brand’s damaged and now a hinderance not a help. But Independence remains in the high 40s which is quite remarkable. A Scotland United ticket, call it what you like, but the equivalent of the Bloc Quebecois offers salvation.

The SNP leadership has been approached. Reject it and they’ll pay a heavy price and many of their sitting MPs know it. Too many have sat mute during all the latest shenanigans even when challenged as to what do they want their political obituary to be, “served in Westminster 2015-24.” Who knew?

To mobilise the Yes Movement it has to be cross party and none, and focussed on independence not Westminster deals or simply seats. Stand as SNP and many are doomed, do so on a pan independence and they’ve a chance.  They need to mobilise the movement.