Scottish National Party implodes during leadership elections

By Michael Lantry, Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in Scotland)

On 27 March Humza Yousaf was announced as the new leader of the Scottish National Party, following Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation as First Minister and subsequently that of her husband Peter Murrell as SNP CEO. This came after he was revealed to have misled the media about party membership figures. This led to accusations of vote manipulation and, with Murrell’s subsequent arrest in connection with an investigation into the SNP’s finances, is prompting further scepticism in the party.

Yousaf’s win will be a relief for many now that the more reactionary Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have lost out. However, the rightward drift of the party is still evident and its instability is threatening further losses in membership in the future. Acting CEO Mike Russell has described the SNP as “a tremendous mess”, and Yousaf described the day of Murrell’s arrest as a “difficult day” for the party.

No real options for the working class

This leadership race and its many fumbles has come about in a time of NHS collapse, Westminster’s anti-democratic blocking of the Gender Recognition Reforms (GRR), and rampant acceleration of the cost of living crisis. Amid these crises and others, Yousaf will also inherit a divided party incapable of tackling the political and economic systems at the heart of these crises.

Yousaf was Transport Minister in Sturgeon’s 2016 minority government, as well as Health Secretary in the SNP’s 2021 coalition government with the Scottish Greens. He was widely seen as the ‘continuity’ candidate of the leadership race. Yousaf claims to support the GRR and promises to stand up to Westminster on this and other issues. He has said he will not use the upcoming general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum for Scottish independence — the position taken by Sturgeon before her resignation. In the STV leadership debates on 7 March, Yousaf has claimed independence is “inevitable” but has no strategy to overcome the reality he recognises: that Westminster will not accept independence even if it has majority support in Scotland!

SNP has no strategy for independence

The UK Supreme Court ruling that Scotland could not hold a referendum without Westminster’s consent is a nail in the coffin of the SNP’s purely legalistic approach of politely negotiating with the capitalist establishment. With the breakup of Britain’s former empire, the declaration of a Republic in Barbados, a deepening divide in Northern Ireland between demands for a border poll leading (in theory) to a united Ireland and demands for a closer union with the UK, the Tory government fears another blow to the authority of the British state, so will resist any challenge to the Union.

The capitalist establishment in Scotland has no interest in pushing beyond a purely parliamentary or legal approach, however, which can be easily blocked by the Tories and the British capitalist state institutions. This will leave the ‘independence movement’ at a standstill as long as capitalist politicians are appointed as its leaders. Only a mass united struggle of working people on the streets, campuses and in workplaces, with a cohesive programme of militant demands, can build an independence movement able to win by carrying out a referendum from below and implementing socialist independence policies to break with capitalism. This should also involve building maximum working-class unity between workers on both sides of the border and across all borders generally.

Yousaf’s ‘progressive’ credentials are lacking

Instead of this working-class unity however, Yousaf proposes unity of the pro-capitalist parties, promising to “work across the political divide.” Yousaf said he would consider collaborating with Alba and Alex Salmond to this end, despite Salmond’s transphobic comments around GRR and allegations of sexual misconduct.

The more seemingly progressive aspects of Yousaf’s policies — his promise of a wealth tax to raise £200 million per year and use it to tackle child poverty among other issues — are unlikely to be delivered without a struggle from below. He has said he will “consider” calls from trade unions for these demands. However, a reaction from the capitalist establishment to block meaningful concessions to workers could make this an empty, unfulfilled promise. It is the responsibility of trade unions and their rank-and-file members to push for a struggle that can ensure these demands are met.

Yousaf is also hoping to use the Scottish National Investment Bank to fund green energy firms. This will leave the green transition in the hand of a few capitalist companies in competition with each other, as opposed to a planned transition. Furthermore, as we have seen from the global withdrawal from COP26 protocol, the energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine will continue, and can be used as an excuse to revert back to the dominant fossil fuel industry.

This capitulation to the the ‘big carbon’ monopolies such as BP and Shell is the precise opposite of the socialist programme for energy needed in Scotland. This should include nationalisation of these parasitic monopolies, under democratic workers’ control and management. This would then enable a green transition, by retraining oil and gas workers with no loss of pay or employment in a shift to renewable energies, vital for preventing climate breakdown.

Pushing to the right

The two unsuccessful leadership candidates, Ash Regan, and Kate Forbes especially, threatened to push the SNP further to the right on social and economic issues. However the SNP’s bankrupt political strategy will not leave Yousaf in a promising position either. When criticised for his role as Health Minister during the disastrous mishandling of Covid-19 exemplified across the UK and the wider capitalist world, Yousaf defended himself by arguing that it didn’t matter “who would have been in charge of the health service”.

The grain of truth here is that the political establishment, currently expressed through the SNP and the Greens, can find no way out when it comes to the cost of living, the collapse of the health service, climate crisis, gender oppression, housing and the other issues facing working people. No party or government that refuses to challenge the system creating these problems can provide an answer to the crises facing Scottish workers.

New party needed

Socialist Alternative calls for a mass movement for independence, which can utilise the power of the growing trade union movement and strike wave, along with all those fighting oppression. This will be needed to break out of the dead end currently faced by the independence movement and to truly challenge the capitalist establishment.

We must include the struggle to defend and extend the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, to ban trans ‘conversation therapy’ and support trans healthcare by fully funding the NHS, reversing privatisation and kicking out the profiteering companies.

We need wage increases above inflation, price caps on essential goods and public ownership of the giant companies which dominate our society — stop the profiteering! Only a unified mass movement can win the lasting change needed to protect working people and transform society, in both Scotland and elsewhere. To achieve this we need to build a new party of class struggle able to fight for a socialist independent Scotland as part of a voluntary socialist federation with workers in England, Wales and Ireland in a socialist Europe.

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