Walls come tumbling down: The SNP crisis and the state of Scottish politics and independence

The events of the past few days have caught many off-guard. Humza Yousaf‘s abrupt termination of the agreement with the Greens, their resultant fury and desire for revenge, with the inevitable resignation of Yousaf as it became obvious that he could not win a vote of confidence without paying a high price to Alba and Alex Salmond.

All political parties, parliaments and political systems have crises. They are the life and blood of politics. They are revealing, tell us much about what the main players (whether parties or individuals) think, shed light where once was dark, and can even be at times cathartic and illuminating – and sometimes liberating.

The mindset of part of the SNP and independence

How do we make sense of such a chaotic situation? First, let’s look at the SNP and independence opinion. There was a very identifiable element of denial up to the point that Yousaf resigned that there was anything to see here. 

There is a need to explore what drives people to stand by a leader who was obviously dealt a difficult hand but was not in all honesty up to the demands of leading. One rationale is the belief that pro-independence people should come together in the face of an antagonistic public environment and critical press, and support whoever is in charge. That is understandable on a human level but causes problems when it becomes about denying what is reality.

Take some examples. Lesley Riddoch said of Yousaf’s keynote SNP conference speech last year that it was the ‘best leader’s speech I’ve ever heard’ which gave succour to some of the faithful. The truth was that Yousaf’s speech was fairly lame and tame, and addressing a subdued, half-filled hall, with its best lines reheating a previous party policy – a council tax freeze.

Similarly, numerous SNP activists and members say that Yousaf was proving himself ‘a good leader’, ‘unifying the party’ and to be someone who is ‘an enabler’. This was palpably not true on any reading of the evidence. Even as late as Saturday one prominent pro-independence supporter was claiming that talk of crisis was overblown, the party was not as the BBC claimed in ‘meltdown’ and that ‘the party hasn’t been this united for years.’

This mindset needs to be understood. It springs ultimately from a politics and psychology of tribalism and blind faith, and wanting to believe that things will be alright if we continually say so. Over time as political fortunes ebb and flow this throws a hostage to fortune as it ignores the accumulation of problems which come with any party being in office for a long time.

This clinging together and denying inconvenient truths has meant that the SNP has been directionless, rudderless and without strategy since the beginning of the Sturgeon era in 2014. For a decade, since the indyref, the SNP have foresworn any kind of internal debate about direction and the content of party, government and independence; and a large, but over time, dwindling part of the SNP and independence has gone along with this. All of which has contributed to drift, an overbearing leadership under Sturgeon, and a party which has forgotten how to debate. Some people have been content to go along with this and follow Sturgeon and even Yousaf but it has contributed to the present malaise and set of crises.

The state of commentary whether in Scotland or the UK is a problem in how we do politics. There is an intolerance and illiberalism in much mainstream media with a blurring of the lines between commentary, news and editorialising. The right-wing press – the Express, Mail and Telegraph – have become radicalised since the 2016 Brexit vote, making political discourse more harsh, xenophobic and filled with racist and ‘othering’ tropes. 

Post-2014 our debates have become more brittle and dehumanising, and the trans debate has become pivotal significantly due to an inability to find common ground. In the aftermath of Yousaf’s resignation, numerous commentators such as Mandy Rhodes, editor of Holyrood declared the past two First Ministers had resigned due to the Gender Recognition Bill. This is not so on any reading. Sturgeon resigned for two reasons – ‘she had run out of room to manoeuvre on the independence question’ and ‘the police investigation into the SNP’s financial affairs was drawing closer to home’ – in the words of commentator Alex Massie. Such big issues would fell any leader, so why would prominent commentators want to deny it?

The growing chasm between the SNP and Greens was a key factor in the fall of Yousaf. This extended beyond policy differences, such as Yousaf diluting climate change policies, but went to the heart of each party. The SNP, after 17 years in office, have become a party of professional politicians who are characterised by power; the likes of Yousaf and Kate Forbes as MSPs have only known the party in office and think of the world in such terms. The Greens are not an insider party, not shaped by power, and are influenced by a host of social issues and attitudes, including an element of puritanism and self-righteousness: the latter evident in comments last Thursday with Lorna Slater declaring the Greens had kept the barbarians from the door being in office. The ending of the two-party agreement should have surprised no one, only the way it was abruptly ended by Yousaf.

The Politics of Liberation and Telling Truths

Where does this leave us, putting the froth and excitement to one side? Is all that has happened necessarily bad? Can the weakening of the SNP be the first signs of moving in the right direction? Could it be a major positive to break – or at least diminish – the culture of tribalism and blind faith? Could a new age of honesty and debate be possible if people want it? And how do those of us who are not politicians influence any of this?

First, is it possible that the opening and chink of light which emerged at the end of the Sturgeon era could now be nurtured? No doubt some think that an unfair characteristic of the age of Sturgeon. Yet the nine years of her leadership and particularly the period after the 2016 Brexit vote saw her present the illusion of progress towards an indyref which was constantly portrayed as just around the corner – if only people didn’t ask her any inconvenient questions and loyally believed in her. This became so risible in the latter years it became known as ‘the Duke of York’ approach to independence – marching the foot-soldiers up to the top of the hill and then back down again and again.

The end of this era in March 2023 was this set of fairy tales destroyed – something I said at the time – and the chance for liberation from a politics of make-believe, illusions and falsehoods. It was the chance for fresh air and debate to blow down corridors that it had not done for years. Not surprisingly the Yousaf leadership choose not to follow this route but as the continuity candidate to continue with the fantasy politics on independence, only sold less plausibly.

Spelling out what for some would be hard truths would entail stating the obvious. Independence is not on the immediate horizon and will not be gained at the next Westminster or Scottish Parliament elections. The continual focus and belief in independence as just around the corner has been used by the SNP leadership to prevent the hard lifting which needs to be undertaken to completely overhaul independence. That will take time given the lack of work under Sturgeon and Yousaf.

James Mitchell of Edinburgh University has extensively researched the views of SNP members and judges that: ‘The problem is that the members do not want to be told that an independence referendum should be “parked” and that leadership contenders are likely to try and outbid each other in the nationalist stakes.’

Second, leadership matters. One of the paradoxes of the devolution era has been, for all the commentary, the lack of analysis of leadership in its many forms. Recently I wrote a study of First Ministers for Political Quarterly which reviewed the skills, expectations and resources available to those who held the post; it is a mixed record but Scottish politics needs to think about what kind of qualities we want from leaders and politicians.

To put it bluntly the years of Salmond and Sturgeon came at a cost. They both represented in different ways a presidential form of leadership. Salmond at his peak had a porous way of working at the centre, bringing people in and being open to challenge and new ideas. Sturgeon blessed with huge political capital after the 2014 indyref sadly decided to waste these by governing in ever decreasing circles which narrowed to a few key advisers at the top of government. This command and control mindset was further disabled by micro-management across government, all to the ultimate detriment of good governance.

Some of this was less evident in the Salmond era as the party gained votes and was on an upward curve heading towards the peak of the mountain of its support – ‘Peak Nat’ 2011-15. This is the world that Sturgeon inherited, a party with broad national appeal, and her main task was to maintain this coalition and not see it break apart – a task very different. It entailed managing the slow descent from the world of ‘Peak Nat’, leading to caution, conservatism and even inertia – all to keep the coalition as broad as possible which ultimately proved impossible. Sturgeon’s dilemma here was similar to New Labour at its peak: seemingly omnipotent but paralysed by fear of breaking up its ‘Big Tent’ coalition feeding ultra-control politics and caution. The point of ‘Peak Nat’ and the coronation of Sturgeon in November 2014 was where it all began to go wrong with the adulation, growing personality cult and deliberate lack of debate.

Humza Yousaf’s endgame saw him try to be who he wasn’t – macho, decisive, even abrasive in firing and humiliating the Greens when a different way of ending the Bute House Agreement was clearly available. He paid the cost of trying too hard to be what he was not, resulting in misjudgement and losing his job. But another factor was the quality of advice he listened to – from Kevin Pringle who has been a feature of SNP leadership circles for 20 years and Stephen Flynn, Westminster group leader, which point to a deeper problem at the heart of the party and the cul-de-sac it is in.

Third, a politics based on tactical adeptness, as the SNP displayed in the years on the up, only takes you so far. Salmond Mark Two 2004-14 was a brilliant operator who remade the SNP into a winning electoral machine. But he did so while also keeping some of the detail fuzzy, so he could make it up as he went along. It is not an accident that the SNP did not offer a detailed plan for independence until 2013-14 – one which was suitable vague about the economic prospectus; and related to this offered an undefined vision of the social democracy it claimed to champion. Eventually the balancing acts involved in such a politics which did not address in clarity the key fundamentals comes at a cost.

Fourth, a Swinney versus Forbes contest looks likely to be on the cards. This is a direct result of the hangover from the Sturgeon era and denying the oxygen of publicity and freedom to senior figures in the party over the course of her leadership. This is what led to the torturous, embarrassing leadership contest of 2023.

Both Swinney and Forbes have qualities. There is a palpable desire in the party for unity and by the party’s ‘big beasts’ for that to be around Swinney. But unity only serves a purpose if it is about addressing some of the fundamentals above: the challenges in restoring party governance, putting competence at the heart of government, and some honesty about independence.

Swinney has the albatross of being called ‘the continuity candidate’ – someone who would continue the legacy of Sturgeon and Yousaf – which is seen by many as a negative when change is required. Kate Forbes is undoubtably the candidate of change, but what kind of change? Paul Hutcheon described the contest as ‘a choice between yesterday’s man and the candidate for the 19th century’ which might seem unfair, but has traction. Forbes is not only a ‘Wee Free’ and a social conservative with all the baggage that entails, she is an economic conservative who has shown adherence to the economic orthodoxies of recent decades which have failed so miserably across the globe.

Fifth, such a paucity of choice in ideas, let alone personnel, raise the issue of the nature of the public sphere in Scotland, political discourse and where new thinking occurs. The SNP were once informed by a wide, generous civic nationalism and self-governing movement of opinion which redefined Scottish politics in the 1980s and 1990s: the likes of Neil MacCormick, Tom Nairn and Stephen Maxwell being examples. That intellectual strand has long exhausted itself generationally; in its place we have a vacuum created by 17 years of SNP dominance and politics as tactics which has sucked in a whole swathe of opinion-formers and thinkers. 

Independence of the Scottish Mind

Somehow we have to begin to put ideas, deep thinking and intellectualism back into the politics of self-government and self-determination. This should not be impossible, given the appeal of independence and its generational tilt towards younger people. But it will require conscious support and movement and infrastructure building which the SNP has foresworn in its years in office, ultimately to its own cost.

The SNP cannot go on as it has done. It needs a different approach to how it does politics. The pretence and delusion that things were alright under Sturgeon and Yousaf must be broken for good.

This requires a different approach by the SNP to party, government and independence, but that won’t happen easily. The existing leadership and party structures have become accustomed to running things in a top-down manner. The only way that internal change realistically comes about is by being forced to change by external pressures and the voters showing their dissatisfaction in the 2024 and 2026 elections.

Independence is of course about more than the SNP. It is not as many commentators have claimed ‘dead’ or ‘on life support’. Rather independence support as measured by Ipsos Scotland has been in the ten years since 2014 consistently higher than the 45% of the indyref. That means that work needs to be done on the offer, detail and winning over the Scotland unconvinced who need respect not ridicule.

This requires a politics beyond the SNP and that also means beyond marches – not that there is anything wrong with marches, but they are for people who are already converts. The missing politics post-2014 needs addressing – organisational work beyond party, creating resources which can do serious work, employing researchers and getting down to detail, and doing so in an ecology of more than one imitative.

This is a politics that the SNP under Sturgeon deliberately did not encourage but what it touches upon is a wider cause – independence as a state of mind, an attitude, a living culture, and set of practices. 

Independence as a state of mind is about a mindset that is more than politics, it is about culture and a way of being. Central is the un-championed area in recent times of cultural self-determination which is as important as political self-determination. Indeed, I would argue you cannot have a genuine version of one without the other.

The SNP’s journey into being a governing party and respectability has had major gains: independence mainstreamed, but it has also had costs. One has been that the SNP’s version of power and independence has been narrowly focused on party and politics. 

It has done so to present a conventional account of Scotland and independence, but in so doing has abandoned the terrain of cultural politics, self-determination and wider cultural representation. This area addresses some of the most potent emotions of who we are as human beings, the stories we tell ourselves and define ourselves by, and which have the power to change minds.

The next few years will be difficult for the SNP whoever they elect as their leader. The challenges the SNP will face will not necessarily be a bad thing. They offer the opportunity for a different politics, idea of power and vision of Scotland to emerge. But this will not happen by osmosis.

This will require the forces of pro-independence and self-determination to take responsibility and to set up to the task of creating new political spaces and resources and working to make a reality of that independence of the Scottish mind. Not ducking hard choices or thinking, and not paying homage to tribalism, blind faith or party loyalty with the leader providing all the answers.

We can choose a different path that is not defined by fairy tales. We can embrace a politics of liberation and light, take responsibility, reach out to fellow Scots whatever our differences, and act with respect towards each other. This will be scary for some but an era of post-2014 Sturgeonism is clearly over and a new era with new challenges is now upon all of us.

Comments (61)

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  1. William Simpson says:

    Great article Gerry, as you say it’s not all about politics, it’s culture, belief and leadership. We need leaders who can lead and command respect.

  2. John Robertson says:

    Anti-SNP rentagob James Mitchell and the appalling liar, Alex Massie of the Spectator as sources? Really?

    1. Gordon McAdam says:

      Is what either of them said wrong?

      1. Alec Lomax says:

        Generally their comments on Scottish politics.

  3. Jim Aitken says:

    A good article on certain levels. However, Scotland is suffering acute poverty, health issues, poor housing and many other social problems. This is the field for opposition politics to make a mark.The SNP has failed to address these issues and this failure lets both the Tories off the hook as the architects of these problems, and lets off Labour who remain silent on these issues as well.. The SNP has drifted and independence will never come unless the SNP either tackles such issues or aggressively puts the blame for the mess where it belongs at Tory policies and a vacillating Labour Party. The SNP has to show urgency and agency on these issues. Poverty has to be challenged. Failure to do so can only normalise the obscene mess the Tories have created. The SNP have to show difference by caring more about the people living in this Tory enforced poverty. That way lies increased support and eventual independence. If this is not addressed then nothing will change. People are seeking help and support and expect politics to improve their social conditions.

  4. Michael Marten says:

    A stimulating read, thank you.

    It’s worth holding many contradictory things in view simultaneously, such as:

    1. 2014 was a defeat – BUT incredibly, much of the SNP still appears to be in denial about this and seems to want to pretend it was just a practice-run for IndyRef2 in some future never-never-land (therefore lessons were not really learnt, and now it’s almost too late for immediate lessons about tactics, strategy, and vision to be learnt)

    2. my local SNP MP is very good, and I would probably vote for him again – BUT if the SNP lurches to the conservative right (eg installing Forbes as leader), I definitely won’t; same applies to Scottish elections (I’d probably spoil my first ballot, as I’d never vote Tory, Labour or LibDem – and I wonder how many people would take a similar line?); the SNP needs to be very conscious of what kind of people it is attracting, and who it maybe doesn’t want to attract

    3. insofar as it is possible to tell from the outside, Sturgeon and Yousaf both appear to have been broadly decent people – BUT lacked the vision to take Scotland forward after 2014

    4. the vision for where to go is not primarily mechanical and procedural which is what Sturgeon in particular tried to pursue – BUT about a narrative, a story, an aspiration of where we want Scotland to go, and much of the SNP seems to lack this, and did even in 2014 (I’m a member of SGP, though not very active in the meantime, and one of the attractions for me of independence was and remains that it is the only avenue I can see for getting things done that I think need doing to make Scotland a progressive small country like some of our northern neighbours)

    5. the SGP has a vital role to play in the current (and hopefully future) Scottish Parliaments – BUT as a party we need to reflect seriously on how the party presents, with fewer foot-in-mouth moments (I’ll never forget Slater, when she was already co-leader, telling an online SGP meeting with members that until she became an MSP, she hadn’t understood the difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government!!). More serious people are needed, and are available, such as Chapman, Mackay, and Johnstone. Harvie has probably done as much as he can as co-leader, and I would hope others would make themselves available in future

    6. etc.!

    Whilst I appreciate the listing by Gerry Hassan of the likes of MacCormick, Nairn, and Maxwell, we need to be much more aware of the spread of thought regarding Scotland’s future (and it’s not all white men!), and encourage many more broad conversations about these issues – eg some of the work Lesley Riddoch is doing is phenomenal, but largely ignored by the technocratic forces in both SNP and SGP.

  5. Meg Macleod says:

    I voted snp because they put forward the independence possibiloty..i thought once we havevit then we can,surely,get right down to what scotland wants to be…..a way of being as you suggest in your article..and as you..say..this way of being was never really focussed on ..i imagined after independence we would see risng to the surface the artists ,poets, and thinkers with a sold belief in the human spirit …
    Alas..its a chicken and egg situation isnt it

    To lead such a party requires an ordunary humand being to do extraordunary things
    Is there someone like that out there lost in the political maze?

  6. Dougie Blackwood says:

    This article defines the problem but unfortunately I see no hint of a solution. Neither Swinney nor Forbes are the answer. I’m not in touch with those others within the party at Holyrood that might be able to make a better shot at leadership; are there any that would make a difference?

  7. SteveH says:

    The question that Scots need to be asking is that do they want independence or blatant communism? To sneak one in under guise of the other is a big mistake.

    Its best to go for one thing, make the case for it? Then have a contest afterwards for the other. A word of warning: communism isn’t known for its love of free speech and democracy.

    1. Blatant Communism please

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @SteveH, haven’t you died for your country yet? I’m beginning to suspect that your protestations of uber-patriotism may be a little… performative.

      Ah, what you don’t know about communism would fill a world. Idea communism is among the freest forms of speech. Indeed, Marx and Engels credited bourgeois society for creating the great commons of world literature, where authors can share ideas across borders, cultures and languages (it’s in the Communist Manifesto), and idea communism would go even further. Ideas as the means of production of more ideas.

      This is why other great modern idea commons are essentially free: global science and the digital commons. One might say these underpin democracy, what we have of it, since they are our best hope of common ground on which to collectively make decisions.

      1. Niemand says:

        So we have, on the one hand, SteveH seeing communism behind any vaguely progressive worldview and on the other, MrVetigo seeing any reaching out beyond so-called progressive confines as appeasing fascism, bigotry and hatred.

        No wonder the world is in such a mess because though both those viewpoints are only held by a small minority, they are very loud and are having influence, whereas they should be regarded as the fringe views of the seriously deluded, to be polite.

    3. John says:

      ‘Blatant communism’ – Stevie lad you have moved on from propagating right wing hatred to talking pure nonsense (being polite). My goldfish makes more sense than you sometimes.
      Do yourself a favour and stop making a fool of yourself with communism comments.

  8. MrVertigo says:

    Reaching out to fellow Scots has a simpler definition: appeasing fascism, bigotry and hatred. You make some good points, but ultimately you, too, are living in a fairytale, in a world that is gone.

  9. Peter Woodifield says:

    A very interesting article and a good analysis of how we have ended up where we are. There is little doubt that the cause of, and case for, independence has had a setback, partly because of all the well known problems in the areas that matter to voters who don’t live and breathe politics – ferries, declining education standards, the NHS, even potholes. Just blaming Westminster for everything is a cop out. It’s just a way of avoiding taking responsibility for your own mistakes. Until the SNP and the SG own their mistakes it’s going to be very hard to persuade the uncommitted voters to support something that’s going to be run by people who have shown they can’t organise the proverbial in a brewery. Why take the risk? So a complete reset is needed, including dropping the pretence that independence is nearer than ever. Rightly or wrongly, it’s a long way off.

    1. John says:

      Peter – you think Scottish people are too stupid to run their own country.
      Yes there have been some mistakes and more competence is required whoever takes over but when you compare Holyrood to the rampant incompetence at Westminster I know which option is more appealing. Add in the fact that Holyrood does not openly advocate cruelty to poor, asylum seekers, disabled etc as Westminster does.

  10. Niemand says:

    The meta-view is that any party that has been in power (more or less) for 17 years becomes stale, increasingly dictatorial but also dysfunctional, and corrupt. And this is what has happened. I see no prospect of that changing without some time out of office. In that sense, in the short term it probably does not matter who is leader.

    1. John says:

      I think it is inevitable the SNP will be out of office post 2026 elections for reasons you have identified plus exhaustion from being in government post 2014 with an increasingly interfering and hostile Westminster government.
      As regards leader I do worry that a Kate Forbes leadership will lead to more turmoil and I also fear the media will really go for her personally.
      A time out of office away from day to day grind of governance may give SNP time to reflect, reconnect with wider independence movement and Scottish electorate.
      A Labour government at Westminster will face big challenges and may become fairly unpopular quite quickly as will any Unionist coalition government at Holyrood. This will be the time of opportunity for independence movement to build support to above 60% by next elections at which is level independence becomes inevitable regardless of what Westminster says. It is an opportunity that will require to be ceased and will require wise leadership and the ability to appeal to a wide cross section of Scottish electorate not a favoured constituency.

  11. florian albert says:

    There is a lot to agree with in Gerry Hassan’s generally pessimistic account of the SNP’s period in power, particularly his criticism of Nicola Sturgeon. However, a couple of things need to be added.

    Nicola Sturgeon dominated the Holyrood chamber for most of a decade. Her success was based, above all, on electoral popularity. Those who suggested that the Empress had no clothes were ignored or reviled.

    Gerry Hassan is right to emphasize the intellectual failure of independence supporters in that decade. Behind this failure was the illusion that around the 2014 referendum had been a period of fertile intellectual discussion, when in fact there had been very little achieved on this front.

    The article ignores the economic collapse of 2008. It can be agued that this was more important than the referendums of 2014 and 2016. Much of Europe has still not recovered from this episode and the shift to the right among voters – across Europe – was precipitated by the economic cost of dealing with the events of that time.

    It is not the ‘politics of liberation and light’ that voters crave, it is the politics of sustained, modest increases in the level of prosperity at both a personal and a social level.

  12. Hector says:

    Salmond will return

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spoiler: He won’t, much as he’d love to.

    2. James Mills says:

      ”Salmond will return .” …so will Sauron !

      1. Niemand says:

        Or Jesus 😉

    3. Alec Lomax says:

      To do stand up comedy at the Fringe.

  13. Satan says:

    Anyone in favour of putting up with two more years of this clown-show without an election? I’m not. At this rate, most people will be more interested in Bertram Russell than Scottish politics by 2026.

  14. George Archibald says:

    Far too much ‘politics’ and not enough emphasis on winning independence. This debate for example on who will be better Swinney or Forbes?
    A lot of folk say they won’t vote SNP if ‘the wrong one’ is voted in as Leader. Dearie me.
    Put aside your differences, your petty squabbles and your ‘political’ preferences (My preference for example is Labour, though not as we know it at present under Starmer mind you) and let’s get on with the drive to win independence. Not on who might be the best Leader ‘politically’ or about any particular view they might have….on the economy, gender, religion etc etc….but on who might get us closer to independence. Once we have achieved independence then we can all argue, squabble, debate, and so on till the cows come home!
    Priorities people!!

    1. Peter Woodifield says:

      That’s putting the cart before the horse. I won’t consider voting for independence until I’m convinced the people taking me into the promised land can at least run a whelk stall – and the jury’s out on that at the moment I’m afraid.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        This is the stalest of jibes rather than a serious political challenge. Europe offers many examples of small successful modern democratic states. Is your lack of confidence in the people of Scotland to achieve similar success based on a theory of ethnicity or some other supposed deficiency?

        1. Peter Woodifield says:

          Actually, it is a serious political challenge. Of course Scotland can be an independent country, but breaking away from your biggest trading partner is fiendishly complicated, as Brexit has shown and none of the key questions have been answered in more than 10 years. Going independent on a wing and prayer without serious worked out plans in place when we know it will involve austerity from the outset is madness. The only people who can take us there are world-leading on aspiration and world-trailing on delivery. When delivery matches aspiration then I’ll vote for it, but not until

          1. Satan says:

            I agree with Peter. If normal people were presented with the question ‘would you want the Scottish government running a State (or a bath)?’, the answer is very predictable. The other guy’s pitch seems to be ‘we could be like Lithuania’. Seriously. I haven’t heard of any Scots emigrating to Lithuania because things are so much better there. I did used to have Lithuanian neighbours though, and I am famialiar with why they moved here.

          2. George Archibald says:

            Peter makes some serious and valid points, and it is surely good people like him who need to be convinced, not argued with.
            There will always be an element of a ‘leap of faith’ involved. I have that faith of course and I am super confident that Scotland would thrive and prosper as an independent nation state.
            Why do I feel this way?
            Not because I am a rabid nationalist covered in woad etc, but because of more sensible things. Like precedent for example. How many other countries who have taken their independence over the last 200+ years regretted that decision? From the US in the 18thc to Luxembourg and Canada in the 19th to Finland, Norway, Ireland, and many more in the 20th. And so on.
            NONE of them have regretted the move.
            Knowing what to do in the future is often helped by what we know about what happened in the past.
            The other main thing that gives me the confidence is what Scotland has. It’s natural resources and its people. Great natural resources (that most countries can only dream of having), and its people. Well educated, sensible, a great track record of innovation and hard work, and an outward looking way of seeing the world.
            I hope no one allows the right wing unionist media agenda to make them fearful and less confident. Remember that if rUK thought for a minute that Scotland was the subsidy junky and basket case they often say we are then they would have wanted shot of us long ago. Non?
            We all know the rest.
            Most of us know in our heads that Scotland could/would thrive, but we live in our hearts and a lack of confidence is a great part of why half the population are worried about an unknown future as an independent nation. Totally understandable to me, and it’s up to me and others like me to show why we SHOULD have great confidence that we would never ever regret becoming independent once more. We would ALL be better of in the medium and long run. Sure it would be complicated but all of it doable. No doubt whatsoever about that.

          3. Peter Woodifield says:

            Of course it’s doable, there’s no doubt about it and yes Scotland has lots of resources to make it work. But you’re absolutely right to talk about confidence. I for one have zero confidence that the people who would be responsible for making it doable actually have the first clue how to make a good fist of making it doable. In almost every sphere of government activity at the moment there is a chasm between aspiration/rhetoric and reality. None of the big questions that were raised 10 years ago have yet been answered or even seriously addressed. Saying it’ll be all right on the night just doesn’t cut it.

          4. Graeme Purves says:

            I agree with every word of your last comment, Peter. I am highly critical of the way government and party leadership has been conducted over the last decade. I left the SNP in 2017 because I felt so alienated by it. There is lots of expertise in Scotland and round the world the SNP could have drawn upon to address the strategic and policy challenges to which you allude. The party leadership chose not to do that. In fact, offers of help were routinely rebuffed. We are witnessing the consequences.

            I am, however, encouraged that John Swinney and Kat Forbes have committed to restoring party democracy. That is, at least, an acknowledgement that things have gone wrong, and offers the prospect of remedy.

          5. Peter Woodifield says:

            Graeme, you’re right and restoring party democracy is probably a very good place to start given what has happened in the past. But it will be a long haul because in my view the SNP has forfeited the trust among the people it needs to make it obvious to Westminster that independence is the settled will of the Scottish people to the point where a referendum cannot be denied. It’s going to take an awful lot of work to gain that trust – competent government over a period for a start, proper answers to the key outstanding questions on currency etc, and no dalliance with the Greens in their present form.

          6. Frank Mahann says:

            Meanwhile we’ll be stuck with Fred Karno’s circus at Westminster.

          7. Peter Woodifield says:

            I think Fred Karno’s circus deserves a merit award for putting on simultaneous high quality shows 400 miles apart day in day out for years on end

  15. Graeme Purves says:

    Gerry makes excellent points about culture and organisation beyond party, but the Yousaf administration did not dilute climate change policies, it sensibly abandoned a target which could not be met. Targets need to be challenging, not impossible to achieve.

    1. Niemand says:

      Yes but it was an unrealistic target they set. Setting such headline-catching targets (because that is all it was) then abandoning them is a sign of arrogance and incompetence in a party. They made their own bed.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        It was always an unrealistic target and should never have been set. At the time, the opposition parties were gung-ho for setting it. Performative virtue-signalling of that sort is not grown-up politics and will inevitably end in tears.

    2. George Archibald says:

      Peter is right of course about the current crop of Politicos we have, and his comments should be sent direct to the new FM and all of the senior people in Holyrood!
      All I can say in mitigation is two things…
      1. It’s maybe cold comfort at present but because in life everything is relative, then relative to the fiasco we have endured from Westminster the Holyrood cohort look brilliant! Ok maybe not brilliant, but a helluva lot better, whatever the measure.
      2. In a future independent Scotland we would be able to vote in whichever Governments we choose. I have often said to even Tory friends of mine that the Scottish Conservative Party would do well in an independent Scotland because they are just a different breed most of the time to what we see down south.
      My confidence in a better nation remains but I can well see the hurdles we have to face, particularly in terms of confidence and ambition. And the present politicos in Scotland do us few favours there.

    3. That’s too Graeme – but given where we are people (govs) need to set ambitious targets and then meet them and then set them again.

      1. Peter Woodifield says:

        Yes, but how do you distinguish between ambitious (A9) and beyond ambitious (aka carbon emissions reduction targets, getting rid of gas boilers) without showing people how you plan to get there? That’s been the problem, this chasm between ambition and reality has shown up in so many areas of public life

        1. That’s true but then humanity has never been in the sort of challenge we face now, an existential threat and the solution is to stop the addiction to growth, consumption and production

          1. Peter Woodifield says:

            Fair enough, but you still have to show people a credible way to get from A to B and that’s what’s lacking

          2. You certainly do and that has been lacking. My point is this is not loke other ‘policy issues’ – selling ‘we all need to change our way of life forever’ is different from ‘its 5p for a paper bag’.

          3. Niemand says:

            Yes it is very different. The question is how do you bring people on board to not just accept but embrace such changes? I do not think saying we are all doomed if we don’t will work / is working, quite the opposite in fact. It alienates people, makes them want to give up or worse of all, makes them reject it as ‘conspiracy’ or whatever. So if you think that we are doomed, to carry on with that approach is tantamount to suicide and is thus irresponsible.

            Can good leadership make a difference? I think it can. After all people make huge sacrifices in time of war for example but in order for that to happen they have to believe in the cause and to believe in the leadership. If we undermine the leadership at every turn, then it will fail miserably as they will never be able to make people believe in the cause, or believe in their leadership. This is a hard pill to swallow given how used we have become to attacking and undermining those in power (and of course often with good reason, but not always). But we cannot have it both ways – it is through politics that effective measures to deal with climate change will happen.

            5p for a plastic bag has actually worked really well to reduce their use. So I would say though climate change is massive in comparison, in fact it is lots of simple, small incremental actions like that that may well hold the key.

          4. Thanks, I largely agree with you. The only thing I disagree about is the idea that small incremental changes will cut it. All of the a) scientific evidence about where we are and what cuts to emissions suggests otherwise as does b) the progress made by ‘small incremental changes’ over the last thirty years. What people understand (and many do) is that we need to change our economy, and this is hard sell (to say the least)

          5. Peter Woodifield says:

            I actually disagree, the UK has cut greenhouse emissions in half since 1990, and they now at their lowest level for almost 150 years (1879). We have gone faster than any other major industrial economy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t major challenges to get to net zero, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up life as we know it. Look how much has changed in the past 35 years – things we take for granted that didn’t exist then. We don’t have to be as gloomy as you are suggesting.

          6. I’m afraid we really do have to give up life as we know it – but the alternative may not be as bad as you think. There is no world in which perpetual growth, extractivism and hyper-consumption is compatible with rapid and deep carbon reduction. These are simple facts articulated by the IPCC.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, actually, it is not necessary “in time of war” that people “have to believe in the cause and to believe in the leadership”, as Sun Tzu’s method of training the Emperor’s concubines illustrates. Believing in leadership is also one of the worst possible things humans can do. Perhaps it would help if the UK washed religion out of schools, thinking about this story:

          8. Leadership can make a difference, but I think we are at a stage where ‘leadership from below’ may be where its at.

            I don’t think saying we are all doomed is effective, you are right. But we are at the opposite end of the spectrum than that – politicians are entirely cowardly in laying out to people the extent of our predicament. See ‘Dont Look Up’.

        2. I mean, getting rid of gas boilers is something other countries in Europe have done at scale. It’s really not that ambitious.

  16. John McLeod says:

    I wondered why it seemed necessary for Gerry to include a casual put-down, at the start of this article: “a leader who was obviously dealt a difficult hand but was not in all honesty up to the demands of leading”. Really?

    I think that the question of the type of leadership exhibited by recent First Ministers, as discussed in this Bella article and Gerry’s paper in The Political Quarterly (December 2023), is complex, and goes beyond the personal qualities of the office-holder.. I attended an event, during Humza Yousaf’s leadership campaign, where he explicitly addressed, in some detail, the question of the role of FM, and his ideas for what needed to change. I don’t think he was in post long enough to bring this cultural shift to fruition.

    I would like to draw attention to two particularly challenging aspects of the SNP style of leadership. First, the SNP is a broad-based party, that seeks to represent Scotland as a whole, rather than operating from a specific ideological position. This has been operationalised through experiments with Citizen Assemblies, and detailed and protracted consultation procedures in relation to all pieces of legislation, in which any member of the public can have their say. In my view, there is very limited knowledge and experience in any area of the UK political system around how to effectively lead (i.e., facilitate) such processes, and integrate the recommendations emerging from these processes, into the top-down, hierarchical systems of decision-making with which most politicians (and members of other occupations) are familiar.

    A second problematic factor associated with contemporary political leadership is the professional background and life experience of political leaders. A study by Hannah Graham – also published in the Political Quarterly – analysed the ministerial diaries of Nicola Sturgeon in the final two years of her tenure as First Minister. It seemed clear, that, in terms of the people and organisations that the FM interacted with, she was interested in some areas of policies much more than others. For example, very few meetings focused on land reform or rural affairs. Although such a pattern is probably inevitable – anyone who is FM will have their own interests and priorities – it can have the effect of distorting government priorities.

    What I heard Humza Yousaf talk about, in his leadership campaign, was the need to make decision-making more open and transparent, both within the government and the SNP as a political party. For example, he highlighted the importance of other ministers, who had knowledge and responsibility in a particular area of government, being able to take the lead in explaining policies in the media. The work of making decision-making within the party more open and respectful, is under way.

    These, and other dimensions of leadership and governance, are deeply problematic with UK culture as a whole. Whoever it is who succeeds Humza Yousaf, it is vitally important that they continue the work that he has started in relation to enabling genuine dialogue, collaboration and accountability within political systems at all levels. Surely being able to create such a way of working together, is one of the main things that motivates people to vote for independence. This is not something that can just be switched on the day after independence is achieved – we need to begin to make it happen now.

    1. James Scott says:

      “What I heard Humza Yousaf talk about, in his leadership campaign, was the need to make decision-making more open and transparent, both within the government and the SNP as a political party…..The work of making decision-making within the party more open and respectful, is under way……..Whoever it is who succeeds Humza Yousaf, it is vitally important that they continue the work that he has started in relation to enabling genuine dialogue, collaboration and accountability within political systems at all levels.”


      ” I don’t think he was in post long enough to bring this cultural shift to fruition”

      He was FM for approximately 13 months, so almost 400 days. ‘An eternity’ for those of us who remember Wilson.

      I am keen to hear your analysis of perhaps 3 specifics in this field, both party and government, which although he never managed to carry them through to completion, he nevertheless made a significant start on during those 13 months

      1. John McLeod says:

        James – you make a very good point. I wish I could identify three specific ways in which Humza was able to to change the leadership and decision-making style of the SNP and the Scottish Government. There is a review under way of how the party operates. I am not entirely optimistic about what it will produce. So far, there seems to have been a lot of debate on how many people are on each committee, etc, rather than on how these committees actually function, and how ordinary members can be meaningfully involved. But at least such topics are being discussed. In relation to the government and Cabinet, it is very hard to know how they actually operate, and whether Humza attempted or managed to initiate changes at these levels. At the same time, I believe that it significant that, in his leadership campaign, he indicated that leadership style and decision-making processes needed to be looked at. Maybe he will feel able to retain to these themes now, when the pressure of day to day FM duties have been lifted. From a wider perspective, I find I very frustrating that the wealth of evidence and good ideas about how politics can be pursued in ways that are more inclusive, and lead to more tangible outcomes – ideas generated by both academic researchers and frontline activists – is not being discussed and explored more fully within the independence movement. It is title to expect that such explorations can be facilitated by the existing mainstream Scottish media, for reasons that we all understand. But there are many other vehicles for sustaining such work.

    2. Peter Woodifield says:

      I totally agree with your last sentence (I don’t know enough about the rest of your interesting post to comment. But to get the doubters to vote Yes, the hard yards in almost every area will have to be done mainly before the vote, not after

  17. Wul says:

    “We can embrace a politics of liberation and light, …” Really?

    How? Where do I sign up for this? Who/what/where do I embrace? Which Scottish or UK political party is offering this?

    All I can see is differently window dressed “More-Of-The-Same” (old shite)

  18. John says:

    Scotland is in a political stalemate with electorate being split 50/50 on independence. The political parties are now defined primarily by their position on independence. There appears to be no political route. to independence that Westminster will approve and main political advocates of independence the SNP are losing support due to incumbency, incompetence and independence being blocked off.
    There appears to be little chance of this situation changing in near future especially as independence is more popular with younger voters while simultaneously many voters are wary of making leap into independence and the ‘unknown’.
    How do we break this stalemate?
    One way out would be for one of main political parties to advocate devomax which includes Full Fiscal Autonomy. This would be a significant next step to independence while assuaging those wary of full independence. I doubt UK Labour or Tories would countenance this approach but I would have thought this would be a meaningful opening for LibDems in Scotland very much in keeping with photography Jo Grimmond. The Lib Dem’s are dying in Scotland and appear to have become no more than a depositary for anti SNP votes primarily for middle class who fear independence. By embracing devomax they could make themselves a meaningful party again, embrace their traditional philosophy and make a positive contribution to future of Scotland.

    1. 240507 says:

      Devolution’s a busted flush. What we need to do is renegotiate the Union, as an alternative to Independence, and include the English regions in that renegotiation as well.

  19. Edward Chang says:

    Independence is a dead issue for,at least,the next 10 years whatever various polls say.John Swinney will see to that.

    1. George Archibald says:


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