It didn’t take long after Nicola Sturgeon‘s resignation for the SNP to be thrown into crisis.
Humza Yousaf, the favourite of the party establishment, claimed a much expected victory in the party’s leadership election – although he saw off a fiercely close competition from the more socially conservative Kate Forbes.
The cursed ratio of 52/48 reared its head again, with Yousaf taking home the win on the second ballot after Ash Regan was eliminated.
But it seemed the SNP was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t.
Had Forbes won, a split in the party would have been on the cards. Her less than stellar record on LGBTQIA+ right most notably was a point of contention right from the start of the campaign.
Forbes’ more socially and fiscally conservative stances would likely have alienated the more socially progressive members of the SNP at a time when Sturgeon had firmly positioned the party and sold it to the electorate a left-of-centre force.
But Yousaf has still yet to prove himself as a political operator worthy of his successor.
‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ is a well worn cliche in politics, but one of the new First Minister’s initial moves was to offer his main rival a demotion – leading to her resignation from the front bench.
The instinct to have an ideologically coherent top team is understandable. But Yousaf only just scored victory over Forbes with a 52/48 split. Not understanding the imperative to not deepen the factional rift after a divisive leadership election only further demonstrates his political naivety.
The SNP’s disarray throws Scottish Labour a golden opportunity. Anas Sarwar has, to date, proven himself to be a safe pair of hands for the Labour’s beleaguered wing north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Many Labour activists will be tempted to capitalise on the SNP’s crisis by stunting the USP of Holyrood’s majority – a second independence referendum.
They might argue that if Labour offers a referendum, the SNP is finished. With an overall Labour win in Westminster in 2024 looking likelier by the day, the party can afford to take a few more risks.
But Labour’s priorities in the next election cannot afford to be abstract. With a deepening cost-of-living crisis, the worst thing the party can afford to be seen as is one that toys with intellectual hypotheses at the expense of working class, bread-and-butter issues.
Healthcare. Education. Affordable food and housing. These should be the issues that see Labour back into Number 10 and, in due course, Bute House.
A second term manifesto would be a better time to think about broader constitutional issues – and indeed it should be. Devolution as we know it has its flaws, and conversations around federalism and the role of the regions are long overdue.
But the left has proven itself time and again all too capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Keir Starmer is unlikely to be the great reformer many would hope for. But once the Tories are out of office, then we have the opportunity to ask big questions.
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