SNP is in turmoil but do the leadership candidates have any real solutions

17 March 2023, 15:10

SNP is in turmoil and we will hear what solutions the leadership candidates have at the LBC hustings on Monday
SNP is in turmoil and we will hear what solutions the leadership candidates have at the LBC hustings on Monday. Picture: Global
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

The three candidates seeking to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP - and then as First Minister of Scotland - have been enduring what can only be described as a form of political torture.

Since the firing of the starter’s pistol on the race to Bute House on February 15, the day Nicola Sturgeon announced she was resigning, Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland, attending nine hustings for party members - the people in whose hands the outcome lies - as well as taking part in three bruising television debates where they ripped each other’s records apart; and one televised audience Q&A, where candidates were not only on the end of some searing scepticism from the general public (at least the non SNP voters) but were openly laughed at.

And it’s not over yet - voting may have started but the spotlight on the candidates and their promises continues. On Monday LBC’s Iain Dale will host a hustings from Global’s Glasgow office and the three contenders will not only be put through their paces by him, but by callers.

This whole process cannot, in any way, be a pleasant experience for any of them - but the prize of course is great: they will be sixth First Minister of Scotland.

All three claim that if they get the keys to Bute House not only would they govern better than at any time in the last 15 years the SNP has been in power, but that they will succeed where both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon failed and deliver independence.

It is no wonder that such pledges have raised more than a quizzical eyebrow both within and outwith the SNP.

Members of the party are disgusted with a lack of progress on independence and want to be given new hope, but they are also divided over domestic issues. There are those who believe the party should continue with its “progressive agenda” on social issues, which would mean defending the GRR Bill in court, introducing a ban on conversion therapy and legislating for buffer zones at abortion clinics and hospitals.

But there are also many who think it’s a concentration on those issues where the party has gone astray, and it needs to get back to fixing the NHS and helping people with the cost of living crisis. Then there are those who just want a laser-like focus on the economy. Get that bit right and everything else falls into place they believe.

And then there’s the controversy about how the party itself is run. There has been a long running concern that having a husband and wife team at the top has not been good for internal democracy - chief exec Peter Murrell is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband. There is a police investigation on going into party funds and questions about why Mr Murrell gave the SNP a £107,000 loan and why there was a delay in telling the Electoral Commission.

All three candidates have also raised issues about transparency over the voting process - so much so that SNP leaders were ultimately forced into publishing the membership numbers. So they at least now know many people will be taking part in the vote - even if it is 30,000 fewer people than they thought. That’s the precipitous decline since 2021 - and indeed a fall of 55,000 since 2019.

Without doubt the SNP is in turmoil. Polls show that the public is getting colder feet about independence and there are huge questions about its domestic record - no ferries built but £300k spent, NHS waiting lists through the roof, a deposit return scheme in crisis, the poverty related attainment gap no closer to being closed, a school exams system in desperate need of reform, and of course what to do about social care.

No doubt all of these and more will be put to the candidates at Monday’s LBC hustings - but will they have any real solutions?