All is not well in the SNP

Next year, the Scottish Parliament elections take place. Nicola Sturgeon’s minority SNP Government’s record will be up for the judgement of the electorate.  The SNP has been in power now for 13 years. The children who were done over by the exams fiasco up here have had their entire education with the SNP in charge. And, as 16 year olds have the vote in Scottish Parliament elections, they will have the chance to make their voices known.

Scotland’s public services are failing, local government is being undermined and underfunded and it’s hard to think of anything major that the SNP has done that has been as positively transformative as free personal care, land reform, free eye and dental checks and STV for local government introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition which governed for the first 8 years of devolution. And it’s the Liberal Democrats who were the driving force behind those reforms.

Nicola Sturgeon is getting a lot of credit for the way she has handled the Coronavirus crisis. Certainly her communications have been a lot clearer than the UK Government’s but she has faced the same issues in care homes. Willie Rennie highlighted lack of testing for new care home residents early on and, eventually, she had to change course. We have had a more cautious approach to the easing of lockdown up here, but I get the sense that people don’t really understand what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Conversations with parents of school age children set alarm bells ringing for me. Our schools have been back for two weeks. I’ve heard several accounts of there  being a few kids off with coughs at several schools. Their families didn’t seem to be self-isolating or getting tested, though…. You would think that one would be a no-brainer, but the message that the whole household should self isolate for 14 days unless there is a negative test result does not seem to be getting through.

Aside from the challenges of defending its record and managing the pandemic, the SNP has its own internal problems and divisions. They used to be, at least in public, suspiciously united. Any disagreements were kept private. Now there are fault lines between those who favour a more gradualist approach to independence and those who basically want to do a Catalonia, between those who favour a more progressive and equalities centred agenda and those who think feminism has gone too far and those who think that Alex Salmond’s behaviour towards women has been unacceptable and those who think that he is the innocent victim of a feminist conspiracy theory. The party’s internal civil war on transgender rights is a symptom of a much wider schism.

Two programmes this week are well worth your attention. Kirsty Wark’s BBC documentary on the trial of Alex Salmond is shocking and infuriating. The outcome of the trial did not really get the attention it deserved as it ended on the day that lockdown was announced. While no guilty verdicts were recorded on any of the charges, the evidence highlighted behaviour towards women in a professional environment that was at the very least questionable. On Tuesday journalist Dani Garavelli took a look at the history of the deepening divisions within the SNP in a programme for Radio 4, Scotland’s Uncivil War

Unsurprisingly, both women have been subject to abuse on social media for daring to investigate. And the abuse they have taken is nothing compared to what the women who actually complained about Salmond’s behaviour are getting. Garavelli mentions within her programme how some nationalists called for her to face criminal proceedings. Politicians calling for journalists to be prosecuted is not a good look. On Twitter, a couple of days after her programme was broadcast Garavelli spoke out about some of the criticism she had received:

The current Scottish Parliament inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations against Alex Salmond is bound to increase the tensions within the SNP and could have wider repercussions for the Government.

The Scottish political landscape could be about to see some major shifts in the next few months. There is also the prospect of another pro-independence party fighting list seats. If the SNP’s current high poll-rating falls and they lose enough constituency seats to have to fight with any new party for list seats, then this could be very damaging for them. Alternatively, it poses a threat to the parties who oppose independence if the SNP continues to do well in the constituencies.

All of this means that there are opportunities and threats for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. What we need is a powerful and compelling, heart grabbing message that brings people to us. Our positive and optimistic “To be the best again” campaign saved us in 2016. We need to go further this time and gain across the country. Lib Dem MSPs have delivered transformative change before. It’s time we had the chance to do so again.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • The idea of a baby SNP to fight list seats reveals a defect in the electoral system – that you can gain more representation voting for two different parties than you can for one. It is arguably this defect, rather than strictly the proportionality of the system, that gave the Greens their breakthrough in the Scottish Parliament, and has lately allowed them to function as the baby SNP for some voters.

    Perhaps at the outset, when Labour was dominant, and the alternatives were Lib Dems, Cons and SNP, something that encouraged a little more diversity seemed no bad thing, but if it is going to be gamed with baby copies of existing parties, then it really does need fixing. Does the Scottish Parliament have the power to fix this, or is that still reserved to Westminster? Either way, the initiative needs to come from Scotland.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Aug '20 - 1:41pm

    Joe, it is the Scottish Parliament that can fix it.

  • Paul Barker 23rd Aug '20 - 2:44pm

    Running a “Baby SNP” seems to me like one of those “Clever” Ideas that could easily backfire. It either makes the SNP look Split or Utterly Cynical.

  • How do you suggest ‘they’ fix it Joe , and who are the ‘they’ that will fix it ?

    Do you want to revert to first past the post as at Westminster ?

    You do the Greens an injustice. Their contributions are of a consistently high standard.

  • Thanks Caron for offering a perspective on stuff we wonder about on this side of the border. The current SNP Leader gets more credit than she probably deserves in England simply because of the contrast with the shambles generated for us by the national Brexit Conservative party of government. The Kirsty Wark documentary was quite chilling. Apart from the treatment of women dimension, what on earth was the former First Minister doing with Russia Today – being paid presumably (like Farage and Galloway) ?

  • Denis Mollison 23rd Aug '20 - 11:20pm

    @David Raw – you would fix it by changing to STV. This party-clone trick is just one of the faults of AMS / MMP.
    The SNP are officially in favour of change from AMS to STV, as are we. I suspect they’re not at all happy at the current “party-clone” suggestion because it comes from dissenters in their ranks not the party leadership.
    So it could be an opportunity to work with the SNP for this change.
    The power to change its own voting system was devolved to Scotland and Wales by Acts of 2016; it requires a 2/3 majority.

  • You failed to mention free university. Widely regarded as a massive success in scotland. A surprising omission?

    As has been hinted above in the comments, the idea of a new pro independence party is quite popular within the snp as a way of getting an even bigger majority for independence. It lets them get list seats too.

  • It can’t be any surprise that Russia would favour Scottish independence, as a further disruption to the established order in Western Europe.

    Nevertheless the SNP has demonstrated a political maturity and ability to tap into the hopes and dreams of its electors, which stands in stark contrast to the shambles south of the border, as the lead article says. The schools fiasco notwithstanding (and even this they dealt with more quickly and with more finesse than Williamson could manage), their government appears both more grown up and more competent, recognising that this is a low bar, even in areas where this hasn’t delivered much by way of positive outcomes on the ground.

    As a party that utterly failed to make anything of the anti-Brexit sentiment and demonstrated our own incompetence at the end of last year, we are in no position to crow.

  • richard underhill. 24th Aug '20 - 10:35am

    The speech in the Scottish parliament by the SNP Education Minister was broadcast widely across the UK and must have been humiliating for him. Competence matters, he did not resign, but he might feel vulnerable to a future reshuffle.
    Lib Dems must be very careful not to overdo criticism because SNP reaction on points of detail may have more widespread distribution from the First Minister’s bully pulpit.
    I have not been to Scotland since the independence referendum, but Lib Dems in the remainder of the UK should be very careful about the risk of being misunderstood or misrepresented.
    We should think about New Zealand, which has done well on the virus issue with a female leader. Comparisons with countries which have male leaders have been balanced, and, because there are more countries with male leaders than countries with female leaders, it was necessary to find comparable countries before balancing. The effect is clear that female leaders cared firstly and mostly about health issues while countries with male leaders tried to balance economic issues with health issues. USA and Brazil are extreme examples. The current US President has a convention at which he will be speaking every day. VP Mike Pence will not be speaking much or maybe not at all. is disliked by Donald Trump, but Fauci is the expert, although politically independent.

  • richard underhill. 24th Aug '20 - 11:00am

    We should think about New Zealand and what others are likely to say. A female leader with a good reputation for focussing on health.

  • ………………………….All is not well in the SNP………………….

    Oh for those ‘problems’

    From the ‘Record’……………..”SNP insiders had feared the pupil grading scandal would dent their support, but the poll suggests more voters are flocking to the party.
    Conducted for The Times, YouGov surveyed 1,142 Scottish adults between August 6th and 10th, which was in the middle of the school results fiasco.
    It found the SNP on 57% in constituencies for the Holyrood election and 47% on the regional vote. A projection gave the SNP 74 seats, which exceeds the 65 required for a Scottish Parliament majority.
    The Tories trailed in second place on 20% in constituencies and 21% on the Lists, a result which could give new leader Douglas Ross’ party 29 seats – down from the 2016 election.
    The poll provided a disastrous set of numbers for Scottish Labour, which slumped to 14% on first-past-the-post and the second vote. The projection estimated Labour would win 18 seats.
    Similarly, the SNP’s increased support appeared to have a knock on effect on the Scottish Greens, who were projected to win only 3 seats.
    On the independence question, excluding don’t knows, Yes stood at 53% and No came in at 47%.”

    What is really ‘not well’ is the fact that the report doesn’t even mention this party…

  • Antony Watts 24th Aug '20 - 2:06pm

    Please stop mud raking. It is useless and negative to rant on about the SNP.

    Lib Dems just need to say “Lib Dems would do it this way…”

    Be actual and factual and relevant.

  • As always, a helpful and informative contribution from Professor Mollison.

    Salmond has not come out well from recent events and the dissenters referred to by Caron and Denis have also been described as ‘yesterdays men’. Having listened to both media programmes that seems a pretty fair and accurate description.

    I await with interest Caron’s “powerful and compelling, heart grabbing message that brings people to us”. I’ve been waiting for something of the kind for the last fifteen years, and sadly that’s not how I would describe outcomes at Westminster, 2010-15. At least a mention (at last) of the Alston UN Report on Poverty and Inequality would be more than welcome.

  • Frank Bowles 25th Aug '20 - 8:34am

    There is a real problem in how well the SNP seems to sell itself as credible leadership which in turn makes their separatist agenda seem more plausible and not the extreme proposition it in fact is. All the major changes, including the abolition of student tuition fees were made by the Labour – Lib Dem coalition. We all have complaints about the Johnson Government and Brexit. But if we had PR at Westminster we wouldn’t have those travesties, and it wouldn’t bankrupt Scotland to escape them. As Liberal Democrats we should not fear highlighting the hopes and fears of Scots and explaining how OUR policies solve them. Instead of being seen on one side of a divided Scotland we need to pioneer a Third Way to unite the country, Liberal and internationalist not separatism with border posts at Berwick.

  • No matter what this party does the greatest asset the SNP and, by default, the independence movement has, is the Westminster government.
    Week upon week Scotland’s first minister beats the Westminster government to the punch and, time after time, Westminster is dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ (as was the case over exam results) to follow Scotland’s lead.

    In the 2015 election the PM (Cameron) ran his campaign with a ‘Coalition of chaos’ between Labour/SNP and how ‘The UK would be run by Scotland’…If I, in England, think that it would be an improvement imagine how much more resonance self rule has north of Berwick..

  • @ Frank Bowles “All the major changes, including the abolition of student tuition fees were made by the Labour – Lib Dem coalition”.

    As someone who has never voted SNP, I’d urge caution on making over inflated claims to Frank Bowles….. he should know it can become a habit in all political parties.

    I prefer independent audits to confirm the actual facts. He should look this one up.

    Fact check: All 19 claims in the SNP’s latest party political … › fact-check-snp-party-political-broadcast
    31 Jan 2018 – The SNP released a party political broadcast which showed off their achievements in government. Ferret Fact Service checked them all.

  • John Marriott 25th Aug '20 - 12:49pm

    My ‘contribution’ yesterday to this thread having failed to get past the editor(s) I shall try again.

    I’ve just been watching (12.45) Nicola Sturgeon’s Press Conference on the BBC. What a competent performance, compared with what we get south of the border. Whatever you think of independence, there is no doubt in my mind that devolution at least has worked. Who says that Westminster has all the answers? Let’s now have some of it in England as well.

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