Humza Yousaf has been elected leader of the SNP, after securing a narrow victory in the party’s messy leadership contest. He will therefore succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister.
Yousaf narrowly beat Kate Forbes in the final round, by 52% to 48%. Despite the controversy surrounding Forbes’ socially conservative views, and Yousaf’s status as the de facto ‘continuity candidate’, the race was much closer than anticipated.
This leadership race has sparked turmoil in the party, following Sturgeon’s sudden exit, revealing the divisions within the SNP and the bankruptcy of its leading politicians.
Anxiety and scandal
Throughout the short two-week campaign, one could feel a palpable anxiety rising amongst SNP members.
A trio of mediocre politicians had stepped forwards to offer platitudes to the public, while sniping at each other and recklessly raising criticisms of their own government.
Then the party’s HQ was engulfed in scandal, as SNP boss Peter Murrell resigned over his attempt to conceal the real membership figures.
Murrell has been responsible for several irregularities while heading the SNP bureaucracy. His interim replacement, Mike Russell, candidly described the situation in the party as a “mess”.
Sturgeon felt compelled to deny that this was the case, calling the crisis “growing pains”. When the membership figures were finally revealed, however, it showed that quite the opposite is true. Since the last Westminster general election in 2019, the SNP membership has fallen by 43%.
This represents a significant drop from the SNP’s peak popularity; a possible hollowing out of the party ranks. It may still be the largest political party in Scotland, by a big margin, but there is clearly a rapidly diminishing enthusiasm for SNP.
Independence at an impasse
Overall, the contest has underlined the crisis facing Scottish nationalism. The independence movement has been led into a dead-end by Sturgeon and the rest of the outgoing leadership clique.
The SNP leaders’ ‘strategy’ – if you could call it that – of pressuring the Tories in Westminster to grant a second independence referendum has failed.
These constitutional methods were always bound to stall, given their reliance on the consent of the British establishment and its representatives.
This impasse has demoralised many in the movement. Local groups – such as Airdrie for Independence – have withered over the years, despite continued SNP election victories.
Supporters can see that the prospect of an independent Scotland is no closer now than it was in 2014. At the same time, pressing class issues like the cost-of-living crisis are cutting across the national question.
Humza Yousaf does not offer much hope. While in his victory speech he suggested that there would be “no more hollow promises”, he still felt obliged to claim that “we will be the generation” to achieve independence for Scotland.
His only proposal to make this happen, however, is to continue on the same well-trodden path of his predecessors, which has turned out to be a cul-de-sac.
Axe of austerity
This cynicism and dishonesty is just the start. As well as claiming the mantle of leading the independence movement, Yousaf will also have to wield the axe of austerity.
Already, the Scottish government has announced over £1.2 billion in cuts at Holyrood. Meanwhile, local councils across the country will be following suit with cuts to services and jobs.
In the past period, the SNP could afford to hide their austerity measures to a certain degree – by pushing minor reforms like the baby box scheme, increases to certain benefits, eliminating prescription fees, and so on.
This policy is no longer possible, however, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, the economy shrinks, and the narrow margins of Holyrood’s budget get even narrower.
For a Scottish Workers’ Republic!
The SNP is coming up against the limits of its reformism – that is, the very real limits of capitalism in an epoch of crisis.
Tory-style austerity, counter-reforms, and battles with the working class are on the horizon. Already the Scottish government has been beset by strikes and potential industrial action, as it imposes derisory pay offers on some of the lowest-paid workers.
The SNP’s petty-bourgeois leaders will not be able to govern as before. Until now, they were able to channel a certain amount of discontent against the status quo into their own support base, capitalising on the mood around Tory austerity, Brexit, and – of course – independence.
Increasingly, however, the rising class anger in Scotland will be directed against them. And they will have to contend with it.
More and more workers and young people are realising that they should not place any trust in the likes of Nicola Sturgeon or Humza Yousaf – either to fight for the democratic right of self-determination, or for the interests of the working class in Scotland.
Instead, we must fight on our own terms and with our own programme: For a Scottish Workers’ Republic and for world socialist revolution!