The SNP’s fall from grace has been spectacular, both in speed and magnitude. If anyone had submitted What Happened as a draft script for a political drama a few months ago, it would have been rejected as implausible, detached from reality.
But then again, the truth has turned out to be stranger – and more surprising – than fiction.
At the beginning of this year, Nicola Sturgeon was still the mistress of everything she questioned, by far Scotland’s most dominant politician, even after nine years as Prime Minister, miles ahead of all political rivals, inside or outside the SNP.
So it came as a surprise when she announced her resignation on February 15. After that, it started to unravel pretty quickly. A formidable politician who only recently could walk on water would now be best advised to give ample berth to even the shallowest puddles.
First, her husband, Peter Murrell, who was until recently CEO of the SNP, was arrested and questioned by police for 11 hours. He was released without charge, pending further investigation.
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf awaits the start of the Prime Minister’s questions in the Scottish Parliament
But not before police raided and searched the Sturgeon-Murrell family home and garden just outside Glasgow and set up a Line Of Duty style tent as part of the operation, giving a new twist to the claim of the SNP to be a ‘big-tent’. ‘ party.
Then this week SNP party treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested, questioned and also released without charge as part of a major police investigation into the SNP’s finances.
Murrell and Beattie were two of the three official custodians of the party’s money. The third was Sturgeon, which is why Scotland is flooded with rumors that she too will be arrested and questioned. That would make headlines around the world.
No one has, of course, been charged with any wrongdoing.
The Scotland Police investigation focuses on £667,000 the party raised from supporters between 2017 and 2020, with the understanding that the money would be earmarked for a second independence referendum campaign. But the party’s published accounts showed it was seriously short of cash.
What happened to the dosh was unclear. Hence the police investigation.
Things got even murkier when it was revealed that Murrell had mysteriously loaned the party £107,000 in June 2021 to help with a ‘cash flow problem’.
Unknown to most senior SNP figures, including Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf, the party’s auditors resigned last October. It is not surprising that it proves difficult to appoint new ones. Meanwhile, Murrell and Beattie have also resigned.
Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon leaves her home in Uddingston, Glasgow
And when it comes to SNP finances these days, it never rains but it pours. The party must provide audited accounts by the end of May or the flow of taxpayer money that all the opposition parties in Westminster are happy to help with their operations next month will stop. It is impossible for the SNP to present audited financial accounts in the coming weeks. So another £1.2 million a year is at risk.
The SNP says it will soon appoint a new treasurer, but who is stupid enough to accept this poisoned chalice is not yet known. It is now widely regarded as one of the world’s least coveted jobs, akin to becoming chief rabbi of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Then there is the camper. Yes, the camper. Described as a ‘luxury’ motorhome and reportedly costing more than £100,000, this could explain where some of the SNP’s money went.
It is believed to have been purchased as a battle bus during the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, although it has never been used as such. It has stood outside the Dunfermline home of Sturgeon’s 92-year-old mother-in-law since 2021. The police have now seized it.
Sturgeon recently took driving lessons to equip himself for life without the ministerial car and driver.
Just when you thought a strange story couldn’t get more bizarre, it turned into the farcical.
For Yousaf, the new prime minister, it was worse than a farce. It’s been a disaster. Instead of the grace period usually granted to political leaders when they first come to power, he has had to endure the honeymoon from hell.
But he has also proven to be his own worst enemy, venturing into the controversy that now swirls around the SNP wearing shoenail boots and giving stupid answers when he didn’t have to say anything.
A YouGov poll published yesterday found that 39 per cent of Scottish voters see him as incompetent (only 26 per cent thought he was up to the task), 45 per cent saw him as weak (only 18 per cent thought he was strong) and 44 per cent as none contact more (with only 26 percent seeing him as a contact).
Only 19 percent thought he did well, 44 percent badly.
But even worse than these terrible polls is the fact that he has become a figure of ridicule, an image any politician will find hard to shake once it takes root in the public imagination (just ask John Major and Ed Miliband).
Political opponents have nicknamed him Comical Ali, after Saddam’s hapless spokesman who claimed that no US troops invaded Baghdad in 2003, even as they surrounded him.
A Scottish commentator has likened it to a violently vibrating centrifuge about to fall. And he’s pro-SNP!
Another likened him to a toddler determined to stick a fork in an electrical outlet. “All political careers end in failure,” said a third. “Yousaf managed to start his there.”
The SNP’s Kate Forbes arrives ahead of Prime Minister Humza Yousaf’s statement on ‘Our priorities for Scotland’
A fourth said Yousaf was somewhere between the Hindenburg and Liz Truss on the scale of disaster. He is already commonly referred to as ‘Humza Useless’.
The political toll on the SNP has been enormous. The YouGov poll gives it 38 per cent of the vote, far from its heyday and just eight points ahead of Labour, the main beneficiaries of the SNP’s troubles. Labor hopes to secure at least 15 seats in the general election, which will greatly help Keir Starmer’s bid for 10 Downing Street.
It’s still a long way from the 40-odd seats Labor won in Scotland, but it’s better than the only Scottish seat it currently holds. Labor would win more than 15 if it had a leader who captured the Scottish imagination.
But it doesn’t. Starmer doesn’t set fire to any heather north of the border.
Despite all the trials of the SNP, it is not collapsing. Seriously injured, yes. Almost certainly past the height of his power. Destined for further decay, probably.
But it is likely to remain the largest Scottish celebration in Holyrood and Westminster for the foreseeable future.
It became almost too dominant for its own good, succumbing to the overconfidence and arrogance that eventually afflicts all one-party states. It thought it could do no wrong, when in reality it could do little right.
It ruled from a Holyrood bubble in which it heard only voices urging it to go even further, insulated from criticism by a bullied media and backed by a bourgeois Scotland, from pressure groups to charities to universities, which it bought off or bullied into silence.
So when it came up with its controversial gender recognition reforms, there were few voices urging caution as the measures were dangerously out of step with Scotland’s mainstream.
Instead, Sturgeon was encouraged to continue by the Greens, Labor, the Lib Dems and all those well-funded voices who have elevated identity politics above all else. Thus she reached a crucial milestone in her demise.
The glory days are over for the SNP, its dream of independence more distant than in a generation. When Yousaf put down his booth in a speech last week, no one paid much attention as it was also the day Beattie was arrested.
But Yousaf did not talk about independence, which is at least realistic, because there is no chance of a second referendum and if there were, the SNP would lose a second time. If you doubt that, ask yourself: Would Sturgeon have resigned if she thought independence was within reach?
With independence no longer on the agenda, the SNP will be on its record, which is a bleak prospect.
Under the SNP, Scotland has lost the ability to build even the simplest of ferries, has failed to close the education gap between poor and affluent pupils, has prioritized foreign students over domestic students at its old universities, has slowed economic growth brought to a halt, it has a high tax regime that will discourage entrepreneurship, led to deteriorating health care and by far the worst drug-related death record in Europe.
Older readers will understand why I say they’ve done a Gerald Ratner to the Scottish brand.
All of this will come out now, and since Yousaf has been complicit in many of these failures, he’s not best suited to deal with it. It is said that he will not be prime minister for long, that he will be ousted once the SNP starts losing seats.
His main rival, Kate Forbes, whom he only narrowly defeated for leadership, is already maneuvering to tout a less socialist, more inclusive approach, New Labor with a Highland chant.
Those who believe in the Union may wish Yousaf a long and safe reign at Bute House. After all, if a politician as skilled as Sturgeon couldn’t break up the Union, he couldn’t possibly succeed where she failed.