Resignation of Humza Yousaf illustrates ongoing SNP crisis

The SNP is in crisis after Humza Yousaf was forced to resign, the second leader in just over a year to do so. He had only taken over in March last year after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation and subsequent corruption investigation. The SNP have limped on in government since then but the decision on 18th April to scrap their legally binding climate targets of cutting emissions by 75%, alongside the decision to pause puberty blockers for under-18s, has imploded their coalition with the Green Party. Faced with two separate ‘no confidence’ votes from the opposition and the prospect of being a minority government, Yousaf chose to jump ship before he was pushed.

By Niall Dooris

The SNP is in crisis after Humza Yousaf was forced to resign, the second leader in just over a year to do so. He had only taken over in March last year after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation and subsequent corruption investigation. The SNP have limped on in government since then but the decision on 18th April to scrap their legally binding climate targets of cutting emissions by 75%, alongside the decision to pause puberty blockers for under-18s, has imploded their coalition with the Green Party. Faced with two separate ‘no confidence’ votes from the opposition and the prospect of being a minority government, Yousaf chose to jump ship before he was pushed.

This was not just a political misstep on behalf of the SNP – it is another symptom of the deep crisis the SNP has faced for years. Firstly, their reputation has taken a massive hit after the corruption investigation into the Party’s finances in which the party Treasurer, Sturgeon and her husband were arrested and questioned about potential fraud and embezzlement. Since then the SNP has lost almost a third of its membership. But more fundamentally, this loss reflects the political limits of the SNP. Many working class and young people look to the SNP to deliver independence and a break with the Westminster status quo. However, the SNP is incapable of and unwilling to deliver this, as it is a pro-capitalist party that represents the interests of Scottish big business and middle class. Despite their more ‘radical’ rhetoric, they have failed to put up any resistance to Tory cuts, and with the limited power that they have in the Scottish parliament, they have implemented their own cuts to public services and policies attacking the livelihoods and rights of working class people.

Now that the British establishment is refusing to hold another referendum, the SNP has no viable strategy. All they are willing to do is appeal to the courts and plead with Westminster. Despite the SNP’s decline, support for independence is just as strong as it has been for years, and is notably highest among working-class and young people. Support for independence in Scotland is generally reflective of class and age rather than religion or community background as it is in Northern Ireland. 

But to achieve the aspirations so many have bound up with the fight for independence, a struggle for deeper social change will be necessary. To achieve this, a mass movement from below must be built, not only to challenge the British ruling class, but to go beyond the bounds of capitalist legality and fight for a transformation of society in Scotland on a socialist basis where people’s needs are the driving force of the economy, not profit. This would mean taking the vast amounts of wealth which exists in society out of the hands of an elite minority and instead using it to meet the needs of people and the planet. Such a transformation is only possible on the basis of a mass struggle, made up of the multi-gendered, multi-racial, incredibly diverse and powerful working class. 

The example of the Catolonian referendum is relative here. The organising of an illegal referendum, backed by local communities through the organising of defence committees and workers’ strike action to defend it against the Madrid Government was a powerful step forward in the struggle for independence. Ultimately it was unsuccessful for various reasons including that the leaders of the movement represented nationalism that was not prepared to break with capitalism and its rules. They were therefore not able to point a way forward to how the aspirations for independence held by the masses of ordinary people could be achieved. In the recent regional elections in Catalonia, pro-independence parties for the first time in a decade did not win a majority of votes cast or seats in the Catalan parliament. We must learn from this example. Both its victories and defeats in learning lessons on how we can win crucially that requires the struggle to build a different, socialist state power lies in hands of workers

What happens now?

John Swinney has taken over as leader of the SNP, but he represents nothing new. He has been a SNP stalwart for decades, playing a role in several of these austerity governments. Due to the recent strikewave the government was forced to make concessions including a 5% payrise for public sector and health workers and a one off payment of £1500. But to pay for this, Swinney as acting finance minister made cuts to services employing the familiar dead end austerity logic of neoliberalism. Another indication of Swinney’s political direction is his appointment of Kate Forbes as Deputy leader. Forbes is a right-wing, transphobic figure within the party. Her appointment indicates more of a shift to a more openly transphobic and neoliberal position from the SNP. The former SNP leader has already failed to defend the Gender Recognition Act and implemented the blocking of puberty blockers through the NHS in Scotland. 

We need a Socialist alternative!

Polls indicate that the SNPs political dominance will likely end with Scottish Labour catching up. For the first time since the independence referendum, Labour with 33% was marginally ahead of the SNP (31%) in a YouGov survey published in April of this year. Starmer’s party is far from an inspirational alternative but there is an overwhelming desire by the Scottish electorate to get the hated Tories out of government in Westminster. With the SNP’s vision crumbling rapidly, this is a much more appealing option to many. But Labour under Starmer represents yet another dead end. They are a pro-unionist party that is broadly supportive of the policies of the Tories with very few (if any) exceptions. The Green’s on the other hand have shown themselves to be as unprincipled as every other European Green party that goes into coalition with pro-capitalist, neo-liberal parties. They have backed the disastrous SNP government, failing to stop new oil and gas drilling off the coast of Shetland, and thus betraying any trust left wing voters who voted for them looking for a “progressive” alternative.

Alternatively, the strike wave in Scotland and the Palestinian solidarity movement are powerful examples of what is possible when the working class attempts to fight back. It shows that there is an appetite for a genuine alternative to the misery of the status quo for working-class people and young people globally. A new mass genuinely left party which represents those interests must be built and must be rooted in the struggle against cuts, transphobia, racism, climate change and in the struggle for an independent socialist Scotland as part of a free, voluntary and equal democratic socialist federation with England, Wales and Ireland.

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