Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Mandy Rhodes
05 July 2024
The SNP doesn't need another 'reset', it needs a complete rework

This has to be the end of an unquestioning love story with Nicola Sturgeon | Alamy

The SNP doesn't need another 'reset', it needs a complete rework

I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed like a baby at last night’s result. That the pride in being Scottish and how we hold ourselves in the face of defeat with dignity, humility and restrained emotion reminded me conversely of how entitlement inevitably breeds a sour arrogance. That a supreme belief in self, an unbridled narcissism that ironically allows for no introspection, leaves no room for criticism or apportioning of blame, and where an absence of self-reflection and learning from mistakes ultimately leads to failure.

So yes, I cried watching Andy Murray standing in the middle of Centre Court as tributes were paid to him as he finally laid down his racket.

Murray fought for the dreams of a nation for so many years. He carried our hopes and ambitions and struggled through pain to keep achieving and became a symbol for every underdog who just keeps going in the belief that you can just give it one more go. One final push. One last try.

Murray symbolises everything that is good about competitive sport. Always gracious in defeat and humble in victory and he took responsibility for his own exit and did that without grievance. And last night at Wimbledon, Murray cordially and with such grace and heartfelt emotion accepted it was ‘game over’ for him. There was not a dry eye in the house, not least from his mother who had sacrificed so much for him, as he did it. He is truly a National Treasure to jealously guard.

Contrast that with just a few hours later when Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP for nine years and in government for 16 years until just 18 months ago, who sat in a television studio now as a commentator on her own party’s electoral demise despite still being a sitting MSP and basically absolved herself of blame.

She talked about her party as if she no longer belonged to it, referring to it as ‘they’ rather than ‘we’ as if expecting the public to forget the key role she has had over the last two decades at the very heart of a party she until very recently led. But then, it’s amazing what a poor set of results will do to one’s sense of self.

And Peter Smith, the tenacious ITV correspondent whose terrier like abilities have wrong-footed Sturgeon previously with his forensic line of questioning around Isla Bryson for one, and independence another, skewered her when it came to pinpointing who was the architect of the SNP’s catastrophic failure last night.

Had the SNP won a majority of seats on the ‘crystal-clear’ terms that she had previously set out – that if people voted for the SNP, they were voting for independence – she would have been calling for yet another referendum.

But the fact is her party faced such extraordinary losses last night that to argue now for an independence referendum would be a folly. And one all of her own making.

It was Sturgeon, said Smith, that as leader put independence front and centre of the election campaign, having said that the general election would be a de facto referendum. Sturgeon that ensured independence would be the first line of the first page of the SNP manifesto. And Sturgeon whose actions confirmed that a legal referendum could only ever be granted by Westminster.

It was also typically Sturgeon to deride a journalist’s assessment as being trite. She laughed as she described Smith as an old sparring partner as if this was a debate between adversaries rather than an impartial analysis by a journalist which she suspected had been “pent up within him for quite some time” which was typical of that Sturgeonesque dismissal of credibility designed to undermine.

Sturgeon said that one of the questions out of the SNP result was “whether they have left themselves between two stools on the independence question” because, she said, “in my view it wasn’t put front and centre, having it as line one on page one of the manifesto gave that impression, but it wasn’t followed through in the day-to-day campaign.”

She went on to assert that independence supporters may have voted Labour but they won’t have stopped believing in independence. How does she know that, where’s her evidence, and it’s surely a dangerous assumption to make when throughout the campaign there were previous SNP supporters paraded by the Labour Party saying that they did not believe in independence any more or certainly didn’t believe it was something that could happen anytime soon?

If the SNP is serious about stemming the tide of their support moving to Labour ahead of the 2026 Scottish Parliament election, they don’t need to have yet another refresh. They need a complete reset and that means breaking the hold that Surgeon clearly still has on the party.

Politics is a tough gig and there is no politician that I have met that did not start out with good intention, but power undoubtedly corrupts. Every one of the 38 SNP MPs that lost their seat last night felt the pain of defeat, most of them for the very first time, and that will be a hard lesson, a very damaging psychological hit, but some could try to take succor in what defeat did to Douglas Alexander, to Anas Sarwar, to every Labour politician that got swept away by the SNP tsunami that began to build in 2011 and ended so abruptly last night. Defeat made them better people and more empathetic politicians.

The momentum is currently with Labour. And it is worth reflecting on the fact that in 2015 in the wake of the independence referendum, the SNP took 56 of the 59 Scottish Westminster seats. Today, they are sitting on single figures. This election has been a total disaster for the party and the question will be whether it can recover over the next 18 to 24 months ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections or whether, like the Tories, the SNP have just been in power for too long. They are tired, the message stale, their record poor, and their energy dissipated. They are also short of cash. Even more so now with their losses at Westminster.

The battle for the 2026 Scottish Parliament election has already begun. It began in earnest last night for Labour and if the SNP has any hope of real survival, then to truly learn the lessons of why the party suffered such massive defeat, it must turn heretic. It must think the previously unthinkable, that the roots of the SNP’s problems lie squarely with the previous leader that was so lauded that her supporters would fill the O2, wave large foam fingers and wear ‘I’m with Nicola’ badges quite literally pinned over their hearts. They believed in the fiction as much as she believed in her own hype.

This has to be the end of an unquestioning love story with Sturgeon and the big question for the party will have to be whether John Swinney, who was Sturgeon’s most loyal deputy, who slavishly called her ‘The Boss’ and who followed her orders, who helped broker the colossally damaging Bute House Agreement to the SNP and who went along with the ill-considered gender recognition reforms without question, is the same man that can break those ties, that can listen, can learn, and can steer the party that he has served now for 45 years on a new path to, if not independence, then at least a recovery.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top