The future of the Scottish National Party

Last Friday was the first day of the Scottish National Party’s annual two-day conference in Perth, during which Nicola Sturgeon officially took the lead of the Scottish National Party (SNP) replacing Alex Salmond, as it was announced after the referendum’s negative result. Sturgeon will also become Scotland first female prime minister later this week.

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Her first speech as SNP leader was an important test for Sturgeon on many fronts. Not only she is succeeding a very loved politician who has been the leader of the SNP for 20 years, she will also have to face the task of raising the SNP after the crisis created by the failure of the independence campaign. And she has only six months to do this before the general elections that will take place next May.

It is exactly the elections that the new SNP leader extensively addressed at the conference.

The SNP has to convince those Scots who vote Labour in order to keep the Conservatives out of the government to give their votes to the SNP instead. Sturgeon clearly said that the Labour Party has “lost its soul”(the party was allied with the Conservatives for the Better Together campaign opposing the SNP’s) and that voting Labour would only mean business as usual.

The new SNP leader promised that the SNP would never participate in an agreement with the effect of putting the Conservatives into power. Sturgeon added that in the event of a government with no overall majority a Scotland represented by the SNP could well “hold the balance of power” at Westminster. In such situation the Labour Party would be dependent on SNP votes to have the majority and this, Sturgeon argues, would give Scotland the leverage needed to obtain more concessions. She spoke in harsh terms of austerity and nuclear weapons sending a message to the Labour Party that the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland is a requisite sine qua non for SNP’s support.

Sturgeon spoke again confidently of the referendum towards the end of the speech making it clear that the fight is not over and that Scotland will be independent one day. The question now is whether the SNP will be able to go beyond its fight for independence and to really unite Scotland. It is important to remember that the majority of Scots vote against independence and the SNP needs to live more in the present if it wants to attract those votes. It is in fact necessary to focus on what the Scottish government can do with what it has while also striving for more concessions in order not to alienate those who voted for independence.

From Sturgeon’s speech it seems that the SNP might not be quite ready for this but Sturgeon sent a positive sign by making more promises in terms of social justice, particularly concerning the provision of free childcare. Yet, other promises made (for instance concerning the NHS budget and funds to mitigate the Conservatives welfare cuts) seem to hard to be feasible, the SNP will have to prove it can go beyond words if it wants to win the majority of Scottish Westminster seats next May.

 

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