They think it’s all over.. SNP leadership contest

So, Nicola Sturgeon is a shoo-in for next SNP leader.  Which means Scotland will have its first female First Minister.  Hurrah.

Various potential others have ruled themselves out.  Michael Russell, Roseanna Cunningham, John Swinney, Alex Neil and Humza Yousaf have all declared themselves not interested.  Some of them have also nailed colours to the mast by joining #TeamSturgeon.  So who’s missing?  Well, the not insignificant Kenny MacAskill for one.  Fiona Hyslop is another conspicuous by her silence.  Two big front-bench beasts who may just have taken the weekend off, rather than the weekend to take soundings.

Whatever, a meaningful contest to replace Alex Salmond now seems unlikely.  But Nicola should still be required to submit her nomination and set out her stall.  Hopefully, it will not just mark steady as she goes but also give an indication of where she aims to take the party in the future.  This bit is important, given the recent influx of new members to the party.  She will need to offer enough for all these new and eager Yes supporters to make it worth their while, but also ensure the old guard are taken with her.  No easy task actually.

There’s a lot of chatter about a post #the45 alliance of sorts, there’s also chatter about various bits of the movement setting themselves up as parties and a lot of chatter just generally on where next.  The SNP leader has a key role to play in harnessing all that energy and enthusiasm and ensuring that what emerges is a coherent offering all working broadly in the same direction. There’s an appetite for an alliance approach to the 2015 UK election, with the various, diverse elements of the Yes movement not standing against each other and thereby dissipating and fracturing the vote.  The SNP will have to give consideration to how it responds and how it engages.  To assume that the SNP gets to put forward candidates in all seats or in those seats it chooses would be full of risk – there is a need to keep the spirit of the swarm approach evident in the referendum campaign going.  Or else the SNP could be viewed as a block rather than a conduit to change.

And what change exactly?  Devo more?  Leading from the front for devo max?  Or biding time until the opportunity arises to push for full independence again?  Conceivably, all approaches could be part of the strategy but the point is that a strategy is needed that satisfies all appetites.  And that requires careful and inclusive consideration.  It cannot be for the SNP to determine on its own.

Nicola Sturgeon may be about to become SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister but she is also inheriting a role – a leadership one – in managing, co-ordinating and driving forward the ambitions of a much wider coalition.  That’s a good deal more tricky.

But what of her deputy?  Well, most are agreed that this is where it gets more interesting.  There are several potential contenders and several options for the party.  Someone from the Holyrood group, an MP or even an MEP?  And if either of these last two, a constitutional difficulty to overcome.  The Depute Leader of the SNP has until now become Depute First Minister – there’s no rule on this, for DFM is a position voted on by the Scottish Parliament and it would be for the SNP Holyrood group to put forward their nomination.  So we could, in theory, have a separate deputy at party level and Ministerial level.  But what would be the point really?

Except that it creates a leadership hub.  Stewart Hosie or Angus Robertson could become deputy party leader, allowing Nicola Sturgeon to have a deputy in government and parliament of her choosing (if she’s smart she’ll take a keen interest in the party role too to make sure she gets someone she can work with and who complements her strengths and skills with their own).

So, John Swinney could become a DFM without portfolio, a wingman good at the detail and who could take charge of reform more widely, providing a much needed core approach to what has hitherto been for Ministers to determine how reform is approach and addressed.  Or a young yin could be blooded – Humza for example.  Or here’s a novel thought – the role could be offered to the Scottish Greens, as tangible evidence of a new approach to politics and the movement for independence/more powers.

But there are also other strategic and tactical considerations to be made on this, to balance two, not necessarily conflicting but also not clearly compatible demands either.  First, Nicola Sturgeon will want to put together the team to lead the SNP to a third victory in the Scottish elections in 2016.  Second, it is important to keep eyes on the prize of independence – or at least, devo max.  Who is best placed to work with her on these objectives?

I suggested Shona Robison would make a fine deputy leader and First Minister.  The two MSPs have known each other since they were teenagers and worked well and closely as a Ministerial team too. Shona was somewhat sidelined in the last Cabinet reshuffle but was able to devote her energies more fully to ensuring the Glasgow Commonwealth Games were a success.  They were.  Well done her.

She therefore has a proven Ministerial track record, but she also has a proven track record electorally.  She was elected on the list for North East Scotland in 1999 and then for the constituency of Dundee East in 2003.  She has turned a marginal SNP-Labour seat into an SNP stronghold.  Her success in Dundee East allowed the party to build and take Dundee West.  It paved the way for her husband, Stewart Hosie to become MP too.  A strong SNP council group eventually became the dominant force and has formed the administration with an overall majority since 2012.

And vitally, her city transformed its SNP support into Yes votes – unlike many other SNP strongholds.

In truth, there are many key figures behind the Dundee success story but Shona knows what it takes to build – and to do so methodically and patiently – to deliver success.

Moreover, she is East coast, Nicola is West coast.  The only demographic issue is that both are city MSPs.  Yet, that might be what is required – for long enough, the SNP has been dominated by rural, North East interests (which did not translate into support for independence) and for too long, did not seem to know what was needed to make the break through in the central belt or in working class, traditionally Labour areas.  A Nicola-Shona leadership would answer that and also allow for a different direction to be pursued by the party.

But if not Shona then who?  Her husband Stewart Hosie has been touted and he would satisfy some, if not all of the above.

Keith Brown, MSP for Ochil and Minister for Transport and Veterans is another name being mentioned increasingly frequently in despatches.  A safe pair of hands, unflappable and well liked.  Crucially too, he straddles the fundie-gradualist (for which read, Neil-Salmond) wings of the party.  He’s also a detail man and reliable and resilient.  He was every SNP councillor’s go-to man on points of procedure and always – always – returned calls. His constituency is a rural/urban mix, of the Labour working class variety.  He’s done a good job with his Ministerial portfolio and did I say he is liked by all?  He’s not a divisive character but a unifying one.

The fact that he’s currently courting SNP folk as Facebook friends suggests he’s interested.  Good on him if he is.


10 thoughts on “They think it’s all over.. SNP leadership contest

  1. My thought is that a combined campaign would not work. It would raise fears in the NO camp of a call for another Referendum in the near future. I think that going for the good government is not such a bad idea. It worked in Dundee, didn’t it?

    The biggest problem is that getting a fair Media coverage, I would put some effort into getting that sorted.

  2. Aye another first for the SNP that will piss the Labour party off even more First to get a working majority (when its design of the voting system meant they should not have) now first to get a woman as the first minister,their jealousy is what makes them make so many mistakes,they seem to think that we are all as petty and vindictive as they are.Now could you imagine Lamont as a first minister ugh! any other firsts at Holyrood available?

  3. I like the tone of Nicola’s speech announcing her candidacy ,and Keith Brown handled the transport portfolio well. I agree Kate local government reform especially should be on the agenda.Its important to show some sort of plan to achieve change otherwise holding on to those thousands of new members and keeping them interested will be like trying to herd cats

  4. I appreciate that there’s a General Election next year and all sorts of medium and long term Independence thoughts but there’s the small detail of running the Scottish Government.

    It would be wise to make sure the “day job” is taken care of.

    • The Scottish Government managed to run its business in good order throughout a 2 year referendum campaign. Key economic indicators even showed improvements during this time (inward investment, unemployment).

      Furthermore, we’ve now entered election campaign season as traditionally marked by the commencement of the party conferences, so ALL of the parties will be engaged in trying to win votes and forge alliances. I’m sure you don’t mean your statement should apply exclusively to the SNP who, in any case, have a much wider and membership to call upon to manage affairs out with those of running the Scottish Government.

      I’m sure the Scottish Government will be able to make sure the “day job” is taken care of while at the same time involve themselves in campaigning for the GE alongside every other party.

  5. Being neither an SNP member nor supporter I can’t really comment on the leadership question, the candidates who you have named are all good and accomplished politicians so I expect the SNP will definitely have life after Alex.
    My main thought is on the #45 ‘movement’. I don’t see how an electoral pact could work for 2015, as with all due respect to them I can’t hink of a single seat where wither the SSP or the Greens could conceivably expect to get more votes than the SNP. Presumably a more realistic goal would be to ask the other two parties to support the SNP? Having said that, it would be a surefire way to reduce SNP support in Edinburgh and much of rural Scotland while not actually bringing anything to the electoral table.
    If the goal is to maintain a #45 coalition then that may not be a problem, however if it is to increase the number of MPs committed to independence then I don’t see how a pact could effective.

    • The SSP, Solidarity, RIC etc. have support in traditional Labour areas. The Greens can appeal to traditional Liberal voters. That support could be ‘lent’ to the SNP in return for concessions in Holyrood both pre- and/or post 2016. The SNP can absolutely take seats of Labour with that support. That’s my hypothesis anyway…

      I’m not sure just yet what the best way of engaging with the non-party affiliated groups is but I hope someone is working on it. Many of their members will have never voted SNP before in a GE.

  6. Really excellent blog post, Kate, and full of interesting propositions. I think I saw Mike Russell getting in early and sounding out a return to gradualism when he came out for Nicola the other day but what Mike has in mind in terms of gradual, I don’t know. The influx of new supporters will matter here since I doubt too many of them will want to wait even 10 years for their next chance. If the new audience don’t hear a clear prospectus for giving Scotland another shot at independence then they may become alienated very quickly and they now outnumber those of us who were already members just a few days ago! Gradualism may just have become the province of a very small fringe.

    My own view is we need to work for a majority of independence supporting MP’s in May and use that as a mandate for securing real devomax. That will give us a chance to dismiss some of the scaremongering we saw throughout the campaign and could be the only form of ‘gradualism’ that would fly with the membership. The Union would be hanging by a thin thread after that. Of course, since “the vow” in it’s stated form can’t be delivered it’ll depend on what the Westminster parties conjure up before then to try and buy us off. Public anger may see independence given a huge mandate in May. I won’t say ‘it’ but we could go into that election on the back of another, much more radical manifesto commitment. Going for devomax, however, would also head off any accusations that we’re refusing to accept the referendum result (something that could turn-off potential supporters) so I’d rather get behind that at this point in time.

    I do believe we need to find a way to form a real partnership with the Greens and I was heartened to see Patrick’s recent post-referendum comments regarding the UK. He’s been an absolute star within the Yes campaign and a tonic for those who don’t just want to hear from the SNP all the time (and we needed that for our own sakes). We need him to stay on board the independence bus.

    When the excitement concerning the membership influx dies down, we’ll start to see a concerted campaign from Slab and the media warning about a one-party state – Gerry Hassan has helpfully kicked that off already but Gerry does seem to like to go against the grain just for the sake of it in my opinion – so it’s important that we hear from not only Patrick but that we hear more Green voices as well. There will surely be some excellent talent amongst their new members as well. I thought Colin Fox also made some fine contributions though he wasn’t given very much exposure. We also need RIC, WfI, National Collective, Gen’ Yes etc. to maintain strong voices.

    Ultimately though, if we’re to see a /59 majority we need consensus candidates for May. It’s hard to see any other party, especially a new one, being able to make any sort of impact – other than that of sabotaging their own movement – before then. The SNP need to sit down with all of these groups and work with them to secure their support in May. With only 8 months to work with, I’m afraid there’s no time for holidays now that the referendum is over.


  7. in regards to the SNP deputy leader election: Humza Yousaf would be good. There are a few problems with that though. He is a Glasgow MSP and is at Holyrood. That obviously applies to Nicola Sturgeon as well. It may be better that Angus Robertson or Stewart Hosie was elected deputy leader. Both are at Westminster, and represent constituencies further north. SNP heartlands in the north of Scotland did not generally vote Yes, and it may be better that this area is considered. There is a danger in putting all of the focus on Glasgow, although the city and the west central belt become more important due to the Yes votes there. There is also the strategic importance of Glasgow City Council.

    Keith Brown, Angela Constance and Shona Robison have done very well. However, I think they may get promoted to take over from the Salmond generation of the SNP. This includes Alex Neil, Mike Russell, possibly Kenny MacAskill and Fiona Hyslop. I would prefer Humza Yousef for deputy leader, but I think that his background is fairly similar to Sturgeon in terms of Glasgow/Holyrood. There is also the general election approaching so Westminster becomes more important due to the No vote.

  8. Kate

    The contest for Deputy will be interesting. One thing is clear, Ian Smart’s dream of a return to the days when half the leadership sat in the Oxford, and the other half in the Cambridge is dead in the water.

    It will be interesting to see what these thousands of new members do, my feeling is that they want radical change now, mostly competent government isn’t going to do it for them. Local government reform, property taxation, land reform should all be back on the agenda with a bit of luck.

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