Amidst the onslaught of reverses which has beset the Scottish National Party in recent months, it is worth remembering that it remains an extraordinarily resilient political phenomenon.
Just this week, for example, YouGov released a poll showing the Nationalists fully 11 points ahead of Labour, giving them vital momentum ahead of the upcoming by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. This breaks the recent trend showing Labour closing the gap, with the two parties almost neck-and-neck.
(Although there may yet be signs that the party’s activist base is decaying, with the SNP drawn into a fresh row this week over using paid leafleteers, allegedly on zero-hours contracts, in the seat.)
The SNP has sought to keep piling the pressure on, too. Stephen Flynn, its Westminster leader, has called on Scottish Labour to clarify whether or not it intends to scrap (by which he means national Labour intends to scrap) the pensions triple lock and “impose real-terms cuts to Scottish pensions”.
(Of course, independence would mean swingeing cuts to pensions and much else besides. But just as Irish nationalist parties never own the fact they’re campaigning against the block grant, such considerations seldom muddy separatist thinking in Scotland.
Meanwhile, there has also been a split between Scottish Labour and the trades unions, with Anas Sarwar urging his MSPs to oppose a union-backed call for the devolution of employment law to Holyrood. The Daily Record reports his saying that the priority should be on securing reform at the UK level.
Such issues are often a point of vulnerability for unionist parties, especially those such as Labour which have given full-throated support to devolution in the past and lack a coherent argument about the proper role of the British state. Defending national employment protections seems an obvious move for a centre-left unionist party, but the issue could pose difficulties for Sarwar if Sir Keir Starmer becomes prime minister and delivers less than the unions demand.
Nonetheless, the long view remains a bleak one for Humza Yousaf and his party.
His latest watering down of Nicola Sturgeon’s proposal to use the general election as a ‘proxy vote’ on independence – now it would apparently require only the SNP winning a majority of seats, which can be done on far less than 50 per cent of the vote – has been ridiculed in the Scottish press as a sign of “desperation and despair“.
There is no prospect of the British Government consenting to an independence referendum on that basis, nor would it be wise for the SNP to seek one. It might allow the First Minister to push the increasingly threadbare “democracy denied” narrative for another year or so – but what then?
In the meantime, the domestic bad news just keeps piling up. The Herald reports that John Swinney, the former deputy first minister, has been urged to give an urgent statement to Holyrood after an inquiry into Edinburgh’s wildly late and over-budget tram “questioned his integrity”:
“The report pointed to a “litany of avoidable failures” and criticised the decision of Transport Scotland to walk away from the troubled project in 2007. The document pointed the finger at the city council, the company the local authority set up to deliver the tram project and Scottish ministers – putting particular blame on Mr Swinney, who was finance secretary at the time.”
Next, there is fresh talk in the Times of an SNP “civil war” with two members of its Westminster front bench, Alison Thewliss and David Linden, set to go head-to-head in the selection for the new Glasgow East constituency:
Thewliss is apparently loyal to Yousaf, and Linden to Flynn. Moreover, Thewliss succeeding would see Linden deselected, a development the paper claims “would destabilise the leadership in the Commons.”
What else? A Nationalist MSP indulged in a foul-mouthed rant during a Twitter exchange about Rangers fans; the Scottish Tories have attacked Yousaf for wasting taxpayers’ money on his legal challenge to Alister Jack’s veto of Sturgeon’s GRR Bill; SNP ministers have spent over £2.5m on failed attempts to sell an airport they nationalised; and they spent another £300,000 covering the return of a “stolen” totem pole to Canada, in breach of official policy. Quite the week.