Kenny MacAskill: Nicola Sturgeon needs to loosen grip on party

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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The 2015 general election in Scotland was an aberration unlikely ever to be repeated by any party.

As the SNP were the runaway winners with 56 out of 59 seats, there was only one way this election was going to go, and that was down.

When you’re at the heights, dropping down can seem a calamitous fall. The SNP did not expect to fall below 40 seats and under 40 per cent of the vote. But they did on both fronts, and not only that lost their away team captain and veteran star striker.

As well as individual egos being bruised, but party stalwarts lost as well. There will have to be an analysis of both strategy and tactics, which were sadly found wanting.

There seemed to be little coherence to the campaign and until the final fortnight, little semblance of a message. Why they waited until the final days to run a ‘vote SNP to protect Scotland’ theme seems incredulous now.

For sure, they faced a hostile crowd and united opposition but they could still have performed better. Some of the responsibility for that will land at the feet of the First Minister who has centralised control of the party and was forefront in the campaign despite it being a Westminster election.

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Despite that, if you had offered the SNP 35 seats and 37 per cent of the vote before 2015, they would have bitten your hand off. They languished at a half dozen seats or so for quite a while and it is over a generation since they had a team of 11. A total of 35 during that time was a distant dream, as was a Scottish Parliament.

In some ways Scotland has reverted to some old form. Many more rural and coastal areas going Tory, although the central belt and other areas are going SNP now instead of Labour as in years gone by.

So the result leaves problems but also offers opportunities. The concern is that the opposition is breathing down the SNP’s neck in many seats, and there is a far from strong and stable UK Government in office. Changes are needed in how the party is run and a more radical position needs taken on policy. The switch of many SNP votes to Labour wasn’t against independence, but in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s hope and vision.

But 35 seats when the Tories are even less in command than before is an opportunity. Rather than seeking to be the best opposition, this is a chance to maximise Scottish influence. However, Nicola Sturgeon now needs to broaden her management team.

• Kenny MacAskill was SNP Cabinet Secretary for Justice 2007−2014

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