It took a Labour government 13 years to fall apart and lose the 2010 General Election. Prior to that it was 18 years for the Conservatives, a party which puts holding onto power far, far above the indulgence of internecine warfare, although its implosion really began when Margaret Thatcher was forced from office. In Scotland, the SNP has now been in charge of the government for 13 years – is it’s time also coming to an end?
It has for a long time appeared that the SNP had learned many valuable lessons from the problems with which Labour wrestled in the 1980s and into the early 90s; problems which ensured it was unable to provide voters a real choice at the ballot box.
The most vital lesson being the need for strict internal discipline in order to win and keep power. It’s not for nothing the SNP membership has to agree not to publicly criticise decisions, policy or other members when they sign up to pay their subs.
However, 13 years is a long time to keep the troops toe-ing the line, especially for a party which politically really only has one policy that draws such a broad kirk of people together: independence.
With this end appearing to be as far away as ever, cracks and splits over other issues are becoming increasingly obvious on a weekly basis, while there’s a strong argument that the Scottish Government has taken its eye off the ball on health, education, transport and infrastructure.
The head-to-head between Joanna Cherry and Angus Robertson about who should be the candidate for Edinburgh Central in next year’s Holyrood elections is perhaps the most public display of disaffection.
But yesterday new MP, and former Scottish Government minister, Kenny MacAskill thwarted his leader’s wishes and appeared on the Alex Salmond Show on Russia Today. In this paper, he also declared war on what he called the “malevolent tendency” within his own party; those members who have taken to Twitter to attack, and indeed abuse, female politicians for their stance on the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Indeed the GRA row has seen the party tear itself apart – particularly online – and there is outrage that one of the main antagonists, Jordon Henderson, who has verbally abused MSP Joan McAlpine and threatened to see her de-selected, has now thrown his hat into the ring as a potential candidate in Edinburgh Southern. Much muttering about his selection happening over people’s dead bodies has ensued.
There have also been reports of angry exchanges in Westminster between Cherry and Mhairi Black over the latter’s support for a controversial drag queen’s visit to a Paisley primary school with Ian Blackford apparently having to weigh in and attempt to pour oil on troubled water.
Derek Mackay was forced to resign after revelations he sent 270 texts to a schoolboy, while another minister, Fergus Ewing, has been accused of bullying. And let’s not forget that next week Alex Salmond will go on trial.
Even Nicola Sturgeon has been forced into denying rumours about her own domestic affairs. It all feels very reminiscent of John Major’s end of days when his Back to Basics campaign was railroaded by a string of MP scandals, or indeed of Labour in the 1980s when it was struggling to make itself relevant and electable. Perhaps 13 truly is an unlucky number for political parties.