By-election will go badly for SNP unless Humza Yousaf signs up to Alba's Scotland United ticket

SNP leadership’s pursuit of Margaret Ferrier over Covid lockdown breach was shameful and lacking in tactical nous

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Back in 1979 when the SNP voted to bring down Jim Callaghan’s government, the then Prime Minister described them as “turkeys voting for an early Christmas”. His administration fell because of deeper factors than the confidence vote, but he was right in his prophecy as SNP were mauled in the election.

In helping bring about the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, the SNP leadership are doing likewise decades on and will again face a thrashing. Blame can’t all be laid at Humza Yousaf’s door as the actions against Margaret Ferrier were initiated by his predecessor, but he did nothing to hold back the party’s attack dogs.

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Labour clamouring for a by-election was to be expected. But the glee with which the SNP leadership pursued Margaret Ferrier was shameful and lacking in tactical nous. For sure she’d done wrong, but she admitted it and was heavily punished by the courts when numerous others faced no charge or fixed penalties.

She was a dedicated, hard-working MP and, despite the monstering in the press, that seems vindicated in the recall petition. Despite six weeks of a multi-party campaign to have folk sign up, including a direct mailshot from the council, the threshold of ten per cent was only just surpassed. Significantly more voted for her than sought to recall her. The frenzy of politicians wasn’t reflected in the wider public. But it’s done now.

The SNP’s positioning was morally reprehensible in its treatment of someone who had been a party stalwart, whilst the sins of colleagues were either ignored or treated lightly. As ever in the Sturgeon regime, it was whether you were part of the “in-crowd” and she certainly wasn’t. Beyond that though, it’s simply political self-harm of a gargantuan nature for the SNP.

By-elections are a referendum on the government but in Scotland we have two. This may be for Westminster but as many will be voting against the SNP/Green administration as Sunak’s. Holyrood’s closer and politics is local. The unionist vote will coalesce around Labour to give both the Holyrood administration and independence a kicking.

Meanwhile, the SNP will struggle to mobilise its support, let alone galvanise the wider Yes movement. Many who supported Margaret Ferrier will be disgusted and stay at home. Portraying Labour as Tory-lite is correct but justifies not voting Labour, as opposed to supporting SNP.

Of course, the wider movement largely supports the radical calls and rightly disdains Starmer. The government and opposition in Westminster may swap benches but life in Scotland will remain the same. That’s misery and penury for many, which’s why the real motivation for the movement’s independence.

But seeking support for it in a by-election when you previously promised a “no ifs, no buts” referendum that same month rings hollow. Worsening that. the Supreme Court considering the blocked gender bill in the run-up to the vote will simply highlight where the SNP focus has been under Sturgeon.

As the 2015 landslide was her inheritance, largely delivered by her predecessor, this by-election gubbing will be her legacy, even if inherited by her successor. If Yousaf wants to avoid the debacle he can sign up for Scotland United, otherwise the electorate, I sense, will deliver a harsh judgment on Sturgeon’s legacy and Continuity SNP.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian



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