SNP urged to 'come together' by its former Westminster leader Ian Blackford

The SNP has been urged to “come together” by its former Westminster leader amid warnings the party is facing its biggest crisis in 50 years.

Ian Blackford said political parties that are not united “tend to face electoral challenges”.

His comments came just 24 hours after SNP president Mike Russell said Scottish independence cannot be secured in the immediate future amid the ongoing police investigation into the party’s funding and finances. Mr Russell told The Herald: "In my 50-year association with the party this is the biggest and most challenging crisis we've ever faced, certainly while we've been in government.”

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Last week, Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, was arrested and their home searched by police. He was later released without charge after 11 hours of questioning.

Ian BlackfordIan Blackford
Ian Blackford

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Blackford said the SNP was facing “a very challenging period” and warned: “Political parties that aren’t united tend to face electoral challenges”.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber added: “I would appeal to everyone in the party to come together now the election contest for the leader and the First Minister is over.”

Humza Yousaf narrowly beat rival Kate Forbes in the leadership contest last month.

Mr Blackford, who backed Mr Yousaf to replace Ms Sturgeon as leader, said: “I actually think, when I look over the course of the first few days of the leadership of Humza, he’s made a number of very positive announcements.”

He said the party needs to “make sure that we rise to the challenges that we have” and that it is ready to face the general election next year. He added: “I’m optimistic but we need to make sure that we show that we’re worthy of the support of the people of Scotland.”

Mr Blackford said: “If we look at support for independence, it’s still hovering around about or close to the 50 per cent level. We need to demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust of the people and it’s about, I would say, the Scottish Government delivering across all the devolved areas and doing the work that we need to do to demonstrate that the best answer for Scotland is to become an independent country.”

On Saturday, Ms Sturgeon, speaking outside her Uddingston home, said the last few days had been “obviously difficult” and that she would “fully co-operate” with the police investigation. She said Mr Murrell was “not able to say anything” about his arrest while the inquiry continues, adding: “Again, that’s not necessarily a matter of choice. That’s just the nature of this.”

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The Glasgow Southside MSP said she intends to “get on with life and my job, as you would expect me to”.

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said polling showed the SNP was already in a “relatively difficult position” and the last few days may have made this worse. He told the BBC: "We are looking at a party that was emerging out of the leadership election process with a leader who certainly wasn't enjoying a bounce. It was down to its lowest levels it has been certainly for the last four years or so.

"We are now asking ourselves what further damage, if any, will the scenes and news of the last few days have? Certainly, I think what would concern the party in particular is that those pictures, particularly outside of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell's house of the police tent, the numerous police vans, the two-day search, that's going to raise a lot of questions in many people's minds.

"And the question therefore is to what extent might this further reduce the SNP's standing? So the party, certainly, was already in a relatively difficult position, and it's probably the case – we've had no polling yet – that position, if anything, may well have got worse."

However, Sir John said that while support for the SNP had fallen, support for independence had not. He added: "We are perhaps beginning to see questions for the first time on two things. One is, will those people who are in favour of independence necessarily remain loyal to any pro-independence party? We're seeing the Labour Party beginning to pick up the support of nearly 20 per cent of those who say they are still in favour of independence.

"But secondly, there are also questions now being raised about, well, if the SNP is now damaged goods politically, does this mean that this is any longer the party that we necessarily assume is the principle – or at least is not necessarily the sole battering ram for independence, if that's the right metaphor.

"One of the strengths that the nationalist movement has had in Scotland, as compared with unionism, has been the fact that, for the most part, Yes supporters have been united behind the SNP. And that's given the nationalist movement a political strength that the unionists don't have, because the unionist support is divided between Labour and the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats also getting some of it."

Sir John continued: "The question is, will the SNP be so badly damaged that it's no longer able to command and dominate the support of Yes voters in the way that it has been able to for the last half dozen years or so at least?"

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Recent polls have suggested a narrowing of the gap between the SNP and Labour in Scotland. UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also made a number of campaign trips north of the border in a bid to woo voters.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has insisted that only his party can “take seats from the SNP, kick the Tories out, and deliver the Labour government that Scotland badly needs”.

Over the weekend, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Tory voters could back Labour at the next general election in seats where Sir Keir’s party had a better chance of winning against the SNP, before backtracking on the suggestion.

Mr Blackford told the BBC: “I think what really Douglas has done is he’s demonstrated that Better Together is still alive and well and it’s a real fight for Scotland’s future.

“We want to make sure that we remove the risk of Conservative governments forever, and the only way of doing that is by making sure that people do back the SNP in the next election, that we’ve got that roadmap for independence, and we remove the risk of that coalition of Tory and Labour seeking to hold Scotland back.”



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