Scotland: Scottish National Party in crisis

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is still reeling from their drubbing in the May 1st elections to the Scottish parliament.

After losing more than one-fifth of their MSP’s and around 200,000 votes, SNP leader, John Swinney, is facing a challenge to his position from a Glasgow SNP activist.

At it’s root this challenge reflects a growing disenchantment among some SNP members towards the political and organisational "Blairisation" of the party under Swinney.

Swinney and his supporters are planning a major overhaul of the party constitution aimed at centralising control in the SNP’s headquarters.

This is widely seen as attack on the democratic rights of the branches who still play a powerful role in the selection of candidates and the drawing up of party policy.

A one-member-one-vote constitution, as proposed by the leadership, would enormously strengthen Swinney’s control over the SNP. The membership of the party is overwhelmingly based in the rural area of north-east Scotland.

John Swinney’s own constituency, Tayside North, has 10% of the entire 16,000 claimed membership of the SNP, organised in 11 branches. In contrast in Glasgow there are only 13 SNP branches across the entire city. Six of the nine Glasgow constituencies have no branches at all. This reflects the inability of the SNP to build an active base in working class communities across Scotland.

The new constitution would mean the few areas, overwhelmingly rural and where the SNP has it’s traditional electoral base, in which the membership is concentrated would dictate party policy.

The battle over the constitution is a reflection of the dramatic shift to the right the SNP has undergone throughout the 1990’s.

Pro-business leadership

It’s pro-business, corporate friendly policies has shorn the SNP of its previous radical edge of the past. The SNP are widely perceived as just another establishment political party.

As a result they have failed to take advantage of the growing opposition to New Labour in Scotland. Swinney himself is an ineffective politician, more of a bank manager than a political leader, who has made a negligible impact since replacing the more populist Alex Salmond as SNP leader.

The challenge to Swinney is also fuelled by a feeling that there has been a "watering down" of the leadership’s commitment to independence. The so-called "gradualist" approach by the leadership towards the achievement of an independent Scotland has aroused the hostility of SNP activists.

Increasingly Swinney and his team seem to be moving to a position of "extreme" devolution. i.e. the accumulation of powers to the Scottish parliament within a devolved Britain.

That and the growth in support of the Scottish Socialist Party – who almost defeated the SNP in Glasgow on May 1st – and the Greens has provoked this crisis in the SNP.

Above all it is the failure to advance a programme that tackles the issues of low pay, poverty and the inequality of wealth that has undermined the nationalists.

The International Socialists are fighting for a bold and uncompromising socialist programme that is prepared to challenge capitalism in Scotland.

This would bring the wealth of the multinationals under the control of the working class and establish a socialist independent Scotland that alongside a socialist England, Wales and Ireland would help lay the basis for a permanent end to poverty.

Article from the August/September issue of International Socialist, newspaper of the CWI in Scotland.

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