Opinion: The next SNP leader needs to call an election

8 mins read

Remember Theresa May? God, it feels like a lifetime ago since she was Prime Minister. It’s pretty hard to forget Boris Johnson’s time in Downing Street. And, Liz Truss’ tenure was so short it’s possible that you slept through it.

What they all have in common (aside from being stabbed in the back by their own party) is that they all faced calls to organise a general election shortly after taking office. The reason for those calls were simple – people hadn’t voted for them to occupy Downing Street.

The SNP were very much part of those calls.

In 2019, they criticised the fact that Boris Johnson would be elected Prime Minister by “only 92,000 Tory party members”. Nicola Sturgeon herself said, in the wake of Theresa May’s resignation that it would be wrong “for another Tory to be installed in Number 10 without a general election”.

Last year, the party said it was a “total affront to democracy” that Rishi Sunak had been selected as Prime Minister without an election. They claimed Mr Sunak had taken the job “shamelessly, without a hint of concern for democracy”.

We don’t vote for Prime Ministers or First Ministers, but we also kind of do.

Of course, we technically vote for parties in elections. But, let’s not kid ourselves that the party leader is a huge factor in helping people decide which box to cross.

And, in fairness, the SNP did say in 2021 that a vote for them was a vote for “Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister”.

That, in and of itself, is a reason for another election. Nicola Sturgeon has, for a long time, been more popular than most in her party. The SNP said that she would be First Minister if we voted for them. We did, and now she is resigning less than halfway through the parliamentary term. And we’re about to get lumped with someone who we like less than her.

That’s not fair to the public, or to voters who may feel they’ve been misled somewhat.

That will especially be the case if the new leader starts toying around with the manifesto too. Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, two of the three current candidates for First Minister, have voiced opposition to the gender-reform bill that was blocked by the UK Government.

What does that mean for people who voted for the SNP on the basis of getting this legislation passed?

The SNP were right about the Tories, but now they need to be right about themselves.

I’m not here to defend the Conservatives, nor am I here to excuse the seemingly revolving doors of Downing Street. But you cannot have one rule for some and another for others. The SNP, very fairly, have called for repeated Prime Ministers to hold elections in order to get a mandate from the people.

They must now hold themselves to the same standard.

Even if, for no other reason, it is a tactical move. Conservative Prime Ministers seem to come and go these days like contestants on Love Island. How will they be able to say anything against that in future?

The cynics may claim that hypocrisy is rife in politics these days – and, in fact, they’d probably be realists as opposed to cynics. But now, here is an opportunity for the SNP to put that to bed somewhat.

To say “we’re different. We’ve set out our expectations regarding new leaders and elections when it comes to other parties. We’re going to hold ourselves to the same standard.”

Will they do that? Probably not. I’m one of the cynics you see.

But that could cause problems for the SNP

Not holding an election could be a pretty big mistake though – especially if Forbes or Regan end up in Bute House. Humza Yousaf at least has the argument that he, at least just now, appears to be largely a continuation of the Sturgeon years. He looks like he’s going to keep the parties 2021 manifesto in tact for the most part.

If that is the case, and that’s a big if, maybe he could make the argument that his leadership is merely picking up from where Sturgeon left of. That would be to argue that his administration would be not much more than a rebranding of the previous one. And so we don’t really need another election because nothings really changed apart from the face at the top.

Not sure that that would fly for me; but I can see certain voters accepting it.

For Forbes and Regan it will be harder – neither have said much about their leadership campaign. But what they have said would seem to suggest a shift in thinking and in policy.

That will be harder to swallow for voters: left-leaning independence supporters might defect to the Greens. Other supporters who vote for the SNP on policy and not independence (and they do exist) might ditch the party for the newly rejuvenated Scottish Labour Party.

Running a new campaign based on their policies may be seen as more noble to voters; they might not love either of the two compared to Sturgeon but they may find it in them to accept it.

It’s all about politics

And that would certainly make it a lot easier for them when the Tories inevitably give Rishi Sunak the heave-ho.

So what’s stopping them? Well, its still early days and, of course, they may choose to hold an election. But, it should be noted that Labour are making progress in Scotland – it’s not insane to suggest they’d have a chance of doing very well in an election.

Even if they didn’t win, they could certainly hurt the independence cause.

And the possibility of them winning (even if it meant working with the Lib Dems) is also much higher than it was even six months ago.

So, the SNP probably won’t go down this route. But, that will be a political decision. And it will make them seem pretty silly given how much they’ve had to say about Tory Prime Ministers.

And it’s hard to see how they’d be able to get outraged about attacks on Scottish democracy again – without seeming like hypocrites.

Featured Image Credit: Scottish Parliament

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