There’s little lipstick for this pig

We need to be honest with ourselves here, there is very little lipstick to be put on this pig. It was an unqualified disaster for the SNP. I knew that the SNP was going to perform poorly when John Swinney said that if the SNP won most seats in Scotland it would be a mandate to ask Keir Starmer for a Section 30 order for another independence referendum. That was never a pitch that was going to galvanise independence supporters to turn out and vote for the party. Vote SNP so we can go cap in hand and be rejected again is not inspiring messaging. I was expecting heavy losses but the ten seats forecast by the exit poll was at the lower end of expectations and the final result has been even worse. This election has not gone well for the SNP, indeed it’s catastrophic. The SNP has been wiped out in Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Central Belt. But there is still time to turn things around for the Holyrood elections due in May 2026. Still, carpet bagging Douglas Ross lost his seat to the SNP, so perhaps there is a god.

The SNP must, as a matter of urgency, reshape and reform its independence strategy, “Let’s keep asking for a Section 30 order” just isn’t going to cut it. We all know that as long as there is even an outside chance that Scotland will vote for independence the answer is always going to be no. It’s time to abandon any notion of asking nicely for another referendum.

The SNP needs to adopt a much more ballsy, confrontational, and assertive approach to independence, and that means some variant on turning the next Holyrood election into a de facto referendum on independence. A strategy of trying to build support for independence by being a competent devolved government was always doomed to failure given Scotland’s media landscape and a devolution settlement which is structured to devolve blame for Westminster austerity onto Holyrood. But above all, the SNP must find a way of enthusing and energising independence supporters, the party signally failed to do so in this during this election campaign.

This must be combined with a far more assertive and proactive approach to Scotland’s shockingly unbalanced media, in particular BBC Scotland. The SNP should not tolerate the constant interruptions of BBC presenters who allow anti independence politicians to pontificate at length but don’t let pro independence speakers complete a sentence. It also means calling out the conflation of independence with the SNP and allowing anti independence politicians to campaign on devolved issues in a Westminster election. It is notable that Labour in Wales was not punished in this Westminster election for its woeful record in the Senedd to anything like the extent that the SNP was castigated for devolved matters in Scotland. We have Scotland’s anti independence media to thank for that discrepancy.

There has also been a series of own goals, the controversy and scandal surrounding party finances, the Michael Matheson affair, the wrecking of the Bute House Agreement, which if handled more sensitively might not have caused such anger amongst the Scottish Greens. Then there is also the matter of the control freakery which has been a feature of the party leadership since Alex Salmond. His brand of strong man leadership was inherited and intensified under Nicola Sturgeon and while it was hugely successful when the party had popular and capable leadership with no internal opposition, it allowed the leadership to grow remote from the grass roots. That must end, now. The SNP is a creature of the independence movement, the independence movement is not a creature of the SNP. The SNP leadership forgets that at its peril.

There are plenty who will claim that the SNP lost because of its support for self ID for trans people. That is simplistic nonsense. Joanna Cherry, one of those most vocal in her opposition to self ID, lost to a candidate from the Labour party in Scotland which voted to back self ID in Holyrood. The SNP lost for many reasons, the toxified trans debate was a minor factor in a much larger and more complex picture. Alba, which opposes self ID, lost its two MPS and attracted only a handful of votes. It is over as a political project.

We now have to endure the galling spectacle of listening to gloating British nationalists tell us that the poor result for the SNP means that Scotland isn’t interested in independence even though the very same people were just as quick to tell us that it meant nothing for independence when the SNP was piling up votes and seats. We now have Blair MacDougal and Douglas Alexander and Scotland in Union’s Pamela Nash as MPs. They would be fools to think that the issue of independence has been killed off for good. Independence will reassert itself when the penny drops that Starmer’s promise of change is hollow and Westminster is incapable of reforming itself. The SNP must be ready to take advantage of that when it inevitably happens.

This means that there is still all to play for in the Scottish elections due in 2026. By that time the novelty will have worn off Starmer’s government and it is likely to be deeply unpopular. This new political landscape will give an SNP which has got its act together the opportunity to wipe the sneer off of Anas Sarwar’s face and to present a compelling case for independence.

On a UK level this election is deeply troubling. Starmer has won, as expected, but although the Tories have suffered a serious defeat, it is very far from the extinction level event that some polls had suggested. The truth is that it is more accurate to say that the Tories lost rather than Starmer won. Starmer is disliked but people loathe the Conservatives far more.

The Conservatives remain the official opposition with enough seats to allow them to regroup during the course of this Parliament. Suella Braverman was re-elected and is already making her pitch for leadership of the Tories. Still, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that Jacob Rees Mogg lost his seat, so there is a Brexit benefit after all. He’s already lined up another job for himself, haunting a Victorian orphanage.

Starmer has won his victory on a mere 36.1% of votes cast. Labour has not won hearts and minds, people just wanted the Tories gone. But in Labour winning a crushing majority on just over a third of votes cast, this election has shown that British politics is broken. Starmer’s regime will prove that it cannot be fixed.

Alarmingly, the extreme right in the form of Nigel Farage’s immigrant hating English nationalist populists have done better than expected and are entering the House of Commons with a contingent of MPs, Farage, Richard Tice, and 30p Lee Anderson amongst them. This will embolden and encourage the right of the Conservative party and we can expect the Tories to move further to the right under the leader who replaces Sunak. The girning wide boy now has a platform in parliament which he will exploit to the full. The hard right party came second to Labour across swathes of North East England, relegating the Tories to third place.

We can now forget about any rapprochement with the EU under Starmer. He will have an eye on the right and an emboldened Farage and will be keen not to allow any opening which a more right wing Tory party can take advantage of in 2029. Expect him to talk tough on Brexit and to continue the demonisation of migrants and asylum seekers. British politics are about to take a nastier and darker turn. Hard right English nationalism has now entered the political mainstream and it’s here to stay. The next Westminster general election will be a contest between a by then discredited right wing Labour party and a resurgent and confident far right English nationalist party. On the back of his victory in Clacton, Farage has declared his intention to build an hard right movement that will be the real opposition to Labour.

The real story of this election is not Starmer’s victory, that’s merely the pendulum swing of English politics we have seen so many times before. It’s not the drubbing the the SNP have received, from which the party will learn and grow. This generation of the SNP has never known defeat and they shall learn from it, dust themselves off, and fight for Scottish independence anew. The real story is the rise of the far right in England. Scotland is in for a bleak few years, with a triumphalist Labour party in Scotland which has learned nothing, but those are precisely the conditions which will transform independence into the settled will of the people of Scotland. The British nationalists have won this battle, but they will lose the war.



albarevisedMy Gaelic maps of Scotland are still available, a perfect gift for any Gaelic learner or just for anyone who likes maps. The maps cost £15 each plus £7 P&P within the UK. You can order by sending a PayPal payment of £22 to [email protected] (Please remember to include the postal address where you want the map sent to).

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