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I thought John Swinney was an upgrade on Humza Yousaf. I was wrong

In Europe
July 09, 2024
I thought John Swinney was an upgrade on Humza Yousaf. I was wrong

It’s probably not possible for the Scottish National Party, or indeed for the rest of Scotland, to get down to what passes for normal politics until Police Scotland and the Crown Office tell us what is the outcome of their now three-year long investigation called Operation Branchform.

And specifically, what is the situation vis-à-vis Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s former first minister, following her husband, Peter Murrell, being charged with embezzlement in connection with a missing £600,000 from party funds. As a result of that police action, one ex-nationalist MP pleaded with the country’s prosecuting authorities not to proceed with any more charges during the election campaign.

The campaign is now over and while police and prosecutors insisted that they’d take no notice of what they always treat as some sort of gross impertinence and would conclude their investigation when it was, well, concluded. Very well, then, can they update us on how far Scotland’s biggest-ever police operation has got? They’ve said before that Ms Sturgeon was still being investigated. Does that remain the case?

This strangely named operation has been looking into what happened to the huge sum donated by SNP members for a new referendum, which will now probably never come, and which has disappeared without trace.

While the bulk of voters in Scotland, as proven in last week’s general election, are much more interested in finding out what conclusions have been reached in the Missing Six-Hundred Grand probe, inside the SNP the blood-letting continues. Or at least it should.

As the veteran former MP and former deputy party leader Jim Sillars has said in an open letter: “Someone has to tell the truth.”

And he said that the party’s stance should be “repentance”, rather than the “reflection” in which the current party leadership seeks to engage. Furthermore, he points out that the result, with the SNP slumping to just nine MPs, came as no surprise to him.

Indeed, he said that he reckoned the total would be fewer than 12 and, as he also points out, that’s what he told me in an off the record conversation. I confess to not taking his word for it, and nor did I believe a similar prediction from another senior former SNP minister.

(That’s not all – in our family betting game, I came forth out of four, after my wife and daughters, in predicting how all the parties would fare.)

My problem was that I thought John Swinney would make a better leader than Humza Yousaf and that his campaigning style would work with the voters. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I should have remembered that the SNP’s previous worst election result came when he was leader and secured only 19 per cent of the vote in the 2004 EU election.

That result cost him his leadership back then. This latest disaster might have the same effect; we shall see.

Sillars describes last Thursday’s result as a “catastrophe” but said it was “inevitable given how the Sturgeon/Swinney era misled the movement, lost its common sense in government, promoted marginal issues as national priorities.”

Real priorities such as education, the NHS and housing were subjected to a “staggering level of incompetence” and said the present leadership was a “busted flush”.

He insisted that the election had been a referendum on the Scottish Government and that there was nobody among the present ministerial team who could do better.

While he castigated Sturgeon and called her “Stalin’s wee sister” for “imposing a politburo of two and exercising an iron grip” on the party, he also blamed its membership for acquiescing in the changes she made and allowing her to develop a “leadership cult”.

Sillars made a great many suggestions in an open letter as to how the SNP can win back support. However, he’s omitted the most obvious one.

Forget about independence. Nobody’s listening. It’s over, thank goodness.

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