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Scottish Politics and Lucky Generals

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The SNP-Green coalition in the Scottish Parliament has ended acrimoniously and we are now into unknown territory. The First Minister now faces an uncertain future as his Coalition partners of this morning are this evening threatening to vote against him in an upcoming vote of no confidence.

The SNP-Green coalition in the Scottish Parliament has ended acrimoniously and we are now into unknown territory. The First Minister now faces an uncertain future as his Coalition partners of this morning are this evening threatening to vote against him in an upcoming vote of no confidence.

For days now Scottish politics had been dominated by a forthcoming vote by the Scottish Green party’s members over whether they should continue in coalition. In policy terms this was precipitated by the decision to drop the Scottish Government’s climate change target, in political terms the ongoing crises facing the SNP made the Green’s political proximity to nationalist party less attractive. First Minister Humza Yousaf wanted the coalition to continue, as it guaranteed him a majority in parliament, but was facing a growing rebellion from the right of his party who were calling for SNP members to also be given a say on whether they wanted to continue with the political marriage. This was seen as a proxy for the ongoing leadership campaign of Kate Forbes who Yousaf narrowly beat to become First Minister.

Trapped between losing control of his party and losing control of parliament, Yousaf chose party. Like many a lover who suspected he was about to spurned, Yousaf decided to try to salvage some dignity and beat his partner to initiating the breakup.

If Yousaf did manage to get out of the frying pan, he is now well and truly in the fire. Predictably to everyone but the First Minister the opposition parties immediately announced their intention to call a vote of no confidence. Cue frenzied speculation. Will the Greens get their revenge by ousting the First Minister? They hinted this afternoon that they may. If Yousaf is forced out who could replace him? Can a candidate win the SNP leadership on a platform of seeking to win back the trust of the Greens and so a working majority? Could a candidate from the right of the party make an unspoken alliance with the Conservatives, as happened between 2007 and 2011 on the basis that neither party wants an election in Scotland at the moment? But have the group of right-wing rebels who forced this crisis overplayed their hand or will this success embolden them further?

Yousaf will hope he can press a very large reset button. The end of the Bute House Agreement creates space for the SNP leadership to strike a new tone on many issues where they have been unpopular: gender, rural affairs, and relations with business. This will have to be a change in policy, not just language as the SNP’s problems are about delivery of services, not just delivery of message. Indeed, the true source of many of the SNP’s problems is not the current struggling leadership but the former leadership. This latest week of crisis for the SNP began with the rearrest and charging of Nicola Surgeon’s husband and former SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell.

Without a majority an already-humbled SNP will have to break from the political style of post-referendum Scotland. Populist attacks on opponents as lacking patriotism may have to be replaced with consensus-seeking. For business there is an opportunity to get government to listen where previously they may have forced through regulation without listening to concerns.

There remain lots of unanswered questions such as will Yousaf survive, does the SNP have an alternative leader who can command a majority of the 129 MSPs in the parliament, will the Tories be willing to vote down the entire government (rather than just the First Minister) and precipitate a Scottish general election – which polls predict they would do badly in?

At a UK level the winner from today is Keir Starmer. In a future UK general election for every eight Westminster seats Labour wins in Scotland they need a 1% less swing across England and Wales to form a government. Napoleon never said anything about showing him ‘lucky generals’, but after events in Scotland Keir Starmer is undoubtedly at the head of a lucky Party.

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