Back in December the SNP were riding high following an impressive general election result, having taken 48 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Whilst a Tory majority has dented their chances of getting the second referendum they have long been asking for, the mandate from the Scottish people, made all the stronger by the UK leaving the EU, put them in a strong position coming into 2020.
And yet despite what should be strong foundations, we have started to see a number of cracks emerge and grow. This week, the future of their well-regarded leader Nicola Sturgeon has been brought into question, with a number of separate issues combining to weaken her position. Speculation has been rife for some time that there is internal frustration over her approach to securing a second referendum, with some thinking she should have waited, keeping her powder dry before formally asking the UK Government for the powers to hold one, and others arguing that she should push on with holding a non-binding confirmatory ballot regardless.
On Sunday, during an appearance on Andrew Marr, Sturgeon was forced to play down the rumours about threats to her leadership. But it’s hard to present a united front when two of your party’s biggest heavyweights, Joanna Cherry and Angus Roberts, are engaged in rival bids for the nomination to contest a coveted Scottish Parliament seat, allowing them to compete in any future leadership contests.
Aside from the policy differences, the party has also been rocked by a number of scandals. Last month, the former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, often touted as Sturgeon’s successor, was forced to resign following revelations he had bombarded a 16-year-old-boy with sexual messages and texts, which many claimed amounted to grooming. Further criticism came when it emerged that he was not suspended from the SNP until 14 hours after Nicola Sturgeon learnt of the allegations and after he’d resigned as minister. This was not the first ministerial resignation for misconduct Sturgeon has suffered. In November 2017, her then childcare and early years minister Mark McDonald, resigned from her government and was suspended by the SNP following allegations that he had sent inappropriate text messages to several women and had abused his position of power.
And of course, to top off the misconduct allegations, there’s the looming matter of former leader and Sturgeon’s mentor Alex Salmond, who goes on trial on 9 March, facing 14 sexual offence charges, including one of attempted rape and one of intent to rape. This will then be followed by a Holyrood inquiry into how the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints against Salmond. Regardless of the outcome of the trial and inquiry, Sturgeon’s closeness to the former leader has the potential to put out some uncomfortable truths that the First Minister would have rather remained hidden.
Even Sturgeon’s own private life has been subject to several rumours, and with her husband Peter Murrell still in position as Chief Executive of the SNP, despite long running calls for him to go, there is a growing feeling that she is too much of an establishment figure to lead what is, at its heart, an anti-establishment party forward.
After many years with the same leader, may a power shift be on the way in the SNP?