EDINBURGH: Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party (SNP) is holding a conference this weekend to reignite its faltering quest for independence, as public support wanes and after its former leader was arrested.
The meeting in Dundee will be the first in-person conference since Humza Yousaf, 38, took the helm in March, and the party saw a drastic change in fortunes.
His predecessor as SNP leader and Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was the figurehead of the independence movement, overseeing a surge in support, particularly after Brexit and during the Covid pandemic.
But in February she unexpectedly announced her resignation after nearly nine years in office, saying she lacked the “energy” to carry on.
Sturgeon, who came to power after the last – failed – 2014 referendum on Scottish independence from the UK, has since been arrested with her husband over claims of mismanagement of SNP finances.
Both have denied any impropriety and been released without charge.
The turnaround in SNP fortunes was laid bare in a recent YouGov poll that suggested the party would haemorrhage seats if a UK general election were held now.
The SNP currently represents 48 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies in the UK parliament in London.
YouGov forecast it could lose nearly half those seats – 21 – if there were a general election.
Labour – which wants Scotland to remain part of the UK with England, Wales and Northern Ireland – would gain 23 seats to bring their seat tally in Scotland up to 24.
The Scottish Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, also pro-union parties, would each take four seats.
Patrick English, an associate director at YouGov, said the survey, conducted in April and May, suggested the recent bad news stories have hit SNP support.
“Not since 2010 have either the Scottish Nationalists failed to win more than 30 seats at a general election contest, or Labour surpassed seven (in Scotland),” he said.
The SNP has been the dominant force in Scottish politics since elections for the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh in 2007, when it won 47 out of 129 seats.
It currently has 64 members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs), out of a total of 129 – and governs in a coalition with the pro-independence Greens.
The UK government in London has repeatedly said the 2014 referendum settled the independence question for a generation.
But Sturgeon brought it back to the table after the Brexit vote two years later, when most Scots opted to stay in the European Union, and a majority in the UK voted to leave.
She pushed successive UK prime ministers to allow another vote on independence and after consistent refusals took the issue to the UK Supreme Court.
In November 2022, judges at the country’s top court blocked the Scottish government’s attempt to hold another plebiscite, ruling that the power to do so was a “reserved” matter for the UK government only.
Sturgeon said the SNP-led government would look to use the next UK general election as a “de facto referendum” on separating after more than 300 years.
Yousaf is expected use the Dundee conference today to address concerns over the party’s financial management and attempt to reinvigorate its pro-independence base.
“With the full powers of independence, Scotland can rejoin the European Union, regaining access to the European Single Market, which is seven times bigger than the UK market,” Yousaf wrote in the Daily Record newspaper on June 16.
“With independence we can shape our own future as a thriving European nation. This Saturday, SNP members in Dundee will come together to discuss how we make this positive vision Scotland’s reality.”