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Continuity has not cut it as civil wars break out in the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives following general election thrashing

By Scott Maclennan

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Drew Hendry. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Drew Hendry. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Only a cliché can express it – a political earthquake has rocked the Highlands prompting a seismic shift proving clearly that continuity has not cut it, not for the SNP and not for the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross went from a majority of 204 to 10,489 and in Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire they enjoyed a 19 per cent swing from the SNP.

None of that should be surprising given that the people of Scotland have had the same two parties in government for a long time (SNP 17 years, Tories 14 years) during which time few things have improved. There was also a tide of calls for change with Labour securing a landslide victory on a broader scale putting them in power at Westminster.

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A glimmer of hope for the SNP was that Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey went to its candidate Graham Leadbitter.

But under the SNP’s watch national, and the Tories for the UK, major public services like health, education, and transport have all declined and few people believe the courts, police and prisons are working as they should - and then there is the economy.

The seeds of that seismic shift were personally planted in the ground in the years from 2014 to 2024 by Nicola Sturgeon, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.

So it is a little ironic that the two biggest parties in Holyrood will remain the SNP and the Conservatives, between them they have 94 of 129 MSPs, until the Scottish Parliament elections in 2026.

When Holyrood does return from recess 74 per cent of all MSPs will be from those two parties that due to the general election will know that most voters don’t not want them in power or at least has severe doubts.

The aftershocks are already reverberating so we have the rare sight of seeing two parties in their own civil wars at the same time and both centre on their former leaders – the MSPs Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon.

The latter presided over the failure to deliver new ferries, the A9 dualling, superfast broadband to the whole country, and oversaw crises in the NHS and education and also her own party.

So for the SNP that means a choice – doing what has until now been unthinkable by recognising far from having been a good First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon was one of the worst and the author of her party’s problems or straining credulity.

On ITV she said: “I think for anybody in the current leadership to sort of take refuge in somehow it’s all my fault… would just be taking the easy solution or response to this, rather than looking seriously and hard at what the real issues are”.

That is a remarkable statement for someone who presided over the failure to deliver new ferries, the A9 dualling, superfast broadband to the whole country, and oversaw crises in the NHS and education, which are all “real issues”.

She was so ineffective at pursuing the SNP’s main agenda that she could not secure a convincing majority in polling for a Yes vote nor find a political path to independence in the time of Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Mr Ross started the general election campaign with former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a Highland seat that lacked a Tory candidate without any real objective for local voters.

Douglas Ross. Picture: Beth Taylor
Douglas Ross. Picture: Beth Taylor

Unbelievably it got much worse from there: Mr Ross chose to stand for Westminster, a U-turn for a man who could ill afford another so if he won he would remain as a Highland MSP and Scottish Tory leader – an utterly impossible situation.

Behind that lay the popular David Duguid who was still recovering in hospital from a serious illness was told he had been kicked off the ticket for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

Ultimately, Mr Ross said he would resign as leader whatever happened and as a Highland MSP if he won the Westminster seat - so the Scottish party lost its leader mid-election undermining any promise they made.

And the Highlands, meanwhile, was informed in the clearest possible way that it was not Mr Ross’s priority yet now that is the only job he has in politics and there is talk his party want to oust him altogether.

So, while there is relief that there are fresh faces in the UK government the Scottish Government will return to work essentially in crisis.

The Tories and SNP left Britain feeling like a very unstable country. The Italian writer Roberto Calasso wrote: “This state of things may even seem exciting. But it excites only sectarians, convinced they hold the key to what is going on.”

By sectarians he did not mean Protestants or Catholics but those who only see the world through one lens whether that is Conservative, Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP.

The quote from Calasso continues: “The others - most - have to adapt.” The general election showed that people have had enough of being bent out of shape by political ideologies that radically failed.

At least one SNP member had already seen what was on the horizon but she committed the ultimate sin by telling the people and her party honestly what she thinks is wrong and it was made worse by being right.

Kate Forbes was once again honest at the election count in Dingwall where she said: “For the SNP, we absolutely need to hear the message that the electorate are telling us. But ultimately the bottom line is we need to rebuild and regain the trust of the electorate.”

Her hand in government must have been incredibly strengthened by the result but she did not take any pleasure because her wish for good policy was ignored in the 2023 leadership election.

In fact, Drew Hendry may have contributed to his own loss by two social media posts, one thanking the transport minister for acknowledging failure on the A9 dualling programme and the other withdrawing support for Ms Forbes, who was runner-up to Humza Yousaf in that leadership race but is now deputy First Minister under John Swinney.

That should have been a signal to Mr Hendry - who was supported in his campaign by Ms Forbes - that the party was not the vehicle to electoral success it once was because as another SNP colleague, Fergus Ewing, said: “Once trust goes - elections are lost.”

The question now is will the SNP rise again? And who will be leading them if it does? Mr Swinney perhaps, or maybe Ms Forbes?

As for the Tories, who knows?

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