Humza Yousaf with police. Humza Yousaf with police. Photo: Scottish Government on Flickr

The fall of the SNP leader, Humza Yousaf, marks a more general crisis for the SNP, opening up an opportunity for the Scottish left to re-assert class politics, argues Sophie Johnson

The resignation of Humza Yousaf marks another episode in a series of never-ending crises for the Scottish National Party. Yousaf’s early termination of the power-sharing agreement between the Scottish Greens and the SNP has provoked a wave of hysteria about the future of Scottish party politics. The Greens have decried the ending of a ‘progressive alliance’ and the victory of right-wing forces inside the SNP. The SNP itself has descended into unmistakable faction fighting. Faced with two votes of no confidence (one each from the Conservatives and Scottish Labour) and little chance of surviving without support from the Greens, Sturgeon’s successor has handed in his notice.

There are a number of dynamics at work here, each symptomatic of a deep malaise in Scottish political life. The Greens have been shameless in their condemnation of the Scottish National Party. Bitter outbursts mask the party’s record of supporting policy after policy, and budget after budget, which have eroded Scottish public services, cut worker’s pay packets and sold off Scotland’s national assets piece by piece. The only significant points of tension between the parties have been shaped by identity politics. For years, neither have been able to offer anything tangible to working-class Scots.

The coalition deal between the SNP and the Greens, known as the Bute House Agreement, was engineered on the premise of an independence-supporting majority, and speaks to another crucial point. The promise of Scottish independence is losing its ability to hide the absence of a class politics that can address the material needs of the social majority. This key contradiction is the root of a far longer process of decline in the SNP.

The SNP and class

Buoyed at the top of Scottish politics by a surge of working-class support in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, the SNP has long tied itself to an ardent constitutionalism which has locked the party into a bind with Westminster that cannot easily be resolved. Unwilling to lead a movement into the necessary confrontations with the British State, the SNP’s strategy has been to pursue Atlanticist policies, increasingly neoliberal economics and courtship of the EU, Nato and even the Bank of England to win elite support for independence.

Nearly a decade after the independence referendum, the cause of independence has nothing to show for the SNP’s dominant leadership over the issue. The once dynamic movement has decayed due to the SNP’s approach. Whilst the working class are facing lower wages and failing public services, the SNP has had nothing to offer us beyond socially liberal rhetoric. The competing forces within the SNP differ on the policy agenda only by degrees, and there’s no obvious way out for the SNP, which, devoid of talent and descending into faction fighting and scandal, appears to be on the long road to ruin.

Whilst neither the Scottish Greens nor Scottish Labour have offered up anything substantially different, Labour is set to benefit from the SNP crisis, although by how much remains unclear. However, a Starmer government will pose a further challenge for the SNP which, for much of its time in government, has successfully counterposed itself to the, objectively worse, Conservatives. With this in mind, the coming years may see a space reopening for radical electoral challenges.

As we’ve seen, the political terrain is beginning to shift. The SNP are losing their grip on Scottish politics and extra-parliamentary forces have begun to orientate themselves against the Scottish government. The strike wave shone a light on public-sector cuts, and in recent days, the anti-war movement has rightly challenged the Scottish government’s ambiguous position on Israeli arms sales.

Ultimately, the last decade of Scottish politics has shown a conspicuous absence of serious class analysis. Paranoia over the threat of social conservatism has diverted much of the left away from focusing on key antagonisms. For some years, the Scottish government has been able thereby to blunt political tensions with the left and divert politics away from the underlying class confrontations. The legacy of the Bute House Agreement should only underline this point. The task of socialists then, must be to assert class as the primary cleavage in Scottish politics. The work of rebuilding a fighting left up to the task of challenging austerity, imperialism and advancing any future independence movement can only make progress on this basis.

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