Brian Mon­teith won­ders if we have reached ‘Peak SNP’

Looks like the SNP have peaked, so it bet­ter look out as pun­ish­ment by the peo­ple will fol­low, writes Brian Mon­teith

The Scotsman - - Front Page -

Have we passed Peak SNP? There is some­thing in the air that tells me we have, but worse for the First Min­is­ter is the prob­a­bil­ity we have passed Peak Na­tion­al­ism too. If the lat­ter case is true then hold­ing a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum be­fore 2020 would be po­lit­i­cal sui­cide. It would fin­ish the SNP for a gen­er­a­tion.

There can be no doubt­ing that the SNP has been the most suc­cess­ful Scot­tish po­lit­i­cal party of the new mil­len­nium and, ar­guably, the most suc­cess­ful Bri­tish party too.

In the first six years of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment the SNP looked all washed up, but it rein­vented it­self, found a new self-dis­ci­pline and, hav­ing achieved mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in 2007, it won a highly creditable over­all ma­jor­ity in 2011. Although it lost the 2014 in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum it en­joyed a huge mem­ber­ship bonus on the back of that de­feat and went on to win all but three West­min­ster par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies in the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion.

That as­ton­ish­ing re­sult is un­par­al­leled since Bri­tish univer­sal suf­frage in 1928. By the end of 2015 the SNP looked set to win the com­ing Holy­rood elec­tions and be in a po­si­tion to call a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum built upon a wave of pub­lic sup­port, es­pe­cially if the UK de­cided to leave the Euro­pean Union but Scot­land voted for it to re­main.

Now, af­ter the Holy­rood elec­tions and the EU ref­er­en­dum have both been held and it is pos­si­ble to step back and sur­vey the po­lit­i­cal land­scape. The em­pir­i­cal and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence I’ve seen sug­gests to me the SNP has peaked.

For one thing, the SNP lost its over­all ma­jor­ity in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment elec­tions and is back to where it was in 2007. This time though, its op­po­nents fully un­der­stand the mor­tal threat the SNP rep­re­sents to their ex­is­tence and will be far less com­pli­ant.

This is im­por­tant be­cause af­ter nine years of SNP rule the real prob­lems sur­fac­ing in ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, polic­ing, trans­port – and the pub­lic fi­nances that un­der­writes all of them – are reach­ing cri­sis pro­por­tions and no longer can be blamed on past Scot­tish ad­min­is­tra­tions or West­min­ster. The buck stops with the SNP and the polling shows that the pub­lic is de­mand­ing it faces up to its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

As if to high­light a grow­ing pub­lic frus­tra­tion that the SNP is not at­tend­ing to the day job that its min­is­ters are so hand­somely paid for, there was the as­ton­ish­ing news last week that the ap­proval rat­ing of the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Ruth David­son was higher than that of SNP First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon.

Stur­geon’s ap­proval rat­ings have fallen from 55 per cent in April 2015, to 36 per cent in April 2016 and now 20 per cent in Septem­ber 2016 – while Ruth David­son’s have climbed to 21 per cent and over­taken her.

A Tory leader more pop­u­lar the self-styled peo­ples’ favourite and Queen of Self­ies? In Scot­land? I can­not re­call such a mo­ment, and cer­tainly not since the SNP came to power. It may just be a tem­po­rary aber­ra­tion and nor­mal ser­vice might be re­sumed soon, but that it has hap­pened at all sug­gests the hon­ey­moon with the SNP is over.

If the pub­lic ser­vices that the SNP is com­pletely re­spon­si­ble for do not be­gin to im­prove – and it could re­design the NHS or change the school sys­tem if it wanted to, but I sus­pect it lacks the ideas and the drive to pur­sue any re­forms – then the pa­tience of the pub­lic may run out. This is im­por­tant be­cause the last in­de­pen­dence cam­paign – which was

nearly suc­cess­ful – was built upon the foun­da­tion of a com­monly held per­cep­tion that the SNP was com­pe­tent and could make an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land work.

If that per­cep­tion is dam­aged, or worse, is changed to a con­sen­sus that the SNP is harm­ing Scot­land’s in­ter­ests, then not only will it suf­fer but so too will the dream of in­de­pen­dence. The runes, just re­cently, have not been good.

While the First Min­is­ter ran-up her air miles grand­stand­ing in Brus­sels and Berlin and then launched a lis­ten­ing ex­er­cise with No vot­ers de­signed to im­prove the SNP case for in­de­pen­dence, the pub­lic has shown that it is against a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum by 50 per cent to 37 per cent. Only 20 per cent of SNP vot­ers have listed in­de­pen­dence as a pri­or­ity ahead of health and the econ­omy when given two choices!

Add to this sen­ti­ment the hard ev­i­dence pro­vided by the SNP Gov­ern­ment’s own fig­ures in this year’s Gov­ern­ment Ex­pen­di­ture and Rev­enue Scot­land (GERS) re­port that in­de­pen­dence would have de­liv­ered an eco­nomic aus­ter­ity se­vere enough to strip the paint of gov­ern­ment lim­ou­sines, close hos­pi­tals and force pay cuts on pub­lic ser­vice work­ers – just ask Ire­land and Greece – then it is no sur­prise that polling also shows the case for in­de­pen­dence has en­joyed no postbrexit bounce.

Peo­ple can work out that if the EU is meant to be so vi­tal to our eco­nomic in­ter­ests then the Union must be too, and then some. While the ma­jor­ity voted for the UK to stay in the EU we have not yet left and the pub­lic does not yet know what the terms will be, the con­se­quences re­ally mean – and what, if any, ben­e­fits Scot­land may yet be able to en­joy fol­low­ing Brexit such as man­age­ment of its own fish­ing grounds and its own tai­lored farm­ing sup­port.

Anec­do­tally, I have found no-one I know that voted No to in­de­pen­dence who has changed his or her minds, but I have found those that voted Yes that have done so.

In­deed, I have found some that joined the SNP and voted for them in 2015 who are scun­nered with the party’s be­hav­iour in West­min­ster and what they now see as lies they were told – and will let their mem­ber­ship lapse. They are con­sid­er­ing vot­ing for Ruth David­son’s Con­ser­va­tives.

My personal cir­cles are un­doubt­edly self-se­lect­ing, but Yougov polling sug­gests that while 12 per cent of No vot­ers might vote Yes, 13 per cent of Yes vot­ers might vote No – sug­gest­ing few recog­nise the “sig­nif­i­cant and ma­te­rial change” Stur­geon is look­ing for.

That there will be swings in po­lit­i­cal mood I have no doubt. The SNP will this year still en­joy good polls and en­cour­ag­ing re­sults, but I be­lieve the trend is now to­wards its de­cline.

The pub­lic is not stupid. In the past it has pun­ished all union­ist par­ties for tak­ing it for granted and ne­glect­ing its in­ter­ests – un­less the SNP rein­vents it­self it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore the pub­lic pun­ishes it too. l Brian Mon­teith is ed­i­tor of Thinkscot­land

2 Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Ruth David­son’s ap­proval rat­ing has now out­stripped that of the First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon

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