The SNP is strangely impervious to the scandals that surround it

Written by Euan McColm on 15 October 2015 in Opinion
Nicola Sturgeon's party is still riding high in the polls, but the First Minister has her work cut out at this week's party conference 

Any other party would be in trouble, right now. The laws of politics dictate as much.

But the SNP - gathered in Aberdeen for its annual conference - is not like any other political party. And those laws simply don’t apply.

In recent weeks, the SNP has been bogged down in the sort of scandals that, under normal circumstances, have the power to do real damage yet the party of Scottish Government continues to ride high, seemingly impervious to their effect.

A cronyism row which saw an SNP cabinet secretary rubber-stamp a £150,000 grant to the organisers of the T in the Park music festival after a meeting brokered by a former party adviser may have caused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the inconvenience of having to answer some awkward questions in the Scottish Parliament but it has done her party no discernible harm.

And the case of the party’s former business spokeswoman - Michelle Thomson MP - has had just as little impact on the SNP’s standing. Thomson - currently suspended by the Scottish nationalists over property deals which saw the lawyer who acted on her behalf struck off - represents an embarrassment which Sturgeon can bear. 

A TNS poll last week showed that 56 per cent of Scots intend to vote SNP in next May’s Holyrood election, compared with just 21 per cent who favour the once-dominant Labour Party. The surge in support for the Scottish Nationalists which followed defeat in last year’s independence referendum shows no sign that it has run out of momentum.

But that’s not to say Sturgeon - who’ll deliver her keynote speech on Saturday - doesn’t face some challenges in Aberdeen.

A great many of those who signed up to the SNP after the referendum did so on the basis that they expected the party to call a second vote on the UK’s constitutional future sooner rather than later. To those disappointed Yes voters, all that was required was one last heave.

But - despite the nationalists’ astonishingly good poll ratings - support for independence remains stubbornly below the 50 per cent mark.

Of course, Sturgeon would like to hold a second referendum and to be the politician who led the Yes campaign to victory but she is not reckless; the First Minister wants to see support for independence polling at at least 60 per cent - for a substantial period of time - before gambling on another vote.

So, as she addresses delegates on Saturday, Sturgeon’s task will be to enthuse the faithful with the promise that independence can be theirs while managing their expectations of when, exactly, that might happen.

The First Minister also has the matter of next May’s Scottish Parliament elections - a vote that definitely will take place - to negotiate.

Sturgeon requires the continuing support of unionist voters, happy to back the SNP in government if not to endorse their view on the future of the UK, if she is to repeat her party’s trick of winning an overall majority in a parliament elected under a system that’s part first-past-the-post and part proportional representation. Just as she has to enthuse the believers at conference with the prospect of a second - and this time victorious - pro-independence campaign, she has to reassure the wider Scottish public that a vote for the SNP at Holyrood is not necessarily a vote for the break-up of the UK.

Given that this was the SNP’s message in 2011 and the party went on to hold a referendum which divided - and continues to divide - Scotland, this might not seem entirely convincing.

But - aided by a floundering Scottish Labour Party which continues to struggle to find a way back into the affections of voters - Sturgeon has cause to feel confident.

The sort of sleaze scandals that might bring another party low show no sign of damaging the SNP’s extraordinary success.


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