15 October 2015

‎Can Nicola Sturgeon control the crazier SNP members?


The SNP is gathered in Aberdeen for its annual conference and the party has every right to feel pleased with itself. It commands the scene. It stands at 51% in the opinion polls. Scottish Labour has a nice new leader but her party is in ruins and Jeremy Corbyn has zero reach in mainstream Scotland. All hail Nicola Sturgeon, Queen of all she surveys.

It is not that straightforward, however. The quadrupling of SNP membership is a blessing for the Nationalist leaders, and a potential curse. The new members joined because they were fired up by the vision of an independent Scotland. Some of them are from the radical left fringes, while others are off the scale. And now Sturgeon is asking them to be patient. She explained at the conference that she will keep open the option of second referendum, but she will not commit to it in her manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election.

Sturgeon is a much better tactician, and much calmer than her predecessor Alex Salmond. But it will not be easy to control the crazier elements in the SNP membership.

Does she want a referendum? Yes, of course. She is a blood and guts Nationalist; she just thinks – say her allies – that there is smart way to go about these things.

Increasingly, Nationalist thinking – I am told – rests on the question of the Tory leadership election. The moment of maximum opportunity may be when the Tories are choosing between Boris and Osborne, in 2019. Then independence can be presented as a way out of eternal Tory Westminster government. If the polls on independence move during that process, she will have her moment.

But there are many moving parts, including Europe and the economy and the poor governing record of the SNP. She will need all that to work in her favour and she will need the more enthusiastic SNP members to stay calm. Good luck with that…

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX