The SNP’s latest troubles have come not as single spies but as a battalion of beefy coppers carting off boxes of papers and hard drives.
The scene at Nicola Sturgeon’s house in Uddingston, south-east Glasgow, with its large blue tent, spades and police tape, more closely resembles a scene from Line of Duty than the quiet suburban home of Scotland’s pre-eminent stateswoman. Sturgeon’s husband, the former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, was arrested and taken in for questioning at 7.45am yesterday morning (5 April) in relation to an investigation into SNP finances and funding. After hours of questioning, he was released from custody without charge at 6.57pm. Police Scotland say a report will be sent to the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service.
Officers also spent hours at the SNP’s Edinburgh HQ, from where more boxes were removed. The scale and visual drama of the activity, and the fact that it centred on the party that has governed Scotland for the past 16 years, were genuinely shocking. (Sturgeon has pulled out of an event at the Edinburgh Science Festival.)
Humza Yousaf desperately needed a positive start to his time as First Minister, but he has not been granted one. Each new poll seems to show support for the SNP dropping further. His cabinet of pals and loyalists – and the exile of his two leadership rivals to the backbenches – has left his party restive and confused. A show of unity was needed after Yousaf’s narrow victory, but instead there was only a flash of the knife and a defensive circling of the wagons.
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Those looking for renewal and a burst of governing energy from their new leader are still waiting. Instead, doubts about whether Yousaf is up to the job remain and will only grow until and unless they are addressed. Today’s newspapers, with wall-to-wall coverage of the raid on his predecessor’s home, only add to the sense that the SNP is in deep trouble and possibly unravelling. Never has continuity looked like a worse idea.
The response of Nats I talked to yesterday was mixed. Those who worked closely with Murrell over the years and who speak of him warmly were understandably upset by the turn of events. Others, who had felt ignored and excluded during Sturgeon’s leadership, were more sanguine. Everyone, though, is worried about what is happening to their party.
“I think it’s over,” one source told me. “The police at Nicola’s house, the polls, Humza looking out of his depth, Labour on the way back… how on Earth do we turn this around? What on Earth must the voters think?” Some feel that the party’s decline is inevitable, and that the only question is whether it resembles a slow puncture or the air suddenly rushing out of a balloon.
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There is also debate about whether, if yesterday’s events had happened during the leadership contest, Yousaf would still have won. It might have forced more SNP members to consider whether Sturgeon’s favoured candidate was the right choice or whether they needed a cleaner break in the shape of Kate Forbes.
Alex Salmond has been highly visible in recent weeks, no doubt hoping that his Alba movement will benefit from the profound troubles of his former party. Those who supported Ash Regan and her hard-line independence message in the leadership contest – Salmond’s hand was seen as being behind much of Regan’s strategy – may feel increasingly drawn to their ex-leader.
Salmond, never one to miss an opportunity, just happened to be walking into the BBC office beside SNP headquarters yesterday, and told the gathered media: “I led the SNP for a long time, so I’m very sad about what’s happening to it, and indeed what it’s become. We should remember the cause of independence, and the case for it, has never been stronger and that’s what myself and Alba are concentrating on putting forward.”
The SNP are under attack from all sides, it seems. Having made its choice of leader, the party must rely on Yousaf to somehow pull them out of the flames. Cometh the hour? I do not detect a great deal of confidence that he is even close to being the man.
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