There has been a lot of conversation over the last week, in fact, the last four weeks, about the future of the SNP and of the wider independence movement. There has been no shortage of analysis, hot takes and indeed some heavy criticism from within and outside of the SNP.
While the form of what is being said changes and the critiques vary, they can be summarised within a few key issues. UNTRIBAL was set up to demystify some of the jargon and inaccessibility of politics, to make it, as our slogan suggests, for normal people. But as keen followers of politics we too can be guilty of keeping so updated with every second of the political landscape that we forget for most people it isn't a part of their every day. With this in mind, I have put together some key challenges and possible solutions that the newly elected first minister will face both in his party and within Scotland as a whole. Pulling information from some key political commentators and my understanding I will try and lay out some of the key areas for consideration about what the future holds for Humza Yousaf.
Division within the SNP
While there have been some awkward moments in the last few weeks- not least Kate Forbes slating Humza Yousaf's record within his ministerial positions during a televised debate- nothing has been more starkly representative of the divide within the SNP than the election results in themselves. After Ash Regan was eliminated in the first round and her second preference votes were divided amongst Forbes and Yousaf, the vote finished at 48%/52% respectively. Demonstrating, if we needed any further evidence of this, that the SNP has a difference of opinion about the direction needed to advance independence and crucially, how we should govern Scotland in the meantime with the powers of devolution.
The most immediate division seemed to culminate via the GRR bill which sought to make the process easier for trans individuals to legally change their gender in the eyes of the law.
As laid out by our very own Innes, Josh and Ash Regan's campaign manager, Bailey-Lee Robb in the latest UNTRIBAL podcast, there were a few reasons for this divide. For some people within the SNP, they have used language which infers that they believe trans people simply shouldn't be allowed to change their gender and that there is no such thing as a woman who wasn't biologically assigned that gender at birth, for example.
Then there is another camp that, while they want to see it easier for trans people to receive healthcare and to recognise their gender, they had specific concerns about the bill which meant they couldn't support it in its current form. Of course, there was also the third camp that supported the bill in its current form.
Some of the same criticisms coming from within the party and from opposition parties about how this new legislation may be open to abuse from men, and not trans people, which would leave women vulnerable is ultimately what caused the Westminster Government to invoke its first section 35 order prohibiting the implementation of this law. In the eyes of Westminster's legal team, it infringed upon legislation which was reserved for Westminster.
While nationalists across the ideological spectrum were enraged by the possibility that legislation democratically passed by two-thirds of the Scottish Government across all parties could be overruled by Westminster, and while there was speculation about the political motivations of Westminster in stepping in and stopping this legislation, there were further- albeit directly linked- divisions about what to do about it. Again, in the one camp, we had Humza Yousaf and his supporters saying that this must be fought on principle and that this was an attack on Scottish devolution. On the other hand, we had people like Kate Forbes and her supporters who said that this was a Scotland-made problem and that it should be dealt with internally instead of seeking changes, or even worse permission from Westminster.
In any case, it highlighted that devolved power was not sufficient in allowing the Scottish people and their representatives to make decisions on behalf of the people of Scotland, and it proved across the board that independence was needed more than ever.
To assume everyone who voted for their preferred candidate did so simply based on this one bill would be naïve. For some, it was a decision based on the difference in economic vision the candidates had, for others it was about the strategies put forward which were the most effective road to independence. Nevertheless, the differences between them are indicative of a much wider problem facing the SNP, which Humza will need to work quickly to address.
Lesley Riddoch in her podcast suitably named, the Lesley Riddoch podcast, episode "All change?" laid out some of how this divide goes deeper. She highlighted that there have been murmurs from within the SNP for a while about the democratic qualities of how policy and the party at large are run. Rumours of Nicola Sturgeon having a tight grip on how legislation was formed, how the conference was run and how the party moved forward in what she and others have described as the "top-down" approach has contributed to a feeling that while Nicola Sturgeon has been a formidable political opponent, many SNP members are calling for a return to a member-driven agenda which allows real debate to happen on difficult issues before they go through the process of legislation.
In addition, they are calling for the process of deciding upon which issues should be discussed at the conference to be more transparent. This transparency, and a place in which members are enabled to house the "broad church" of ideas so commonly used as a descriptor for the SNP, would perhaps stop another example like that of the GRR bill from ever coming to pass. Within the SNP, it would allow ideological differences to be resolved before they reach the point of legislation making, and it would ensure more of the party is behind the bills being put forward. All three candidates promised a more open approach, so Humza's success and failure will be linked to his ability to do this. As Riddoch also points out, if the worst thing that can happen is that the disagreements within the SNP are made public, then this is something the SNP have proven they can survive. They have done so by being brutally honest with each other during this campaign, and there being no tangible drop-in support for independence. Riddoch suggests that perhaps the conversation around the difficult questions, like how best to achieve independence? At the very least keeps the conversations in the mainstream.
Perhaps, if Humza Yousaf enables an open discussion within the SNP, from all of its members and keeps the public used to the notion that there is a route to independence, we just need to find it through vigorous debate.
The Green Coalition and The Bute House Agreement
Right off the bat, it is worth saying that the Bute House Agreement which is the document which ties together the SNP and the Green party into a majority Government was voted for by 95% of the SNP membership and so there was a clear mandate to legislate by the plans set out through that document. Amongst other things, the agreement states that at least 2 ministerial positions will be given to the Green party within the Government and lays out a set of shared goals and promises from the Government made up of both elected members from the SNP and the Greens. While the same argument about lack of transparency cannot be made in this context- as the draft agreement being sent to the membership to be voted for or against. The same murmurs from within the SNP have questions and concerns about the weight given to the Green parties manifesto over and above the manifesto pledges of the SNP- where they do not directly align with each other. This is perhaps one of the areas where Humza Yousaf could do more to address the concerns of his new backbenchers who are speaking for the nearly half of the SNP members who voted for a change of tact, in saying there needs to be more focus put on the SNP commitments and the priorities of all the SNP members.
As with all potential coalition Governments (or in this incase a cooperation agreement between the government and a junior party), the risk run by the leading party is that you are anointing a party whose mandate has not garnered enough of the support of the public to warrant a win. In the case of the Greens, only 4% of the population voted for them at the last general election. If the critiques are correct, and more weight is being given to the green manifesto priorities as opposed to the SNP's, not only is this not democratic, but it runs the real risk of taking the subsequent legislation forward, which does not have public support.
Fringe and minority parties either on the far left or the right of the ideological spectrum exist most effectively as they move the centre parties more closely to the ideologies they associate with. "Progress" on their agenda is inevitably slow (as that is the reality of being a fringe party), but equally, when change happens slowly, it is more likely to be a change that lasts. While the majority of the SNP agree something needs to be done regarding Scotland's contribution to the climate crisis, the "how" we do something about that is most definitely still in question. If the critiques of the coalition are to be believed, then the new FM will do well to address these concerns or perceived concerns on all fronts.
Although where the Greens and the SNP do align, the new first minister will also need to continue to build upon some of the promises made during his campaign. His dedication to equality and social progression, alongside his promises for more fairness and equality, are not in tension with the Green Manifesto commitments. As many believe this was a key component to his success, he will need to continue that commitment.
Cost of Living crisis and the NHS crisis
When polled on what issues are most important to the people of Scotland, the Scottish people reply with some certainty that the cost-of-living crisis and the National Health Service are up there with some of the most prominent concerns. This is true of both independence supporters and not, and so the new Government must address these issues as a matter of urgency. As suggested on the Scottish news programme "The Nine" by Sunday Mail chief reporter Hannah Rodger, the NHS is facing a complex mix of difficulties including the fallout from the pandemic, which means facing these issues is likely to take longer than the immediate results that the public needs and expects of the new leader. With this in mind, lessening the cost-of-living crisis is perhaps the issue which could be more immediately addressed, with longer-term plans required for the National Health Service.
While this, and eradicating poverty, were key commitments made by Yousaf during the election campaign, specifics around new policies which may seek to address the issues were less clear and so, it is now up to the new Government to form these policies. Not least because as was agreed unanimously by all three candidates, good governance is what will inevitably demonstrate to the yet unconvinced, that independence is a normal goal.
There is no doubt that the SNP were not unanimous about the direction that the Governing party should go next. While Humza has not been successful at putting together a cabinet that brings some of the critics of the current way of Governing from within the SNP- there are a whole host of ways in which change can happen. It isn't necessarily about bringing in Kate Forbes or Ash Regan themselves but rather using this moment to collate the ideas garnered during the election to ensure the significant changes which are being called for, happen. This is a chance, and an opportunity for the New First Minster to make change within both the internal and external politics of the SNP, and he would do well to take it.