On Thursday, health secretary Michael Matheson resigned and Humza Yousaf undertook a ‘mini-reshuffle’ of his cabinet. The scandal of the £11,000 iPad bill was only ever going to end this way. That it was allowed to rumble on eroding public trust for months is symptomatic of the SNP’s wider fortunes, which began to rapidly deteriorate almost a year ago to this day.
Fifty-one weeks ago a press conference was hastily arranged in the Drawing Room at Bute House. Nicola Sturgeon stood before Alexander Nasmyth’s pastoral portrait of Robert Burns, announced her resignation as first minister and set in motion a remarkable chain of events.
The signs of the decline were even there in the final months of Nicola Sturgeon’s lengthy and electorally successful premiership. Her own strategic assuredness began to wane and her government became embattled on several policy fronts — facts she recognised herself before she left office. Perhaps not taken seriously enough by the SNP at that time was that a fast encroaching political tide was already beginning to lap at its feet.
The SNP’s manifold problems are not all of its own making. Parliamentary democracy tends to put a shelf life on governments — indeed many are curtailed well short of the commanding 17 years the SNP has so far enjoyed. The general ‘scunner factor’ with the party has more recently, however, gained purchase in the public psyche and made people restless for change. The beneficiary in the polls is Labour: if it’s game on for Keir Starmer’s party at Westminster, with the promise of turfing out the Tories, then Scotland wants in on the action.
The trouble for the SNP is that these powerful forces working against them are ones over which they have limited control. But it is hard to know for sure whether these threats in and of themselves would be sufficient to bring about wholesale upheaval in a majority of Scottish seats.