The Scottish National party has been through difficult times in the past, but can anything compare with this week? Nicola Sturgeon arrested ‘as a suspect’ by Police Scotland in the investigation into party finances. The ignominious collapse of the deposit return scheme; the deepening scandal of the Ferguson Marine ferries. This must be the nadir, surely, of SNP fortunes. Or is it?
As the week progressed, SNP figures became visibly more relaxed and even started sounding rather bullish. Nothing to see here…Nicola hasn’t been charged with anything…voters are focussed on Boris’s crimes. The SNP MSP, James Dornan, even accused the police and the media of ‘collusion’ and complained that officers had raided Sturgeon’s Uddingston home as if it were ‘Fred West’s house’.
Humza Yousaf wisely distanced himself from Mr Dornan’s hyperbole. However, he also called on SNP MSPs to back Nicola Sturgeon or quit. The nationalist blogger James Kelly said this was like Nicola Sturgeon calling on MSPs to back Alex Salmond after he was accused of misconduct in 2018. Could you imagine her sending him flowers then, as the SNP group just have?
The SNP leadership is relaxed because they can’t detect any obvious electoral damaged from Operation Branchform, the police probe into what happened to £660,000 raised for an independence referendum that never happened. Professor John Curtice pointed out that the five opinion polls since the arrest of Peter Murrell show the SNP at 38 per cent in voting intentions for Westminster, the same as in four polls conducted after Humza Yousaf was elected in April.
However, the SNP’s complacency is misplaced. The SNP and the independence movement has been damaged by recent events. As Alex Salmond, the former FM put it, this is looking like an ‘extinction event’ for the SNP.
The fact that there hasn’t been a poll collapse since the arrests is mainly because it had already happened.