The SNP meets in Dundee this weekend for a special conference on independence. Four months since Nicola Sturgeon resigned as leader and three months since Humza Yousaf narrowly became leader and the police investigation into party finances began, it’s fair to say that the party is in a confused state.
The mood is febrile. Some think that normalcy will return; others that the independence project can triumph in the near-future by some miracle fix. Many cling to the wreckage of Sturgeon, while a few still yearn for the return of the emperor over the water Alex Salmond. What is missing is an honest assessment and understanding of where the SNP is, the deep hole it occupies (much of it of its own making) and how it can begin to get out.
The SNP still has numerous advantages. It has been in office for 16 years and is still the current Scottish government (albeit propped up by the Greens). It has a proven election-winning habit, a cause and a divided and until now, inept, opposition.
Despite the obvious need for the party to reunite in the wake of the last few months, it is not clear what the Dundee gathering is for — rather than just another ploy to convince members that there’s progress. One long-standing member not going to Dundee summed up the leadership’s likely rationale: ‘We’ll have a conference to ask the members if they have any wheezes to get us out of the dead end we’ve driven us all into.’
The state of the membership is brittle and fractious. There is still a degree of loyalism in the ranks, some of who have seen previous hard times and think people should buckle down and focus on campaigning and leafleting. ‘They think we should all be out chapping doors — while the rest of us think we have nothing to say when the door is answered,’ said a senior activist in disgust.