The SNP Leadership Contest: A New Start?

Deputy_LeadersIt is becoming increasingly likely that Nicola Sturgeon will become leader of the SNP unopposed by anyone in the party when it convenes for the autumn conference in November. While she will continue to campaign for the position over the coming weeks, her elevation to First Minister is the closest thing we have a sure bet in Scottish politics at the moment.

One problem that an unchallenged contest creates is that the media tend to not pay much attention to the campaign. When Scottish Labour had its contest, there were debates on television and in the papers, with each candidate presenting quite different views about where the party should go. Not so here. Nicola has a vision and she will be looking to have that conversation with a now massive membership. But will this translate into success out into the wider world? It is doubtful.

However, the race for the deputy leadership of the SNP does present an interesting insight into current SNP thinking and the different directions the party is looking to go in the post-referendum, post-Alex Salmond landscape.

Stewart Hosie MP
Stewart Hosie MP has been a member of the SNP for over three decades, and has managed to raise his media profile in recent months during the referendum campaign. With the discussions about the devolution of further powers only just getting into gear, Hosie is selling himself as the bridge between the two Parliaments. He brings considerable experience as an MP, and would provide the party leadership with a balance.

There is also, of course, the 2015 elections, which recent polling suggests the SNP will be poised to do well in. However, the Labour lead in 2010 was over a million compared to the just under half a million votes which were cast for the SNP. With the best will in the world, overturning some of these seats would normally be an uphill struggle. The polling also suggests that voters continue to give the SNP a better result at Holyrood than at Westminster.

That may be why Hosie has put forward the idea that the SNP should look to work with the wider Yes movement to continue the push and sell the idea that victory could only be achieved by backing his party against Labour. This strategy could pick up voters who may support independence, but would not normally vote SNP. In particular it would be a direct challenge to Labour domination of Glasgow.

Keith Brown MSP
Keith Brown has risen rapidly through the ranks of the SNP since his election to Clackmannanshire Council in 1996 and remains popular in the party. He took over the transport brief in 2010, when he replaced Stewart Stevenson following criticism of the Scottish Government’s response to the severe winter weather experienced that year.

During his launch Brown claimed to have the support of more than half of the SNP group at the Scottish Parliament, and has articulated a position which lines up with Nicola Sturgeon. He has refuted the idea, that some have put forward, that a good SNP result during an election would be all that would be required to declare independence, arguing that it would have to be done via a referendum.

Brown also argues that he has a good working relationship with Sturgeon, hinting perhaps that he would also be seeking to be Deputy First Minister. His focus is on retaining the rapid growth in membership of the SNP and using it to push to achieve greater powers for Holyrood.

Angela Constance MSP
The latest entry into the campaign, the Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women’s Employment, Angela Constance has chosen to focus on the referendum result and the reasons why a Yes vote was not carried. She has articulated a desire to reach out to older voters, women and non-native Scots, to continue to push the case for independence. In a pitch which clearly seems to be directed to the new membership she also argues that the SNP has to accept that it is now part of a wider Yes movement.

Interestingly she also stated that she would not be seeking the position of Deputy First Minister, arguing that that would be up to Sturgeon.

The new membership is currently an unknown quantity but now dominate the party. Constance has made a bid to reach out to them, by presenting a non-tribal idea of what the SNP will be moving forward.

Next Steps
Members will soon be given postal votes to decide the new deputy leader, ahead of the new team being announced at conference in November. While each of the candidates have many similar outlooks, including a fundamental commitment to continue to push for independence, the candidates also have subtle differences in terms of priorities for the party, and how exactly you appeal to the tens of thousands of new members. The response from them will likely help tell the story of the SNP for years to come.

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