All Things To All People
Despite the SNP winning most seats in Scotland, it was a disappointing night for supporters with big names losing their seats.
Smaller factors include that the SNP always performs worse in UK elections; that Labour and Tory take most of the media air time due to their UK-wide appeal; the SNP has been the largest party in Scotland for ten years now which makes it difficult to retain support; that we couldn’t repeat the perfect storm of 2015; and that the party machinery has been running on fumes for a while now.
However, the biggest factor has been that the SNP isn't doing enough. We aren't doing enough on our message. On policy. On organisation.
Activists may be tired, but it's the party's job to inspire them to get out and campaign. This campaign has been lacking in narrative making it difficult to inspire activists and voters alike.
The Tories' key message was: strong and stable leadership for Brexit. Labour: for the many not the few with a radical manifesto. The SNP: stronger for Scotland. What that means is Scotref, membership of the EU and social democracy. Not only do these cut along three separate lines of class politics, independence and EU membership limiting the appeal you can have to the electorate, it doesn’t help that our narrative wasn’t particularly clear or inspiring.
There were many policies included in the Labour manifesto that were either already Scottish Government policy or in the SNP manifesto e.g. free tuition and a living wage. These weren't communicated properly. Literature was unfocussed, vague and empty while Labour put it to the forefront.
But there were also policies that weren't in the SNP manifesto like nationalising energy provisions and workers’ right to own. More radical policies swayed some to opt for Labour. This saw Labour gain seats in their ex-central-belt-heartlands and brought them extremely close to taking those they didn't.
The election has pointed to a realignment for the SNP heartlands from the North East to the central belt. The SNP has become Scotland's party of social justice which appeals more to urbanised areas than rural ones. The Tories' victories in wealthier rural areas is a continuation of their hardline unionism and right wing politics.
The SNP can never repeat 2015. We can't pretend that we can continue to be all things to all people in hope of taking so many seats. In doing so, we sell out our vision for an independent Scotland in favour of a centre-left stance in an increasingly polarised political landscape.
Angus Robertson’s claim during the Depute Leader contest that we have to appeal to rural views has not worked. We need a manifesto that is going to represent members and not pander for votes in areas now unwinnable.
It wasn’t so much Corbyn that benefited Labour, it was the ideals he represented - just like independence. As a party, we need to focus again on what our purpose is. Why we want independence. Why we joined the party. What our Scotland looks like. And for decades, it has been rooted in radical social change and bold actions.
SLAB will try to spin this as a win for unionism without accepting the fact that it was Corbyn and his radical policies that inspired pro-indy supporters and, according Ashcroft polling, 12% of those who voted SNP in 2015 to vote for Labour this time.
While many who voted Labour, indeed some of their candidates, back independence, Scotref has to be on the backburner for now. As does the party's romance with the EU which is damaging support in what is supposed to be the core voter base. Any canvasser can tell you that voters are being deterred.
We have the unusual luxury of having time to rest and for introspection. Members and officials should be turning our attention to policy and our organisational structures to create a real grassroots movement that will appeal to the masses that will allow us to potentially bounce back.
Members must have a bigger say on decisions and policy and we have to see radical action from the Scottish Government with the powers we have while making a core part of our Westminster campaign to bring greater powers to Scotland. There is a mandate for this and can only benefit the case for independence as it has done in the past.
This has been the wakeup call the party has needed and what many have been calling for for years. Will we hit snooze or wake up and smell the socialism?
SNP Youth Vice Convener and SNP Socialists Convener