Humza Yousaf: Murdo Fraser shares sympathies for SNP leader
Yousaf Humza has been warned his party is “in trouble” – and likely to lose “an awful lot of seats” next year. Pollster Sir John Curtice also believes Labour’s resurgence is making it less likely the SNP will hold the balance of power after the next general election – and with it the means to force a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Sir John, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, was speaking in reaction to a poll published by Redfield & Wilton indicating a dip in support for the party since Nicola Sturgeon stepped down as First Minister, and also in the wake of the arrests of her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former CEO, as part Operation Branchform, an ongoing investigation into alleged SNP fundraising fraud.
Neither Mr Murrell or Colin Beattie, the party’s former treasurer, who was also arrested subsequently, has yet been charged – but Sir John said the SNP’s struggles were nevertheless reflected in the survey.
He told Express.co.uk: “It’s not particularly good news, but also could have been a lot worse. It depends how you look at it.
“The SNP were in trouble before the arrest of Murrell.
“The interesting thing about this poll is it is the first one to be conducted after Humza Yousaf became leader.”
The number of people in favour of independence was down by two points to 42 percent, while support for the SNP for Westminster was down by one point at 35 percent, according to the poll, based on 1,295 adults aged 16 and over interviewed between April 30 and May 2, Sir John pointed out.
He added: “There is no doubt the SNP in particular now faces a significant challenge from the Labour Party, all that’s true, and this poll confirms that.
“But it’s an erosion not a meltdown, certainly at the moment.”
With cameras showing police raiding the home in which Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon live, Sir John continued: “Given how terrible the pictures were and all the arrests, you really did wonder what impact is going to have.
“It’s done a degree of damage, but it seems to be at the margin. The problem is, it’s on top of the fact that the party was already less popular in the wake of a leadership vote.”
Looking ahead to next year’s general election, Sir John said: “The Labour Party had already gained a lot of ground before Sturgeon resigned, not because of any unpopularity on the part of the SNP, but because of the Labour Party profited from the same developments which profited the Labour Party south of the border.
“So all that in combination leaves us in a position where Labour could pick up an awful lot of SNP seats north of the border.
“But what’s interesting for people who wanted to know what’s been the impact of the Murrell arrest – maybe not as much as you might have thought.”
Sir John pinpointed three major high points in the party’s recent history.
He said: “The biggest high point for the SNP was winning an overall majority back in 2011.
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“The second high point is getting virtually all the Scottish seats in 2015.
“The third high point I would said was the second half of 2020, which is the only time we had a consistent majority in the polls in favour of independence.”
By contrast, the SNP was facing an uncertain future, Sir John suggested.
He said: “It depends on what happens in the next general election period, which is always where the game has been.
“The question is, do we end up with a hung Parliament? Now what is true is that the chance happening has diminished in the course of recent weeks because everybody thinks as Labour’s chances of winning an overall majority improve, the SNP’s chances of having leverage diminish.
“That has always struck me as the only way in which you’re going to get a referendum anytime soon.
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“So the developments matter. It reduces the chances of that happening.”
Referring to Ms Sturgeon’s replacement as First Minister, he added: “I think what also true, and I think the penny has dropped for the SNP leadership, is that basically, you only really want to hold a referendum when you know you’re going to win.
“And that actually what they need to do above all is to get the debate started about independence.
“And that’s what Sturgeon failed to do in the last six months and the trouble is that Yousaf is not in a very good position to start that process now.”
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