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SNP faces triple whammy of crises and its central goal of independence is at serious risk | Politics News

John Swinney has now been on the campaign trail for most of his short time as Scotland’s first minister, which began just six weeks ago.

After a turbulent 15 months for the SNP following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon and then Humza Yousaf, the party of independence is fighting for its life against a resurgent Labour poised to win back some old heartlands.

For the nationalists, this is existential. Having won 48 seats in the 2019 election, they could – according to Wednesday’s YouGov poll – end up with just 20 seats.

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With many seats too close to call, especially in the tightly-contested central belt, other polls have put the SNP far lower, and that leaves its central goal of independence at serious risk.

Its manifesto, unveiled in Edinburgh, did, as Mr Swinney had promised, contain a pledge to make Scotland “an independent country” on page one, line one.

It claims that if the party wins a majority of the seats in Scotland – 29 out of 57 of the revised boundaries – the Scottish government will be “empowered” to begin negotiations with the UK government to give democratic effect to independence.

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I put to Swinney in our interview that vowing to negotiate independence even if his party loses nearly 20 seats would be considered ludicrous by the voters.

But he insisted that if the SNP “does well”, which he counts as winning more seats than Labour, it would push to debate independence again through a referendum.

There is little prospect of a future Labour government allowing such a poll to take place just as the Conservatives have refused to allow one since 2014.

SNP Leader John Swinney canvassing with SNP activists in Grierson Square, Edinburgh, while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Tuesday May 28, 2024.
SNP leader John Swinney canvassing with party activists in Edinburgh

He also refused to say whether a rejection of the nationalists in this Westminster election would be a mandate for the union.

The SNP continues to insist that its win in the 2021 Scottish parliament elections, in which a majority of MSPs backed independence, remains a valid mandate.

This manifesto is to some extent a wish list – as it is for the whole of the UK when the nationalists only stand in one part of it, therefore cannot win.

But its focus shows where the party thinks the fight with Labour is. Swinney called it the most left-wing manifesto in this election and used his address to rail against austerity, which he claims Labour would continue with.

It calls for a UK government to pump £16bn into the NHS, funded by income tax rises; scrap the two-child benefit cap – a pressure point for Labour – and the SNP’s distinctive positions on reversing Brexit and ditching the nuclear deterrent.

“I’m pointing out that our public services are facing massive challenges”, Swinney told me.

“We do not need the continuation of austerity, which is what the Labour Party and the Conservatives offer and will be profoundly damaging to our public services.

“I’m saying in this election… if an incoming UK government was to follow the same approach that we take on tax, we could have investment in the National Health Service of the order that I’m setting out. So there is a choice. They need investment.”

Income tax is higher in Scotland even for moderate earners, while NHS waiting lists are at a historic high and the health and social care budget is set to fall this year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The SNP, in power in Scotland since 2007, has also fallen victim to criticism of its record and a desire for change, as the Tories have.

Since sending shockwaves through Westminster in 2015, when it won 56 out of 59 seats, decimating Labour north of the border, it has kept a strong presence.

It lost 21 seats in the 2017 election, with Labour and the Conservatives benefitting, but recovered in 2019 with Boris Johnson and Brexit fuelling a comeback.

Read More:
Manifesto checker: What are the parties promising?
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In 2020, it appeared to be riding high, with support for independence at 53%, as the COVID crisis burnished Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity.

It is now facing a triple whammy of crises. Her fall, as one of the UK’s most popular politicians now under police investigation, has thrown the party into turmoil.

The SNP’s record in government is under fire, and independence has fallen from the top concern of Scottish voters to fifth, as living costs and the NHS have come to the fore.

Now, like the Conservative MPs who are warning against a Labour supermajority, the nationalists are also warning a Labour landslide is on the cards.

They are urging voters to return SNP MPs to stand up to a Labour government and claim that on benefits, Brexit, and the war in Gaza, they will be a force to pressure Sir Keir Starmer.

But of the voters Sky News spoke to in Edinburgh South and Musselburgh, currently held by the SNP with a 12,000 majority, some were switching out of a desire for change.

Others were sticking with the SNP – but did not see independence on the cards.

On the independence question, Scots are still roughly divided 50/50. But the means to deliver it looks for now to be receding into the distance.

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