Scottish Culture Secretary accuses Tory leader of ‘mischief making’
Angus Robertson, the Scottish Culture Secretary, has dismissed the claim by Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, that he had spoken with “a number” of SNP backbenchers who were unhappy with the Scottish Government. Robertson said Ross was trying to “deflect the attention” from the Tory party conference and the “internecine warfare” in the UK Government. He challenged Ross to “put up or shut up” and name the SNP MSPs he had allegedly talked to.
Fergus Ewing suspension sparks controversy
Robertson also defended the decision by the SNP parliamentary group to suspend Fergus Ewing, a veteran MSP and former minister, for one week after he voted against the government on a motion of no confidence in the Health Secretary. Robertson said Ewing had done “what is not acceptable in any parliamentary party in a normal functioning democracy” and that he was wrong on this issue. However, he also praised Ewing’s “exceptional record of public service” and his “leading family” in the SNP. He denied that Ewing was being “hounded out” of the party, saying it was “a world away” from a one-week suspension.
SNP faces internal divisions over independence strategy
The suspension of Ewing, who is seen as a supporter of former First Minister Alex Salmond, has exposed the rifts within the SNP over the strategy for achieving independence. Ewing had criticised the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact on the tourism sector, which he used to oversee as a minister. He had also called for a “Plan B” for holding a referendum if the UK Government refused to grant one. Some SNP members have accused Ewing of undermining the party’s unity and discipline, while others have rallied behind him and expressed their loyalty.
Tory leader seeks to exploit SNP weaknesses
Ross, who became the Scottish Tory leader in August 2020, has been trying to capitalise on the SNP’s internal troubles and present himself as a strong opposition leader. He has accused the SNP of being “obsessed” with independence and neglecting the recovery from the pandemic. He has also claimed that some SNP backbenchers had approached him to discuss how to hold the government to account. He said he was “surprised” by the level of discontent within the SNP and that he was “happy to work with anyone” who wanted to challenge the government.
SNP remains dominant in polls despite challenges
Despite the challenges facing the SNP, the party remains dominant in the polls and is expected to win a majority in the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2024. The latest survey by Ipsos MORI showed that the SNP had 51% of the vote in the constituency ballot and 44% in the regional list ballot, while the Tories had 23% and 21% respectively. The poll also found that 56% of Scots supported independence, while 44% opposed it. The SNP has said that winning a majority would give it a mandate to hold a second referendum, which the UK Government has rejected.
What will happen next?
The SNP faces a crucial test in the next few months, as it tries to maintain its cohesion and momentum amid the pandemic and the constitutional debate. The party will hold its annual conference in November, where it will debate its policies and priorities for the next term. The party will also have to deal with the fallout from the suspension of Ewing and the possible defection of some of its MSPs. The Tories, meanwhile, will try to exploit any cracks in the SNP and present themselves as a credible alternative. The outcome of these developments could have a significant impact on the future of Scotland and the UK.