On Friday, October 13th, the Scottish National Party (SNP) signaled a notable shift in its strategy towards achieving an independence referendum amidst a backdrop of political and social turbulence. First Minister Humza Yousaf articulated a new approach, suggesting that securing a majority of Scottish seats (or 29) in a general election would provide a mandate to commence negotiations for a referendum. This marks a departure from a previous proposal that was based on the SNP winning the most seats, which would have set a lower threshold.
The SNP’s annual conference in Aberdeen became a focal point for these discussions, with the leadership amenable to accepting almost everything members wanted, including switching from winning “most” seats to a “majority” of seats to begin independence negotiations with the United Kingdom’s government. This higher bar—at least 29 seats—provides a seemingly stronger democratic threshold, especially as the SNP is widely predicted to lose seats.
Yousaf emphasized that “mandate after mandate” for an independence vote has been denied by successive Conservative governments and that the next test of the proposition will be in a general election, expected to be held next year. If the SNP wins the majority of seats, it would give the Scottish government a mandate to begin negotiations with the UK government on “how to give that [the mandate] democratic effect,” with several options, including a referendum, then being on the table.
The SNP conference also witnessed debates and discussions on the party’s independence strategy amidst internal and external criticisms over various issues, including the NHS, the attainment gap, and the worst drug death rates in Europe. The party also faced a setback when SNP MP Lisa Cameron defected to the Tories, citing a “toxic” culture in the SNP’s Westminster group.
Moreover, the SNP has been grappling with internal divisions over its power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens and dealing with the repercussions of the arrest of Yousaf’s predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, her husband Peter Murrell, and its former treasurer Colin Beattie, all as part of an ongoing investigation into the party’s finances.
As the SNP navigates through these multifaceted challenges, the implications of its altered strategy towards achieving an independence referendum and how it manages the various internal and external pressures will be pivotal in shaping Scotland’s political future.