I've written a few times about my fears that a Humza Yousaf win, even if it only results in him being leader for a year or two, could cause such damage to both the SNP and the independence movement that it might not be repairable by the person who replaces him. I think we're now getting to the point where this leadership campaign itself is causing enough damage that there's going to be a major problem even if the right person wins. The idiocy of the people who told the media a direct lie about the membership numbers has caused newspapers to wreak their revenge by portraying the SNP as a party riven by sleaze and on its way out. That is going to be hard to come back from, and the only way it can even possibly be done is with a completely new broom. A Yousaf leadership is no longer a credible option.
The independence movement has split into two completely different types of hellscape today. If you're brave enough to venture into the Wings comments section, you'll bizarrely encounter a party atmosphere as people effectively celebrate a process that could be killing the independence cause before our eyes. As much as I understand the schadenfreude about the long-overdue downfall of Peter Murrell, there is, as ever, a total failure to see the bigger picture. I presume many Wings commenters do still support independence to some degree, but today that seems to be coming a very poor second to the settling of old scores.
And on the other extreme, we have the true believers, the diehard defenders of the current regime and of the continuity candidate, who are lashing out angrily at just about everyone apart from the ones actually responsible for this mess - ie. their own side. What they don't seem to understand - or want to understand - is that the lie about membership numbers couldn't have been covered up indefinitely, even if Kate Forbes and Ash Regan had conveniently played along with the veil of secrecy. When the leadership election result was announced, either the membership numbers would have been visible in the result, or else the result would have been expressed only in percentages, which would have been so suspicious that the media would have known instantly a cover-up was going on. The problem was always the lie and not the calls for transparency - and yet we have Nicola Sturgeon's own sister saying she's so furious with the calls for transparency that she would rather vote Tory than vote for an SNP led by Forbes or Regan.
In this situation, it is unthinkable that a continuity candidate could emerge as leader of the SNP. An analogous event was the downfall of Michael Martin as Speaker of the House of Commons, when it was obvious to everyone that if confidence was going to be restored, the person who replaced him would have to be in a completely different mould. But the problem is that the SNP have arrived at this moment after the bulk of votes for leader have already been cast - which raises the horrifying prospect of Yousaf being elected as a zombie leader whose position had already become untenable in the days before he took office. Responsible Yousaf supporters who care first and foremost about the interests of the SNP and the independence cause should now be giving urgent thought to how that scenario can be averted. The obvious solution would be for Yousaf to make a dignified withdrawal and for his supporters to make their peace with Kate Forbes.
There was a TV series in the 1970s called The Sandbaggers, which is often considered one of the most realistic depictions of espionage ever seen on TV because it was written by someone who was believed to have been an intelligence officer himself. There's one episode in which "C", the head of the intelligence service, suddenly stands down due to ill health, and his Director of Operations - the lead character in the show - starts panicking because he realises that the most likely replacement is a personal enemy of his and someone who has a completely different prescription for the future of the service. So he spends the episode frantically trying to fix the selection process so that the new "C" is a different person who he knows to be completely unsuitable for the job but at least isn't his enemy - somewhat analogous to the various tactics being employed by the SNP establishment in favour of Humza Yousaf. By the end, he's patting himself on the back because he thinks he's succeeded - but then his chosen candidate does something so stupid and ridiculous that it would result in the end of the service. So he sheepishly goes back to his superiors and tells them he was completely wrong and that he can now see that his enemy was always the best person available - the right man at the right time. His humiliation is complete when he is told that his enemy has already been appointed anyway. But in later episodes, he finds he can work with his enemy effectively enough, albeit in an uneasy fashion, and he can even start to see a few merits in the philosophy of the new "C", which he had previously regarded as so alien.
If I was constructing my ideal First Minister, Kate Forbes is probably not the person I would choose. I'd want someone a bit more left-wing, a bit less socially conservative (I do agree with her about the GRR, but that's got nothing to do with social conservatism), and certainly a lot more radical on independence strategy. But a responsible party of government needs a leader, and that leader needs to be the best person available, the right person at the right time. Making that hardheaded choice can sometimes mean giving a new leader some latitude to chart a different course that you might not be entirely comfortable with - but that's still infinitely better than choosing an obviously unsuitable person. If this contest is boiling down to Forbes v Yousaf, the decision ought to be a no-brainer in the current climate. The party establishment have backed the wrong man, and they need to be responsible enough to set aside factionalism and petty grievances. and to put their mistake right before incalculable damage is done. They can surely see that a Forbes leadership wouldn't be the end of civilisation as we know it - they had her, after all, as their own Finance Secretary.
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