Scottish National Party

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Alex Salmond has always taken a suspiciously high interest in the rights of the over-15s.
—Fraser Nelson, The Torygraph[1]

The Scottish National Party (SNP; Scottish Gaelic: Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba, Scots:Scots Naitional Pairtie) are a nationalist political party in Scotland who advocate that Scotland should rescind the political Union with England that formed the United Kingdom.[2] (Déja vu, Quebec?)

Rather than being a "blame Westminster for everything" one-issue party, they have numerous other policies as well. However, many Unionists consider Scotland to be too small, too poor and too stupid (although this phrase was first uttered by SNP minister John Swinney in 2001) to achieve that on its own. The SNP is fundamentally a centre-left party (with a significant left-wing bloc) who advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament and are quite environmentalist (apart from their former leader Alex Salmond loving oil,[3] and a fondness for roads including the M74 extension, A9 dualling, second Forth road bridge, Aberdeen Western bypass, A96 upgrade, abolition of road bridge tolls, etc; in May 2019 they cancelled long-standing plans to reduce taxes on air travel[4]).

They are a party of social democrats and democratic socialists who hugely support the National Health Service and free higher education (as long as your parents pay taxes in Scotland).[5] They are supporters of the European Union, saying in their 2014 European Manifesto that: "The SNP is unashamedly, though not uncritically, pro-European."[6]

In 2003 the SNP had 9,450 members,[7] that increased to just over 15,000 by 2009[8] and by 2013 membership had increased to more than 25,000 individuals.[9] By the end of 2014 membership was over 90,000.[10] In 2018 with almost 125,000 members it was believed to be the second-largest party in Britain, with slightly more members than the Conservative Party (according to figures from the UK Parliament).[11] By 2023, membership had fallen to around 72,000[12]. About 10 percent of the party membership is English.[13] The SNP is the largest political party in Scotland, in terms of membership, number of MSPs, number of Scottish MPs in Westminster and local councillors.

They currently hold 48 seats in the House of Commons, the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and over 350 local council seats in Scotland. Following the 2016 elections, they hold 63 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, just short of a majority; in 2011 with 69 seats they were the first majority government in Scottish Parliament's history (starting 1999).[14]

While advocating independence for Scotland, they are also reluctant supporters of the British monarchy, and the British Army, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, etc., etc., and intend to keep all these things following independence. One exception is BBC News which they believe is a conspiracy by Westminster Unionist types. During the 2014 independence referendum there was a bitter feud between Alex Salmond and the BBC's Nick Robinson (coincidentally former head of the Oxford University Conservative Association), with Salmond later blaming the BBC's bias for the SNP's defeat. In contrast The Guardian saw Salmond's attacks on the BBC as part of a deliberate strategy to attack all British institutions.[15]

From centre-left to left-wing[edit]

The SNP is generally a centre-left party, who maintains an impressive balancing act between left wing, socialist-leaning voters and conservative countryside folks. But after Corbyn's unexpected result in 2017's general election, there's talk of Scottish Labour potentially moving to the left after years of Blairite leaders. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, threw up a series of bills and other policies aimed at placating the left wing with social democracy. These include phasing out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032, establish a head teachers' charter to improve education, ensure stability in the NHS, and strengthening public transport.[16][17] This came after Scotland reached record levels of wind energy.[18] Sturgeon followed that up by allowing free sanitary products for women (the first country in the world to do so), creating a state-controlled energy firm and banning fracking in Scotland.[19][20][21][22] Universal Basic Income could be introduced to all citizens regardless of job status too.[23]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

The SNP and their supporters have in recent years produced a number of conspiracy theories, especially around the 2014 independence referendum. The most general is that Scotland is being bled dry by a conspiracy of English politicians, businessmen, financiers, the media, etc, etc. Of course, there are also conspiracy theories featuring the SNP as a culprit, rather than a victim, and a selection of both categories are brought to you here by RationalWiki.

Oil conspiracy theory[edit]

In the 2014 referendum, one issue was the contribution North Sea Oil could make to the future of Scotland: was it running out, or was there enough to make an independent Scotland rich? It was widely rumoured by nationalists that huge secret oil finds to the west of Shetland were being kept secret by anti-independence oil company executives. The logic was that, by pretending there was no oil left, Scottish independence would be less attractive. A poll in September 2014 found 42% of Scots believed this.[24] BP announced in November 2018 that an estimated 640 million barrels of oil would be recovered from the Clair Field, west of Shetland.[25] So this one was proved true.

Election vote tampering[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the independence referendum no vote, there was widespread disbelief from nationalists (yes-voters) that the majority of Scots had voted no. Many believed there had been some form of vote-fixing. Allegedly Scottish Labour chief of staff John McTernan stuffed the ballot box. MI5 may also have been involved. After the election a survey found 42% of yes-voters suspected fraud, and Russian election observers in Scotland to monitor the vote also reported concerns (Russia being known as a beacon of free and fair elections).[26]

The conspiracy theory was boosted when Ruth Davidson, leader of the no-supporting Scottish Conservative Party, was investigated by police over suggestions she had violated election laws supposed to ensure the secrecy of postal votes.[27] These allegations did not relate to ballot-stuffing, only to viewing things she should not have seen (although in principle revealing vote counts could indirectly influence votes, as well as interfering with the basic principle of a secret ballot), and do not seem to have resulted in any charges being brought.

There was no exit poll which would have allowed a comparison with the actual vote. Polling after the election by Lord Ashcroft (a unionist) was in accordance with the result,[28] but nationalists may not be convinced. Nonetheless, no evidence of significant vote fixing has emerged.

SNP desire for Conservative election victory[edit]

Another conspiracy theory involving the SNP is the Daily Telegraph's claim that then deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon told the French Ambassador that she wanted a Conservative victory in the 2015 general election, because it would help promote independence.[29] This was reported in a memo leaked to the Telegraph, which all people immediately denied was accurate, and led to a lawsuit under an obscure provision of electoral law against Liberal Democrat MP and former government minister Alistair Carmichael, who was allegedly responsible for leaking the memo. Carmichael was eventually cleared of violating electoral law, which allows lying except in certain narrowly-defined circumstances.

It's the fault of the SNP in the same way that it's the fault of the lamppost in which you crashed your car: they outperformed New Labour so comprehensively that Labour lost the confidence of voters, as well. The SNP's growing popularity and apparent role as soon-to-be-Kingmakers had implications beyond the Anglo-Scottish border; people concluded that Labour+SNP was likely and not in their interests, and so they voted Tory to oppose that. It's true that the SNP is quite happy with the current arrangement, as it allows them to continue opposing Tory economics (their natural role) and champion independence,[30] without having to worry about a Brexit of their own.

Double agents[edit]

Various supporters of Scottish Nationalism have been fingered as agents provocateurs secretly in the service of British intelligence services or the British government and undermining the Nationalist cause with their extreme or ridiculous antics. Such allegations have been levelled against Frederick Boothby, a nationalist who formed a private army and received a surprisingly light prison sentence for bank robbery,[31] and the Scottish National Liberation Army.[32]

Willie MacRae[edit]

The lawyer, SNP member, and anti-nuclear campaigner died in a very suspicious way in 1985: his car crashed and he was found shot in the head by a revolver; the original inquest was unable to determine cause of death. Both at the time and then around 2014-15 numerous conspiracy theories flew about blaming his death on the military-industrial complex, anti-Nationalist forces, or on him having uncovered a paedophile ring in the House of Commons (alongside various rumours targetting many leading politicians such as Edward Heath).[33][34]

Scottish nationalism and national identity[edit]

The precise nature of Scottish nationalism is not immediately obvious: Scots speak a mix of languages, the most high-status being shared with England; geographically they share their main island with England and Wales, and there is a long history of mingling with England and Northern Ireland. Scotland was an independent nation for hundreds of years, but also run by London for centuries. Between 1707 and 1997, Scotland retained its own legal and education systems, and state church, but had less autonomy in most matters than a county in a US State.

The identity of people in Scotland, and from Scotland, is multifaceted. People have varying degrees of identification with Scottish, British and European identities, as well as more local bonds.

Scottish national identity began with the formation of the Kingdom of Scotland out of Pictish and Irish kingdoms traditionally in 843 CE; the southeast including Edinburgh was added in the early 11th century, taken from Northumbria. The new people of Scotland promptly invented a chain of mythical kings and other markers of nationhood. Borders shifted back and forth. There were wars with England, and an Anglo-Norman occupation. Throughout the later Middle Ages, Scotland had a notable alliance with France, and some gallicisation took place. The far north was later to come under central control, with Shetland and Orkney being annexed from Norway in 1471[35] and the Western Isles semi-independent until the 17th century. In 1707 the Scottish nation officially came to an end; this was conceived by the Scottish leaders as a union, though by some as a takeover. The reason this happened is that the Scottish government spent 25% of its budget on perhaps the worst major financial decision in modern history.[36] For many nationalists, reconstituting the Scottish parliament lost in 1707 is totemic.

In the years after the union, Jacobite rebellions pitted the Catholic Highlands against the rest of Britain; later these would be romanticised as one kind of Scottish identity (the Highlander, tartan, bagpipes, mountains and nature). The Celtic Revival, a renewed interest in Gaelic arts and culture, took off in the 18th century and reached its peak in the late 19th century, around the time nationalism was sweeping Europe; this focused on Gaelic culture, ignoring Scotland's Brythonic, Pictish, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon roots. But identity was far from simple: Walter Scott promoted both a tartan-clad Scottish identity and union with the rest of Britain.

In the early 20th century, nationalist Hugh McDiarmid and the Scottish Renaissance sought to revivify Scottish literary and artistic culture, but nationalism declined after World War II. In the 1970s a new wave swept the nation thanks to people like playwright John McGrath, who emphasised the wrongs done to Scotland by the English; this coincided with the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the threatened closure of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971.[37] In 1979 there was an inconclusive referendum on devolution, where supporters got more votes than opponents but were unable to achieve the vote numbers required.[38] There was a small fringe of radical nationalists such as Siol nan Gaidheal and the Scottish National Liberation Army, who waved swords, let off small bombs, and wrote rude words on the homes of English "settlers", but such extremists were generally regarded with amusement or contempt. In the 1980s, there were derisive references to "90 minute nationalism", based on the idea that support for self-determination only extended as far as the Scottish national soccer team. (Scotland fields its own national teams in a number of sports, unlike most non-sovereign territories.)

However, such jollity was worn down through the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher and Scotland's industrial decline. As Scots turned against the Conservative Party in elections, the nation came to see itself as detached from Tory England, and even the pro-Unionist middle classes turned from the Tory party, leading to a collapse in the Conservative vote and furthering the sense of detachment from an England which still voted Conservative. There were increasing demands for autonomy based on this political difference, which led to overwhelming support for devolution in 1997. Since then, the SNP has blamed Westminster for many things, while emphasising the possibilities of an independent Scotland as a wealthy, happy place, where distinctively Scottish social justice would be combined with the business success of other small nations such as Ireland, Iceland, and Norway.

The leadership of the SNP and most mainstream independence campaigners today promote a civil nationalism, where independence and national identity is motivated on shared values, considered to be distinct from England. The Scots are sometimes seen as socialist, or at least social democratic, and invested in education, although other reputed traditional values such as thrift and entrepreneurial spirit may be played down. Some people, such as writer Alasdair Gray, advocated independence on the basis that Scotland is far from London and distinct enough that it needs a separate government, regardless of your opinion on Scottish or British identity; however some of the problems facing Scotland (such as de-industrialisation) are shared by the north of England.

Many, particularly on the pro-European side, describe independence as an essentially administrative change, akin to modifying council boundaries. Instead of a chain of government running Brussels-London-Edinburgh-local council, it will be run Brussels-Edinburgh-local council, and Scotland will serve directly on European governing bodies rather than going through London. This allows people to describe themselves as pro-independence but anti-nationalist, seeing themselves as European rather than Scottish or British. Whether this is accurate self-description or a self-serving myth is unclear.

Today Scottish identity is buoyed on the one hand by a rich national culture, impoverished mass media, and continuing achievements in the arts and sports. On the other hand, some say independence will stop Scots blaming the English, and allow Scotland to live in genuine partnership with its neighbours down south. Others think that the genuine bonds are so great that a British identity is still a real thing worth holding onto; they seem to be a narrow majority, and often tied into values such as monarchism, conservatism, and Orangeism.

See also[edit]

  • Sinn Féin, a political party that advocates for a United Ireland, and which is often seen as the political wing of the IRA.
  • Plaid Cymru, Welsh allies, with a greater focus on cultural matters.

External links[edit]


  1. Alex Salmond’s dream of a separate Scotland is rapidly falling apart, Daily Telegraph.
  2. Scotland’s Constitutional Future: Views, opinions and questions, The Law Society of Scotland
  3. Alex Salmond: Extra North Sea oil tax could cost 10,000 jobs
  4. Scottish government scraps air tax cut, BBC, 7 May 2019
  5. Scotland's uni funding system faces legal challenge
  6. "Make Scotland's mark on Europe." SNP 2014 European Election Manifesto Page 3.
  7. Who are the SNP Members?, Economic and Social Research Council
  8. SNP's membership surges by 60%, The Scotsman
  9. "How to marshal support of SNP's new recruits?", Sunday Herald
  10. SNP membership soars to 90,000 after 10,000 attend rally at Glasgow Hydro
  11. SNP membership overtakes Tories, pushing Conservative Party into third place, The Independent, 3 September 2018
  13. Meet the campaigners leading the fight for Scottish independence who come from.. England, Daily Record
  14. "Elections: SNP celebrate win as Labour 'hang on'", BBC, 6 May 2016
  15. "The Guardian view on Alex Salmond versus Nick Robinson: political not personal", The Guardian, 25 August 2015
  24. "Half of Scots say oil finds are kept ‘secret’", The Scotsman, 8 September 2014
  25. Keane, Kevin (23 November 2018). "Oil flows from BP Clair Ridge development off Shetland". BBC News. Retrieved 23 November 2018. 
  26. "Three of Scotland’s biggest conspiracy theories", The Scotsman, 10 November 2015
  27. "Police hand prosecutors details about referendum vote claims involving Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson", The Glasgow Herald, 15 September 2015
  28. "How Scotland Voted, and Why", Lord Ashcroft Polls, 19 September 2014
  29. Simon Johnson, and Peter Dominiczak,"Nicola Sturgeon secretly backs David Cameron", Daily Telegraph, 3 April 2015
  30. Dunn, James, "SNP vote will hand power to Tories warns Miliband at Scottish Labour Conference", Independent 3.7.15.
  31. See the Wikipedia article on Frederick Boothby.
  32. See the Wikipedia article on Scottish National Liberation Army.
  33. See the Wikipedia article on Willie MacRae.
  34. SNP activist 'killed over child sex files', Daily Express, 30 Nov 2014
  35. ShetlandWikipedia
  36. 10 Biggest Wastes of Money In History (You know how Trump keeps on bragging about how the Great Wall of China worked so well? That's #2 on the list.)
  37. Event marks 40 years since UCS shipbuilders work-in, BBC, 2011
  38. See the Wikipedia article on Scottish devolution referendum, 1979.