SNP leader Humza Yousaf. Photo: Scottish Government/CC
SNP leader Humza Yousaf. Photo: Scottish Government/CC

Build a new workers’ party with a socialist programme

Socialist Party Scotland

“The election of Humza Yousaf as first minister has done nothing to stop the rot. It is not even certain that Yousaf will lead the party into the general election.” Socialist Party Scotland’s Scottish Perspectives document – February 2024

The political crisis that was triggered by the decision to remove the Scottish Greens from government last week has now led to the resignation of Scottish National Party (SNP) first minister Humza Yousaf.

After just over a year as party leader, Yousaf resigned before facing a confidence vote in parliament that the Scottish Greens refused to back him in if he remained in post.

Yousaf’s replacement is unclear. Former SNP leader and deputy first minister John Swinney, who is very likely to stand and will be the favoured candidate of the SNP leadership, and Kate Forbes MSP are being touted as possible alternatives. What is clear is that the political crisis, reflecting this era of acutely volatile capitalist chaos, is not over, no matter who becomes the new first minister.

An early Scottish general election – not due until 2026 – is also possible as the SNP try to stagger on as a minority government. A lot will depend on who the new SNP leader is. The Scottish Greens will almost certainly refuse to support someone like Kate Forbes. As finance secretary her post-covid budget delivered huge cuts to public spending and her focus was on the needs of big business not the working class. She also opposes LGBTQ+ rights and a women’s right to choose.

In power at Holyrood for 17 years, the SNP had two leaders for 16 of those – Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Now they are facing having to elect their third leader in just 13 months.

From one of the most successful governments in Europe, the SNP are now competing with the Tories at Westminster for instability, splits and short-term leadership stints.

At root, as we explained in our statement when the power-sharing agreement was collapsed by Humza Yousaf, the crisis is rooted in declining support among the working class in Scotland.

Years of cuts budgets, clashes with workers taking strike action for pay rises, and pro-capitalist policies generally have exposed the SNP leadership. The Scottish Greens have offered loyal support to the SNP for most of the past decade.

Gone are the days of ‘peak’ SNP. The 2015 general election saw the nationalists win 56 of the 59 MPs in Scotland. Then the SNP were widely perceived as an anti-establishment party that had faced down the capitalist establishment during the 2014 independence referendum.

Today, current polling points to dozens of SNP losses in the Westminster elections. With Labour likely to make significant gains – albeit with little to no enthusiasm among workers for the Tory-lite Starmer alternative.


The now defunct power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens allowed for a majority “pro-independence government at Holyrood after the 2021 election”. A new independence referendum was promised by Nicola Sturgeon, then SNP First Minister.

But the SNP and Scottish Greens carried out retreat after retreat on the issue of indyref2, the fight for a new referendum on Scottish independence, since. The refusal by the Tories at Westminster to allow a new vote, and the ruling of the UK Supreme Court that Holyrood could not legislate for a referendum, was met with quiescence.

The building of a mass working-class campaign to demand the democratic right to decide from the Tories was anathema to both partners in the Scottish government. And how could it be otherwise, given the SNP and Scottish Greens, support for a negotiated agreement with the capitalist elite for the break-up of the UK.

As the cost-of-living crisis erupted, Scotland witnessed the largest strike wave by trade unions in three decades. In the vast majority of cases workers demanding pay rises were striking against SNP politicians.

From council workers to teachers, college workers to NHS staff, massive strike ballots for action, often followed by strikes, piled enormous pressure on the Scottish government. It was working-class struggle that delivered concessions.

The Scottish TUC has calculated that workers won £3 billion extra in pay and pensions during the strike wave by taking or threatening action. It was that power and the need to build mass struggle that shows the way forward in dealing with the capitalist crisis as well as the struggle for democratic rights in Scotland.

Splits and membership losses from the SNP have also been a reflection of their declining base of support, as well as divisions over how to take the struggle for independence forward.

The creation of new party Alba by Alex Salmond was an example of this. But increased tensions inside the SNP – including over having the Greens in government – were also evident in the leadership contest to replace Nicola Sturgeon in 2023. Yousaf only won by 52% to 48% over Kate Forbes.

Salmond has attacked the Scottish government, and especially the Scottish Greens, for its commitment to divisive identity politics over issues like self-ID for trans people.

But Alba also use the politics of identity and add fuel to the so-called culture wars by arguing that women’s rights and the rights of trans people are in competition with each other, something that Socialist Party Scotland rejects. A mass struggle of the working class and the building of a political voice can fight for the rights of all as part of the fight for socialism.

As we argued when this latest crisis began, and have done consistently, the building of a working-class political alternative is vital. That should and must come from the trade unions playing a central role in forging that alternative – a new mass workers’ party with a fighting socialist programme.