The SNP is falling victim to its own vicious tribalism … pass the popcorn

YOU might be lamenting the first signs of really serious cracks in the once unassailable edifice of the Nationalist party machine.

Whatever its internal woes – and they are multiplying fast – you might think its stability is pivotal to the smooth functioning of government.

Or, like me, you might be buying in extra supplies of popcorn as you prepare for a blockbuster disaster movie – with an all-star cast headed by Nicola Sturgeon.

Like The Towering Inferno, there are plenty of big names in the dramatis personae, including Joanna Cherry, the ‘non-practising’ QC vying to become an MSP – and replace her boss.

There’s a deadly struggle in the Edinburgh Central constituency between Miss Cherry and former SNP depute leader Angus Robertson: blood has already been drawn in Twitter skirmishes.

Activists are forming rival clans as factionalism sends shockwaves through the foundations of a party once famed for its unshakeable ‘message discipline’ – Monty Python’s infamous People’s Front of Judea have got nothing on this crowd.

Formerly fawning sycophants of the Sturgeon incumbency are now muttering dark threats about her future in mutinous briefings to the BBC, while Miss Sturgeon has been compelled to state publicly that she ‘hopes’ to stay in position for the next few years.

Frankly, this is a movement that deserves to dissolve into a thousand splinter groups: after all, those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first render ridiculous.

Indeed, those were the words of Alex Salmond, describing Gordon Brown when he pulled back from a snap election in 2007 – prescient comments given the demise of Mr Brown’s premiership three years later.

Salmond, meanwhile, will arrive at the High Court in Edinburgh in a couple of weeks’ time to face trial for a catalogue of sex charges, including attempted rape, against 10 women – allegations that he strongly denies.

The former First Minister is the man who guided his party to the very brink of realising the dream of independence, only to be thwarted by the lies and distortions of the oppressive British state (well, all disaster movies need a subplot, however fantastical).

Fault-lines between the various factions within the party are widening by the day. Miss Sturgeon also faces a ministerial inquiry and a Holyrood investigation into her involvement in the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against her former mentor.

Salmond was handed £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to cover his legal costs after launching a successful judicial review over the botched inquiry.

The possible repercussions for Miss Sturgeon in all of this are obvious, and that’s why the sharks are circling.

Meanwhile, those woad-painted zealots who hit the ‘pause’ button on their Braveheart DVDs to enable their participation in bile-fuelled processions through town and city centres on Saturday afternoons won’t tolerate much more of Miss Sturgeon’s abject failure to fulfil their constitutional objective.

In television interviews, she routinely promises another referendum, within months, despite being unable to guarantee she will even be around to fight the Scottish election in 2021.

She is reduced to parroting all of the party’s electoral triumphs, none of which have brought the Nationalists an inch closer to their goal of smashing apart the UK.

The People’s Front of Judea: will the SNP dissolve into splinter groups?

Miss Cherry is determined to reprise her courtroom antics last year when Remainers – remember them? – abortively resorted to dusty legal tomes to try and crush Brexit.

If she was passed the baton of leadership, or snatched it from her nemesis, the party would be back in the courts in an instant: it’s so much easier than the more gruelling business of actually convincing people of the merits of your cause.

Miss Cherry may quicken the pulses of SNP hard-liners, but she’s toxic for any attempt to broaden the party’s appeal beyond the ideological purists who would trade all that they own for another chance at independence.

So, palms are moistening in Miss Sturgeon’s inner sanctum as her closest advisers detect the writing on the wall for her chances of long-term survival.

But any logical reckoning would conclude that this is an administration that should have been dead in the water long ago – quite apart from the crises now crowding in on the party hierarchy.

No government as weighed down with so much failure and scandal has any right to limp on in this fashion.

How long would Gordon Brown’s doomed government have gone on after Tony Blair’s handover if his Chancellor had been forced to quit over revelations of extensive unsolicited online interaction with a teenage boy? It wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

And yet Miss Sturgeon’s erstwhile Finance Secretary Derek Mackay remains an MSP – despite universal condemnation of his ‘predatory’ activities.

It’s a controversy compounded by Scottish Government officials attempting to block a newspaper from publishing Mr Mackay’s messages to the teenager – whom the former minister, now said to be undergoing ‘medical assessment and treatment’, had described as ‘really cute’.

A UK Government neck-deep in such ignominy would have departed the scene a long time ago.

It’s reminiscent of John Major’s ill-fated and hypocritical ‘back to basics’ campaign – aren’t Miss Sturgeon’s virtue-signalling acolytes just as preachy?

But in Scotland we also have the most cack-handed cabinet in the history of devolved politics, who have taken a wrecking-ball to the public services they promised to reform.

Still, it staggers on, and it’s clear some of its cheerleaders hope a seamless transition to a new leadership can be executed – though it’s hard to believe this can be achieved without an escalation of the civil war now gripping the party.

A coronation orchestrated by the ‘men in tartan suits’ isn’t what this tired and sleaze-ridden government, or indeed the country, requires. What we need is for it to be put out of its obvious misery.

By all means, the SNP should crash into the flames of its self-inflicted failure, fragmenting into bitterly opposed rival camps – and devouring itself in an orgy of mutual recrimination.

It could well be defeated by its own tribalism, and the seething ambitions of former loyalists impatient to seize Miss Sturgeon’s crown.

But on any reasonable measure, this amateurish cabal should have left elected office long before the commencement of the bloodbath that is about to engulf it.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on February 25, 2020.