This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Let’s hope Santa is kind to Humza Yousaf. He’s going to need something to bring a little cheer this holiday season.

After a hellish 2023, the SNP - and the wider Yes movement - have only a bleak Hogmanay to look forward to, and an even worse 2024 as the year progresses.

Prominent voices in the Yes movement are trying to put on a brave face, but beneath the rictus grin of feigned hope, you can sense the ache of despair.

The SNP - and the wider Yes movement, in particular - can be stubbornly, absurdly, impervious to reality. However, it seems finally the penny has dropped that matters have never been worse since 2007, and the future is rather dark.

This year has been the SNP’s Annus Horribilis. Since Nicola Sturgeon cut and run, the party has been in agony - beset by scandals, police investigations, back-stabbing, and defections.

Evidently, this internal chaos has bled into policy. The party has become incapable of good governance, with legislation collapsing, and bringing trust down with it. Perhaps the biggest defeat came at the hands of the UK government in the court battle over trans rights.

The Herald: Humza Yousaf

Much of the unionist propaganda pumped out isn’t just embarrassingly over-the-top, but completely unnecessary. People see for themselves what’s happening. That’s reflected in polls.

Nobody needs hysterical exaggeration from Labour or Tories when it’s perfectly clear the SNP has run out of steam. The ferry fiasco stands as a shaming symbol of government failure: an administration incapable of building a boat in a maritime nation.

The SNP now gets bogged down in petty scandals which devour credibility. The fact that Michael Matheson remains in office is a sign of Yousaf’s weakness not strength.

Worse, though, the party alienated large numbers of progressive supporters. Kate Forbes and her social conservatism and Ash Regan’s weird populism during the leadership contest repelled many voters who had no idea such opinions lurked within Sturgeon’s party.

Read More: Neil Mackay: SNP must be bold this budget or be damned for failure

Ironically, independence hasn’t been affected by the SNP’s rapid decline. Yes voters now easily differentiate between their constitutional ambitions and the SNP. The party is no longer umbilically linked to its core policy in the minds of many. This in itself is a catastrophe for the SNP.

So what does the future hold? How will 2024 treat the party? Badly is the answer. What we’re witnessing is political entropy: all governments run their course. Time is nearly up for the SNP.

We’ll almost certainly see a UK general election in 2024. It’ll be a Labour landslide. When that happens, the SNP will have to completely reimagine itself. The problem? It no longer has any imagination. It can’t even develop a meaningful independence strategy.

With wicked Tories removed, playing the blame game becomes much harder. If Labour does improve Britain’s constitutional settlement, then it won’t just be SNP support which drains, but support for independence.

SNP members believe everyone who backs independence shares their fundamentalism. Wrong. If Yes voters see a better deal for Scotland, significant numbers will cool on independence.

Read More: Neil Mackay: Banned from being a MP over ‘Satanic’ books? Go to the devil

Clearly, the SNP’s base still screeches: ‘But who would vote for Red Tories?!’

They’ve a King Canute complex, and will likely still be screeching that when Labour moves into Bute House.

Read Neil every Friday in the Unspun newsletter.


For that’s the worse possible scenario the future holds. A Labour general election win will change the national mood music.

Scottish elections loom in 2026. Tory-lite or not, if Keir Starmer navigates his honeymoon period competently, momentum will be with Anas Sarwar for the Holyrood vote.

A chapter in Scottish politics which nearly ended the union, may more likely end the SNP’s hold on power for the foreseeable future.