ⓘ Scottish National Party


ⓘ Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party is a Scottish nationalist, social-democratic political party in Scotland. The SNP supports and campaigns for Scottish independence within the European Union. It is the third-largest political party by membership in the United Kingdom, behind the Labour Party and the Conservative Party; it is the third-largest by overall representation in the House of Commons, behind the Conservative Party and the Labour Party; and it is the largest political party in Scotland, where it has the most seats in the Scottish Parliament and 47 out of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The current Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has served as First Minister of Scotland since November 2014.

Founded in 1934 with the amalgamation of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party, the party has had continuous parliamentary representation in Westminster since Winnie Ewing won the 1967 Hamilton by-election. With the establishment of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999, the SNP became the second-largest party, serving two terms as the opposition. The SNP gained power at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, forming a minority government, before going on to win the 2011 Parliament election, after which it formed Holyroods first majority government. It was reduced back to being a minority government at the 2016 election.

The SNP is the largest political party in Scotland in terms of both seats in the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments, and membership, reaching 125.482 members as of December 2019, 47 MPs and over 400 local councillors. The SNP is a member of the European Free Alliance EFA. The party does not have any members of the House of Lords, as it has always maintained a position of objecting to an unelected upper house.


1.1. History Foundation and Pre-Devolution

The SNP was formed in 1934 through the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party, with The Duke of Montrose and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham as its first, joint, president. Sir Alexander MacEwen was its first chairman. Professor Douglas Young, who was the leader of the Scottish National Party from 1942 to 1945 campaigned for the Scottish people to refuse conscription and his activities were popularly vilified as undermining the British war effort against the Axis powers. Young was imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted.

The SNP first won a parliamentary seat at the Motherwell by-election in 1945, but Robert McIntyre MP lost the seat at the general election three months later. They next won a seat in 1967, when Winnie Ewing was the surprise winner of a by-election in the previously safe Labour seat of Hamilton. This brought the SNP to national prominence, leading to the establishment of the Kilbrandon Commission.

The SNP hit a high point in the October 1974 general election, polling almost a third of all votes in Scotland and returning 11 MPs to Westminster. However, the party experienced a large drop in its support at the 1979 general election, followed by a further drop at the 1983 election. The success of the October 1974 general election was not surpassed until the 2015 general election.


1.2. History Devolution Era

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP emerged as the largest party with 47 of 129 seats, narrowly ousting the Scottish Labour Party with 46 seats and Alex Salmond became Scottish First Minister. The Scottish Green Party supported Salmonds election as First Minister, and his subsequent appointments of ministers, in return for early tabling of the climate change bill and the SNP nominating a Green MSP to chair a parliamentary committee.

In May 2011, the SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament with 69 seats. This was a significant feat as the additional member system used for Scottish Parliament elections was specifically designed to prevent one party from winning an outright majority.

Based on their 2011 majority, the SNP government held a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. The "No" vote prevailed in a close-fought campaign, prompting the resignation of First Minister Alex Salmond. Forty-five percent of Scottish voters cast their ballots for independence, with the "Yes" side receiving less support than late polling predicted.

The SNP rebounded from the loss in the independence referendum at the May 2015 UK general election, led by Salmonds successor as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The party went from holding six seats in the House of Commons to 56, mostly at the expense of the Labour Party. All but three of the fifty-nine constituencies in the country elected an SNP candidate. BBC News described the historic result as a "Scots landslide".

At the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP lost a net total of 6 seats, losing its overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, but returning for a third consecutive term as a minority government. The party actually gained an additional 1.1% of the constituency vote from the 2011 election, but lost 2.3% of the regional list vote. On the constituency vote, the SNP gained 11 seats from Labour, but lost the Edinburgh Southern constituency to the party. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats each gained two constituency seats from the SNP on 2011 Aberdeenshire West and Edinburgh Central for the Conservatives and Edinburgh Western and North East Fife for the Liberal Democrats.

At the 2017 United Kingdom general election the SNP underperformed compared to polling expectations, losing 21 seats to bring their number of Westminster MPs down to 35. This was largely attributed by many, including former Deputy First Minister John Swinney, to their stance on holding a second Scottish independence referendum and saw a swing to the Unionist parties, with seats being picked up by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats and a reduction in their majorities in the other seats. Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife, came out of this election with a majority of just 2 to the Liberal Democrat candidate. High-profile losses included SNP Commons leader Angus Robertson in Moray and former party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond in Gordon. However, the SNP still held the majority of the countrys Westminster parliamentary seats, with a majority of 11.

The SNP achieved its best ever European Parliament result in the final election before Brexit, the party taking its MEP total to 3 or half of Scottish seats. Later that year the SNP experienced a surge in the 2019 general election, winning 45.0% of the vote. Although the party suffered a loss to the Liberal Democrats, it gained the seat of its then UK leader Jo Swinson, along with 7 from the Conservatives and 6 from Labour. Overall the party finished with 48 out of 59, or 81% of Scotlands Westminster seats.


2. Constitution and structure

The local Branches are the primary level of organisation in the SNP. All of the Branches within each Scottish Parliament constituency form a Constituency Association, which coordinates the work of the Branches within the constituency, coordinates the activities of the party in the constituency, and acts as a point of liaison between an MSP or MP and the party. Constituency Associations are composed of delegates from all of the Branches within the constituency.

The annual National Conference is the supreme governing body of the SNP, and is responsible for determining party policy and electing the National Executive Committee. The National Conference is composed of:

  • a number of SNP local councillors, and
  • delegates from every Branch and Constituency Association
  • delegates from one of the SNPs Affiliated Organisations
  • the members of the National Executive Committee
  • 15 members elected by the National Conference
  • every SNP MSP, MP and MEP

The National Council serves as the SNPs governing body between National Conferences, and its decisions are binding, unless rescinded or modified by the National Conference. There are also regular meetings of the National Assembly, which provides a forum for detailed discussion of party policy by party members.

The party has an active youth wing, the Young Scots for Independence, as well as a student wing, the Federation of Student Nationalists. There is also an SNP Trade Union Group. There is an independently owned monthly newspaper, The Scots Independent, which is highly supportive of the party.

The SNPs leadership is vested in its National Executive Committee NEC, which is made up of the partys elected office bearers and six elected members voted for at conference. The SNP parliamentarians Holyrood and Westminster and councillors have representation on the NEC, as do the Trade Union Group, the youth wing and the student wing.


2.1. Constitution and structure National Executive Committee

The National Executive Committee is composed of:

  • National Secretary: Dr Angus MacLeod
  • Representatives from the Association of Nationalist Councillors and affiliated organisations
  • Business Convener: Kirsten Oswald
  • Local Government Convener: Councillor Ellen Forson
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Convener: Councillor Graham Campbell
  • Policy Development Convener: Alyn Smith MP
  • Sixteen regional representatives
  • President: Ian Hudghton
  • Tommy Sheppard MP
  • Leader: Nicola Sturgeon MSP
  • National Treasurer: Colin Beattie MSP
  • Equalities Convener: Fiona Robertson
  • Disabled Members Convener: Morag Fulton
  • Womens Convener: Councillor Rhiannon Spear
  • Alison Thewliss MP
  • Member Support Convener: John Clark
  • Organisation Convener: Stacy Bradley
  • Depute Leader: Keith Brown MSP

2.2. Constitution and structure Membership

Since 18 September 2014 the day of the Scottish independence referendum, party membership has more than quadrupled from 25.642, surpassing the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to become the second-largest political party in the United Kingdom in terms of membership. As of August 2018, the Party has 125.482 members.


2.3. Constitution and structure European affiliation

The SNP retains close links with Plaid Cymru, its counterpart in Wales. MPs from both parties co-operate closely with each other and work as a single parliamentary group within the House of Commons. The SNP and Plaid Cymru were involved in joint campaigning during the 2005 general election campaign. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru, along with Mebyon Kernow from Cornwall, are members of the European Free Alliance EFA, a European political party comprising regionalist political parties. The EFA co-operates with the larger European Green Party to form The Greens–European Free Alliance Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament.

Prior to its affiliation with The Greens–European Free Alliance, the SNP had previously been allied with the European Progressive Democrats 1979–1984, Rainbow Group 1989–1994 and European Radical Alliance 1994–1999.

As the UK is no longer a member of the EU, the SNP has no MEPs.


3.1. Party ideology Historical ideology

The Scottish National Party did not have a clear ideological position until the 1970s, when it sought to explicitly present itself as a social democratic party in terms of party policy and publicity. During the period from its foundation until the 1960s, the SNP was essentially a moderate centrist party. Debate within the party focused more on the SNP being distinct as an all-Scotland national movement, with it being neither of the left nor the right, but constituting a new politics that sought to put Scotland first.

The SNP was formed through the merger of the centre-left National Party of Scotland NPS and the centre-right Scottish Party. The SNPs founders were united over self-determination in principle, though not its exact nature, or the best strategic means to achieve self-government. From the mid-1940s onwards, SNP policy was radical and redistributionist in relation to land and in favour of the diffusion of economic power’, including the decentralisation of industries such as coal to include the involvement of local authorities and regional planning bodies to control industrial structure and development. Party policies supported the economic and social policy status quo of the post-war welfare state.

By the 1960s, the SNP was starting to become defined ideologically, with a social democratic tradition emerging as the party grew in urban, industrial Scotland, and its membership experienced an influx of social democrats from the Labour Party, the trade unions and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The emergence of Billy Wolfe as a leading figure in the SNP also contributed to the leftwards shift. By this period, the Labour Party were also the dominant party in Scotland, in terms of electoral support and representation. Targeting Labour through emphasising left-of-centre policies and values was therefore electorally logical for the SNP, as well as tying in with the ideological preferences of many new party members. In 1961, the SNP conference expressed the partys opposition to the siting of the US Polaris submarine base at the Holy Loch. This policy was followed in 1963 by a motion opposed to nuclear weapons: a policy that has remained in place ever since. The 1964 policy document, SNP & You, contained a clear centre-left policy platform, including commitments to full employment, government intervention in fuel, power and transport, a state bank to guide economic development, encouragement of cooperatives and credit unions, extensive building of council houses social housing by central and local government, pensions adjusted to cost of living, a minimum wage and an improved national health service.

The 1960s also saw the beginnings of the SNPs efforts to establish an industrial organisation and mobilise amongst trade unionists in Scotland, with the establishment of the SNP Trade Union Group, and identifying the SNP with industrial campaigns, such as the Upper-Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in and the attempt of the workers at the Scottish Daily Express to run as a co-operative. For the party manifestos for the two 1974 general elections, the SNP finally self-identified as a social democratic party, and proposed a range of social democratic policies. There was also an unsuccessful proposal at the 1975 party conference to rename the party as the Scottish National Party Social Democrats. In the UK wide referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community EEC in the same year as the aforementioned attempted name change, the SNP campaigned for Britain to leave the EEC.

There were further ideological and internal struggles after 1979, with the 79 Group attempting to move the SNP further to the left, away from being what could be described a "social-democratic" party, to an expressly "socialist" party. Members of the 79 Group - including future party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond - were expelled from the party. This produced a response in the shape of the Campaign for Nationalism in Scotland from those who wanted the SNP to remain a "broad church", apart from arguments of left vs. right. The 1980s saw the SNP further define itself as a party of the political left, such as campaigning against the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland in 1989; one year before the tax was imposed on the rest of the UK.

Ideological tensions inside the SNP are further complicated by arguments between the so-called SNP gradualists and SNP fundamentalists. In essence, gradualists seek to advance Scotland to independence through further devolution, in a "step-by-step" strategy. They tend to be in the moderate left grouping, though much of the 79 Group was gradualist in approach. However, this 79 Group gradualism was as much a reaction against the fundamentalists of the day, many of whom believed the SNP should not take a clear left or right position.


3.2. Party ideology Current ideology

The SNPs policy base is mostly in the mainstream Western European social democratic tradition. Among its policies are commitments to same-sex marriage, reducing the voting age to sixteen years, unilateral nuclear disarmament, progressive personal taxation, the eradication of poverty; the building of affordable social housing, government-subsidised higher education, the abolition of Air Passenger Duty, and a pay increase for nurses.

The SNP is against the renewal of Trident and wants to continue providing free university education in Scotland.

The SNP would like to see an independent Scotland as a member of the European Union.

It has been noted that the party contains a broader spectrum of opinion regarding economic issues than most political parties in the UK due to its status as "the only viable vehicle for Scottish independence", with the partys parliamentary group at Westminster consisting of socialists such as Tommy Sheppard and Mhairi Black as well as supporters of tax cuts like Stewart Hosie and former Conservative Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

At the 2017 SNP Conference, on 10 October, Nicola Sturgeon made several commitments, including:

  • Opposition to any attempt at privatisation of the NHS.
  • Denuclearisation efforts, particularly the ban on "weapons of mass destruction".
  • Completion of the largest floating wind-power facility in the world, at Peterhead.
  • Council Tax exemption for those leaving care homes.
  • Free sanitary products for all students.
  • Opposition to "austerity" measures imposed from abroad.
  • Covering the application fee for EU nationals employed in the Scottish public sector.
  • Creating a not-for-profit oil company for Scotland.

Sturgeon has also condemned the EU for failing to act to protect the rights of EU citizens in Catalonia, following the use of violence on the Catalan public by Spanish police while attempting to prevent the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, and condemned the later arrests of pro-independence Catalan ministers by the Spanish Government.


4. Leadership

Leader of the parliamentary party, Scottish Parliament

  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2014–present
  • John Swinney, 2000–2004
  • Alex Salmond, 2007–2014
  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2004–2007
  • Alex Salmond, 1999–2000

Chief Executive Officer

  • Michael Russell, 1994–1999
  • Peter Murrell, 2007–present

4.1. Leadership Leader of the Scottish National Party

  • Sir Alexander MacEwen, 1934–1936
  • John Swinney, 2000–2004
  • James Halliday, 1956–1960
  • Bruce Watson, 1945–1947
  • Alex Salmond, 2004–2014
  • Gordon Wilson, 1979–1990
  • William Power, 1940–1942
  • Alex Salmond, 1990–2000
  • Arthur Donaldson, 1960–1969
  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2014–present
  • William Wolfe, 1969–1979
  • Andrew Dewar Gibb, 1936–1940
  • Douglas Young, 1942–1945
  • Robert McIntyre, 1947–1956

4.2. Leadership Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party

  • William Wolfe, 1966–1969
  • George Leslie, 1969–1971
  • Roseanna Cunningham, 2000–2004
  • Douglas Henderson, 1979–1981
  • Angus Robertson, 2016–2018
  • Gordon Wilson, 1973–1974
  • Sandy Milne, 1964–1966
  • Jim Sillars, 1991–1992
  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2004–2014
  • Keith Brown, 2018–present
  • Alex Salmond, 1987–1990
  • Margaret Ewing, 1984–1987
  • Alasdair Morgan, 1990–1991
  • Allan Macartney, 1992–1998
  • Jim Fairlie, 1981–1984
  • John Swinney, 1998–2000
  • Stewart Hosie, 2014–2016
  • Margo MacDonald, 1974–1979
  • Douglas Henderson, 1971–1973

4.3. Leadership President of the Scottish National Party

  • Robert McIntyre, 1958–1980
  • Winnie Ewing, 1987–2005
  • Ian Hudghton, 2005–present
  • Roland Muirhead, 1936–1950
  • Donald Stewart, 1982–1987
  • William Wolfe, 1980–1982
  • Tom Gibson, 1950–1958
  • James Graham, 6th Duke of Montrose and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham joint, 1934–1936


4.4. Leadership Leader of the parliamentary party, Scottish Parliament

  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2014–present
  • John Swinney, 2000–2004
  • Alex Salmond, 2007–2014
  • Nicola Sturgeon, 2004–2007
  • Alex Salmond, 1999–2000

4.5. Leadership Leader of the parliamentary party, House of Commons

  • Alasdair Morgan, 1999–2001
  • Alex Salmond, 2001–2007
  • Angus Robertson, 2007–2017
  • Donald Stewart, 1974–1987
  • Ian Blackford, 2017–present
  • Margaret Ewing, 1987–1999

4.6. Leadership Chief Executive Officer

  • Michael Russell, 1994–1999
  • Peter Murrell, 2007–present

5. Government Ministers and Shadow Cabinet

Scottish Parliament

As of February 2019, the Cabinet of the Scottish Government is as follows:

House of Commons

As of January 2020, the Shadow Cabinet of the SNP in Westminster was as follows.


6. Fundamentalists and gradualists

The viewpoint within the Scottish National Party is the idea that Scottish independence can be won by the accumulation by the Scottish Parliament of powers that the UK Parliament currently has over a protracted period of time. It is also a philosophy that emphasises the election of an SNP government should bring about trust in the Scottish people in the ability of Scotland to govern herself, thus bringing increased support for independence.

Gradualism stands in opposition to the so-called fundamentalist point of view, which believes that the SNP should emphasise independence more widely in order to achieve it. The argument goes that if the SNP is unprepared to argue for its central policy then it is unlikely ever to persuade the public of its worthiness.

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