SNP Leadership - Challenges and Opportunities - by 3x1 Public Affairs Account Manager, Chris Young

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With Alex Salmond having declared his intention to stand down as SNP leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that she will stand for the position.

At the same time, Ms Sturgeon, who is currently SNP Deputy Leader, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, announced she would relinquish her role as SNP Deputy Leader, meaning that a contest for this position is all but certain.

Nominations for both positions opened this morning, with the winning candidates announced at the SNP’s Perth conference on November 13.

Subject to the endorsement of the Scottish Parliament, the new leader will be appointed by the Queen as Scotland’s fifth First Minister since the Parliament was reconvened in 1999.

Ms Sturgeon, who previously led the SNP Group at Holyrood during Salmond’s brief Westminster interregnum from 2004 to 2007, has made no secret of her desire to one day lead her party.

In the lead up to her announcement, her prospective campaign was given a boost with the endorsement by potential rival candidates including Alex Neil, Mike Russell and Humza Yousaf and the support of party grandees such as former leader Gordon Wilson.

Whoever assumes the leadership mantle will do so at a time of almost unprecedented change in Scottish and SNP politics, as the party regroups and moves on from last Thursday’s referendum result.

In less than a week, the party’s membership has more than doubled from 25,642 to 52,034 members which, according to the SNP, make them the third largest party in the UK.

Perhaps crucially, these new members may leave an indelible mark on the leadership contests, which will most likely be felt in the contest for deputy.

Free of the independence question – at least for a generation – the new leader could be expected to face a number of challenges in uniting both party and country.

Chief among these will be the need to maintain the party’s famed unity and discipline.

We have already seen some early signs of discontent. John Wilson, a Central Scotland MSP, earlier this week resigned the party whip over the SNP’s stance on NATO, having postponed his decision until after the referendum.

They will also be tasked with finding a way to balance the perceived surges of support for the party in traditional Labour heartlands with its Parliamentary strength in its traditional (and more conservative) power bases including Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perth and Stirling, which delivered resounding victories for Better Together.

More importantly for the country, there is the small matter of running a Government.

For the next 18 months, the SNP will be at pains to remind voters of their competent record in Government.

They will also be charged with leading the Scottish Government’s negotiations with the UK Government to deliver an enhanced devolution settlement for Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon may have reaffirmed her support for independence, but she has also indicated a willingness to work with the Smith Commission overseeing the delivery of enhanced devolution.

While the exact nature of the settlement is a long way from being on the table, they will be required to cast aside past prejudices and deliver a settlement for the benefit of all of Scotland – regardless of how they voted.

Barely a week has passed since the referendum result was declared. In that short space of time, we are already seeing indications that Scottish politics will never be the same again.

How the SNP regroups and responds to its referendum setback will have a significant bearing on the tone of the debate in the months to come.

Chris Young is Public Affairs Account Manager with 3x1. He brings significant experience advising clients in the public and private sectors in Scotland, the UK and Washington, D.C., where he began his career in 2006.

He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and a graduate of the University of Glasgow.