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The Rise and Rise of the SNP

If the end of the referendum on Scottish independence was expected to bring a sense of closure and the resumption of normal service, the outcome has thrown up more questions than it has put to rest...

If the end of the referendum on Scottish independence was expected to bring a sense of closure and the resumption of normal service, the outcome has thrown up more questions than it has put to rest. With a rejuvenated political scene and a highly charged electorate, the dust has not so much settled as it has resembled the outpouring of energy following a nuclear reaction. It is evidence enough that each day brings with it a fresh twist in the post-referendum landscape while the interest of the viewing public shows no sign of fatigue. In this atomic atmosphere, the sub-plot following each side has been as intriguing as the marathon campaign for the referendum itself. Such, that the denouement to this particular narrative is now suspended until the General Election.

Rarely, if ever, in any contest have the fortunes of the winners and losers been juxtaposed in such consequential fashion. Though Alex Salmond may have fallen on his sword in the immediate aftermath of defeat, first minister-elect, Nicola Sturgeon will ascend her throne in spectacular style this week with her party dominating domestic affairs as well as impacting the Westminster scene. Buoyed by a resounding party conference over the weekend , swelling support and popular appeal, Sturgeon possesses an extraordinarily strong-hand meaning it is no surprise to see her trailed by a cacophony of sound as she sets out her mandate on a sell-out tour at venues across the country ordinarily reserved for rock stars.

Of course, as President Obama will attest, popularity alone is no guarantor of success and has only limited weight in elected office. If the SNP really are to apply the coup de grace to Scottish Labour, usurp the party at the General Election and assume the role of potential kingmaker, they will require a stellar performance in all areas of its governance spearheaded by the newly-crowned First Minister. This is not overly ambitious and requires the continuation of sound political stewardship that has seen them uproot an entrenched two-party system and come within a hairline of undoing a 300-year old union. Perhaps the only political movement anywhere in the world more popular after seven years in office than when they entered, these are heady times for the SNP as they look to turn the screw on Westminster over its promise of more powers for Scotland made during closing stages of the campaign.

By contrast, Scottish Labour now finds itself ravaged in the face of victory. So far has Labour stock plummeted following a bruising referendum campaign, the party has a fight on its hands just to remain relevant in Scotland. Jolted by last month's opinion poll which apportioned them a paltry 23% share of a vote in a land they once dominated, the irony is lost on no one that they now find themselves caught in a vicious turf war with their Westminster headmasters in a struggle for greater autonomy. To arrest this free fall, Scottish Labour's only road to redemption lies in divergence to the path set by the UK party. When its current leadership has to deliberate whether or not it would repeal a law as heinous as the bedroom tax, the disdain for an underclass it still claims sole compassion for becomes clear.

The conundrum however is this: to launch any sort of recovery, it requires a fresh-faced leader ready to cut loose from the party's current trajectory and introduce a fresh set of ideas congruent to the egalitarian values it once espoused. Yet, such a move just would not be sanctioned by the New Labour machine, so far has it flung itself to the right in thrall to the politics of markets or bust that it has no desire for a return to anything remotely leftist.

For this reason, they have presented Jim Murphy MP, a man devoid of any fresh vision for Scotland and firmly in the mould of Westminster, as their chosen horse in the leadership contest for the Scottish branch. It is staggering that they believe fortunes can be reversed by Murphy, a charmless and abrasive operator best known as Tony Blair's biggest cheerleader north of the border who continues to bellow out that the best reason for voting Labour is to keep out the Tories, as opposed to any obvious merits of its own. All this simply vindicates the parting shot from departed leader Johann Lamont that the party is spectacularly out of touch with the people of Scotland for it is an electorate well in advance of the narrow political discourse of Westminster.

With Westminster firmly in the last chance saloon, the question is not so much whether another referendum on independence will take place anytime soon but to what extent has the referendum on Scottish independence shaken up the established order of politics in the UK? With a General Election looming and a potential referendum on European Union membership, a disgruntled English electorate will shortly have their say on a debauched Westminster system.

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