The perils of one-party rule

What the SNP crisis is really about

Matt Goodwin’s Substack goes out to nearly 13,000 subscribers in 109 countries around the globe several times each week. Become an active supporter to access everything, leave comments, and support independent, contrarian writers. The following is an adapted and updated version of an essay which appeared in The Times.

So, this is what it’s come to. Police officers sealing off Nicola Sturgeon’s home. Her husband and former SNP chief executive, Peter Murrell, taken into custody, before being released without charge. The SNP’s headquarters raided. Auditors resigning. Rumours of police and politicians holding meetings before Sturgeon stepped down. Police investigating the whereabouts of bequests left to the party. A bitter internal civil war among activists. And, still, many ugly and unanswered questions about where £600,000, earmarked for a fresh campaign for independence, has gone.

None of this, of course, was mentioned in Nicola Sturgeon’s emotional and gushing resignation speech at the end of March. While she gave many reasons for her departure from frontline politics, the looming scandal, was not one of them.

Much of this will strike voters as deeply hypocritical. Despite spending recent years railing endlessly against rule-breaking in Westminster, the blunt reality is that Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy in the history books, much like Boris Johnson’s, will now inevitably be associated with the very same thing.

London liberals who spent the past few years wishing Nicola Sturgeon, not Boris Johnson, was their prime minister have now been confronted with the awkward realisation that, maybe, she was not that different after all.

Yet what’s unfolding north of the border is not just a political scandal. It’s a symbol of what happens under one-party rule —when one party becomes so completely and utterly dominant that it begins to damage and corrupt the entire system. And what’s now clear is that it’s bad for government. It’s bad for politics. And it’s bad for citizens.

“No government”, Benjamin Disraeli said, “can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” With no strong opposition to provide scrutiny and interrogation, one-party states, as we can now see in Scotland, routinely become incompetent, corrupt, populist, and lose touch with the people they claim to represent.

They’re also a recipe for policy disasters. Just look at Scotland, where the SNP won more than 80 per cent of Scottish seats at the last UK general election, and has reigned supreme for more than 15 years.

Contrary to the claim, popular among left-progressives, that devolution would produce a sort of democratic paradise with a more effective and responsive government, even just a brief glance at the evidence tells an entirely different story.

Scotland has the worst health inequalities in western and central Europe. Its health system lags well behind its English equivalent. It has the worst drug death rate in all of Europe, and the lowest life expectancy of all nations in west Europe. Not to mention the ongoing ferry fiasco which has thrown full light on the SNP’s apparent inability to provide core public services for Scotland’s island communities.

Why is this? It’s because only one party has controlled the country since 2007. There is simply no serious opposition, a largely compliant media — including a supine BBC — and a left-leaning chattering class that is more interested in cheering on the SNP and weakening the Union than dealing with the actual plight of Scotland.

The SNP has been largely left free to do as it pleases. Nor has there been any kind of democratic renaissance. In what kind of democracy is power in the governing party concentrated in a husband and wife team? In what kind of democracy would this be given a free pass among much of the media class?

It’s also fuelled an unhealthy dogmatism. SNP politicians have been gagged and forced to toe the party line. The head of St Andrews University was once berated for questioning independence and urged to get in line with the SNP. Charities have been effectively silenced by “gagging orders”. In 2021, Shelter Scotland and Victim Support Scotland said they had been subject to restrictions if they wanted to receive state funding. Much of this leans more towards the tactics of an authoritarian one-party state than a vibrant, healthy representative democracy.

Yet it shouldn’t surprise us. Research tells us that one-party states are routinely more prone to malpractice than states with competitive politics. One recent study of 70 democracies, by Oxford academics Petra Schleiter and Alisa Voznaya, found that having a vibrant and competitive politics reduces the chance of corruption.

Also, not so long ago, the Electoral Reform Society similarly found local councils up which are dominated by one party are 50 per cent more at risk of corruption than councils which had a greater balance of power, and they paid way over the odds to lobbyists. In fact, remarkably, they suggest one-party councils together waste £2.6 billion each year because of the glaring lack of scrutiny in procurement.

Nor is it hard to see how one-party rule harms our democracy in other ways. After all, the Labour Party had total dominance of “rotten boroughs” in the red wall in the north of England — where, amid public services that were no better than those in eastern Europe and rapidly deteriorating living standards, people felt they no longer had any choice and so switched to populists or gave up on politics altogether.

It was the dire experience of one-party rule across Labour’s heartlands which, more than anything, set the stage for the rise of Nigel Farage, Brexit and Johnson, all of which tapped into a palpable sense of disillusionment among millions of voters at their glaring loss of voice.

The stage had been set by the likes of the “Donnygate” planning scandal in the early 2000s, the worst corruption case since the 1970s, where developers and Labour politicians in Doncaster stole millions from local taxpayers. The Tories have been guilty of it too; the “homes for votes” scandal in the 1990s was an attempt to flood Westminster with pro-Conservative voters.

And now, today, the SNP’s dominance over Scotland is even undermining the very cause it wants to advance — independence. In recent months, SNP activists have turned in on themselves, becoming far more interested in infighting or indulging in their pet political projects than actually serving the people of Scotland.

With no strong opposition to keep them in check, they’ve been free to pursue increasingly radical laws which have alienated a large chunk of the country. The Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which sought to make it easier to legally change one’s gender, and allow 16-year-olds to do so, appealed to the radical instincts of the party’s radically progressive faithful, but it’s only supported by 20 per cent of voters.

Drunk on its own power, free from the formidable opposition Disraeli warned was crucial, the SNP has also been able to indulge, over and over again, in its overriding obsession of gaining independence. Yet it’s now clear that this, too, is irritating rising numbers of Scots, who in recent weeks have been turning away from, not toward, the SNP and the idea of Scotland becoming an independent country. Every poll on independence since Humza Yousaf became leader has “no” comfortably ahead.

Revealingly, when Scots were recently asked to name their three most pressing problems, they picked the state of their healthcare system, the cost of living and the economy. But when they were then asked to list the SNP’s top priorities, they said getting Scottish independence, gender recognition and trans rights, and, in a distant third, healthcare. Not even the SNP’s own voters put independence above the far more pressing issues of health and the cost of living.

Many Scots, in other words, want to live in a place where things actually work ==not a one-party state where their daily problems are pushed aside to make room for every whim and desire of radical ideologues who are free to do and say as they please. And if you look closely this is now having other effects.

Voters are not idiots. While many are instinctively on side with independence, there is clearly a creeping sense that, like many ideas, this one is better in theory than practice.

The SNP likes to present itself as a beacon of anti-populism, integrity and standards in public life, but is morphing into the very thing it claims to oppose. And if history is any guide, then this too will have powerful political effects in the years ahead —creating yet another backlash against the perils of one-party rule.

Matt Goodwin’s Substack goes out to around 13,000 subscribers from 105 countries around the globe each week and a growing number of active supporters who make this possible. To become an active supporter then upgrade. If you would like to ask Matt to speak at an event drop him a message or connect @GoodwinMJ.


One Response to “The perils of one-party rule”

  1. pete fairhurst 2 says:

    Excellent article, really well expressed

    [More from Craig Murray here:

    Murray was fitted up by the execrable Sturgeon and her SNP mafia. He served time in gaol as a result of his persecution]

    So good riddance to bad rubbish, Sturgeon.

    But the central problems remain: Where is the opposition? None visible

    But most of all then, devolution is a chimera. The money flows from England and all that the local “politicians” do is dole out the largesse. There is no Scottish sovereignty, no Scottish money, no Scottish armed forces, no Scottish central taxation etc etc etc

    That’s not government, it’s just power without responsibility. Corruption is almost guaranteed, as Goodwin demonstrates