SNP's 'tremendous mess': Is this the beginning of the end for SNP rule? – Ian Swanson
Nicola Sturgeon's departure was always going to be difficult for the SNP. But no one expected the level of turmoil and chaos now engulfing the party.
The leadership candidates' personal attacks on each other and their more or less explicit criticism of current party policy didn't go down well. Then two of the candidates, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, appeared to question the integrity of the election process and called for independent monitors; and Ms Regan was reported to be consulting lawyers about legal action to pause the contest.
Meanwhile, the party's secrecy over its membership figures prompted a story claiming a 30,000 drop, which was furiously denied but then turned out to be true, leading to the resignation of the director of communications and then chief executive Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon's husband. And, of course, there's that ongoing police investigation into a "missing" £600,000 in the party’s accounts. SNP elder statesman and party president Michael Russell, now standing in as chief executive, admitted: "There is a tremendous mess and we have to clear it up."
The SNP has been Scotland's governing party for nearly 16 years and Ms Sturgeon is the country's longest-serving First Minister, at the helm for more than half of that time. She has been a formidable political leader and has seen a continuation of the electoral success the SNP has enjoyed consistently since first winning power in 2007, much of it masterminded by Mr Murrell.
With no obvious successor waiting in the wings, choosing a replacement for Ms Sturgeon was never going to be easy. And a couple of expected front-runners, John Swinney and Angus Robertson, ruled themselves out, leaving the main contest between the two up-and-coming SNP figures Ms Sturgeon once named as likely future First Ministers, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf.
Mr Yousaf has more backing from SNP MPs, MSPs and ministers, but Ms Forbes appears more popular with the public. The current chaos, clearly of the party's own making, may therefore be more damaging to Mr Yousaf as the "establishment" candidate – though many members will have cast their votes before the latest developments.
It could also provide a boost for Labour. The party is ahead in the polls at UK level and closing the gap in Scotland. Professor James Mitchell, of Edinburgh University, went as far as suggesting that, if things continue as they are, Labour could have a good chance of forming the government after the next Holyrood election.
The prospect of a new generation taking charge of the SNP looked like an opportunity for a refresh, but the ending of the Sturgeon era and the disappearance of such a dominant political presence now appears to be leading more to disintegration. No doubt the party will recover, though Professor Mitchell says it might need a spell in opposition to do so. It's another three years until the next Scottish Parliament elections, so plenty of time for the new First Minister to try to make a difference and for things to change.
But there will be a general election within the next 18 months or so – an important test for the SNP. The current turmoil may be the first sign that the party’s long-standing dominance of Scottish politics is not as secure as it used to be.