Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party (SNP; Scottish Gaelic: Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba, Scots: Scots National Pairtie) is a Scottish nationalist,[21][22] social-democratic[9][10][11] political party in Scotland. The SNP supports and campaigns for Scottish independence within the European Union.[7][23] 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.

Scottish National Party

Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba
Scots National Pairtie
LeaderNicola Sturgeon
Depute LeaderKeith Brown
House of Commons
group leader
Ian Blackford
Chairperson & Business ConvenerKirsten Oswald
Founded7 April 1934
Merger of
HeadquartersGordon Lamb House
3 Jackson's Entry
Student wingSNP Students
Youth wingYoung Scots for Independence
LGBT wingOut for Independence
Membership (2019) 125,534[1]
IdeologyScottish nationalism[2][3]
Scottish independence[4]
Civic nationalism[5][6]
Social democracy[9][10][11]
Political positionCentre-left[13][14][15]
Big tent[16][17][18]
European affiliationEuropean Free Alliance
European Parliament groupGreens/EFA
Colours     Yellow
House of Commons (Scottish seats)
47 / 59
European Parliament (Scottish seats)
3 / 6
Scottish Parliament[19]
62 / 129
Local government in Scotland[20]
424 / 1,227

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.[24] 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 Holyrood's first majority government.[25] 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 August 2018, 35 MPs and over 400 local councillors.[26] The SNP also currently has 3 MEPs in the European Parliament, who sit in The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) group. 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.[27][28]


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.[29] Sir Alexander MacEwen was its first chairman.[30] 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.

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP emerged as the largest party with 47 seats, narrowly ousting the Scottish Labour Party with 46 seats and Alex Salmond became Scottish First Minister. The Scottish Green Party supported Salmond's 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.[31]

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.[32][33]

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.[34]

The SNP rebounded from the loss in the independence referendum at the May 2015 UK general election, led by Salmond's 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".[35]

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 gained an additional 1.1% of the constituency vote from the 2011 election, losing 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.[36][37][38] This was largely attributed by many, including former Deputy First Minister John Swinney,[39] 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 currently hold the majority of the country's Westminster parliamentary seats, with a majority of 11.

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:

  • delegates from every Branch and Constituency Association
  • the members of the National Executive Committee
  • 15 members elected by the National Conference
  • every SNP MSP, MP and MEP
  • a number of SNP local councillors, and
  • delegates from one of the SNP's Affiliated Organisations (Young Scots for Independence, SNP Students, SNP Trade Union Group and the Association of Nationalist Councillors)

The National Council serves as the SNP's 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 SNP's leadership is vested in its National Executive Committee (NEC), which is made up of the party's elected office bearers and six elected members (voted for at conference). The SNP parliamentarians (Scottish, Westminster and European) and councillors have representation on the NEC, as do the Trade Union Group, the youth wing and the student wing.

National Executive Committee

The National Executive Committee is composed of:

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


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.[40] As of August 2018, the Party has 125,482 members.

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).

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.[41][42] During the period from its foundation until the 1960s, the SNP was essentially a moderate centrist party.[41] 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.[42][43]

The SNP was formed through the merger of the centre-left National Party of Scotland (NPS) and the centre-right Scottish Party.[42] The SNP's 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.[41] Party policies supported the economic and social policy status quo of the post-war welfare state.[41][44]

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.[45][46] 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.[46] In 1961, the SNP conference expressed the party's 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.[47] 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.[41]

The 1960s also saw the beginnings of the SNP's 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.[41] 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.[48][49] There was also an unsuccessful proposal at the 1975 party conference to rename the party as the Scottish National Party (Social Democrats).[50]

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.[41]

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.[41]

Current ideology

The SNP's 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; national identity and nationalist heritage, the building of affordable social housing, government-subsidised higher education, the abolition of Air Passenger Duty, and a pay increase for nurses.[51][52]

The SNP is against the renewal of Trident and wants to continue providing free university education in Scotland.[53]

The SNP would like to see an independent Scotland as a member of the European Union.[54]

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",[55] with the party's 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.[55][56]

At the 2017 SNP Conference, on 10 October, Nicola Sturgeon made several commitments,[57][58] including:

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

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.[59][60]


Leaders of the Scottish National Party

Depute Leaders of the Scottish National Party

Presidents of the Scottish National Party

National Secretaries of the Scottish National Party

Leaders of the parliamentary party, Scottish Parliament

Leaders of the parliamentary party, House of Commons

Chief Executive Officers

Ministers and spokespeople

Scottish Parliament

Cabinet Secretaries [64]
Portfolio Minister Image
First Minister The Right Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Deputy First Minister
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
John Swinney MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman OBE MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work Derek Mackay MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP

United Kingdom Parliament

As of July 2019 the SNP spokespersons in Westminster were as follows.[65]

PortfolioSNP Spokesperson
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Hannah Bardell
Children and Families; Pensions; Youth affairs Mhairi Black
Westminster Leader Ian Blackford
Economy; Deputy Westminster Leader Kirsty Blackman
Environment and Rural Affairs; Devolved Government Relations Deidre Brock
Energy; Transport Alan Brown
Mental Health Lisa Cameron
Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament Douglas Chapman
Home Affairs; Justice Joanna Cherry
Infrastructure Ronnie Cowan
Pensions; Youth affairs; Equalities; Children and Families; Disabilities Angela Crawley
Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies Martin Docherty-Hughes
Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation; Whip Marion Fellows
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Stephen Gethins
Consumer Affairs Patricia Gibson
Chief Whip Patrick Grady
Exiting the European Union Peter Grant
Work and Pensions Neil Gray
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Drew Hendry
Trade Stewart Hosie
International Development Chris Law
Whip David Linden
Defence Stewart Malcolm McDonald
Immigration, Asylum and Border Control Stuart Campbell McDonald
Environment John McNally
Education; Armed Forces and Veterans Carol Monaghan
Northern Ireland; Wales; Sport Gavin Newlands
Inclusive Society Brendan O'Hara
House of Lords; Scotland; Cabinet Office Tommy Sheppard
Fair Work and Employment Chris Stephens
Housing, Communities and Local Government; Treasury Alison Thewliss
Health and Social Care Philippa Whitford
Constitution; Leader of the House of Commons Pete Wishart

Elected representatives (current)

Members of the Scottish Parliament

Members of Parliament

Members of the European Parliament


The SNP had 431 councillors in Local Government elected from the 2017 Scottish local elections.

Electoral performance

Scottish Parliament

Year[66] Leader Constituencies Additional Member Total seats Change Position Government
% Seats % Seats
1999 Alex Salmond 28.7%
7 / 73
28 / 56
35 / 129
2nd LabourLib Dem coalition
2003 John Swinney 23.7%
9 / 73
18 / 56
27 / 129
8 2nd Labour–Lib Dem coalition
2007 Alex Salmond 32.9%
21 / 73
26 / 56
47 / 129
20 1st SNP minority
2011 45.4%
53 / 73
16 / 56
69 / 129
22 1st SNP majority
2016 Nicola Sturgeon 46.5%
59 / 73
4 / 56
63 / 129
6 1st SNP minority

House of Commons

Election[66] Leader Votes Seats Position Government
# % # ±
1935 Sir Alexander MacEwen 29,517 1.1
0 / 71
1945 Douglas Young 26,707 1.2
0 / 71
1950 Robert McIntyre 9,708 0.4
0 / 71
1951 7,299 0.3
0 / 71
1955 12,112 0.5
0 / 71
1959 Jimmy Halliday 21,738 0.5
0 / 71
1964 Arthur Donaldson 64,044 2.4
0 / 71
1966 128,474 5.0
0 / 71
1970 William Wolfe 306,802 11.4
1 / 71
1 4th 5th Opposition
February 1974 633,180 21.9
7 / 71
6 3rd 4th Opposition
October 1974 839,617 30.4
11 / 71
4 3rd 4th Opposition
1979 504,259 17.3
2 / 71
9 4th 6th Opposition
1983 Gordon Wilson 331,975 11.7
2 / 72
5th 7th Opposition
1987 416,473 14.0
3 / 72
1 4th 5th Opposition
1992 Alex Salmond 629,564 21.5
3 / 72
4th 7th Opposition
1997 621,550 22.1
6 / 72
3 3rd 5th Opposition
2001 John Swinney 464,314 20.1
5 / 72
1 3rd 5th Opposition
2005 Alex Salmond 412,267 17.7
6 / 59
1 3rd 5th Opposition
2010 491,386 19.9
6 / 59
3rd 5th Opposition
2015 Nicola Sturgeon 1,454,436 50.0
56 / 59
50 1st 3rd Opposition
2017 959,090 36.9
35 / 59
21 1st 3rd Opposition
2019 1,242,380 45.0
48 / 59
13 1st 3rd Opposition

European Parliament

Year[66] Share of votesSeats wonNotes
1 / 8
1984 17.8%
1 / 8
1989 25.6%
1 / 8
1994 32.6%
2 / 8
1999 27.2%
2 / 8
2004 19.7%
2 / 7
2009 29.1%
2 / 6
Plurality of votes for first time.[67]
2014 29.0%
2 / 6
SNP won a plurality within Scotland.
2019 37.8%
3 / 6
Best result for the SNP in a European election.

District Councils

Year[66] Share of votesSeats won
62 / 1,158
170 / 1,158
54 / 1,158
59 / 1,158
113 / 1,158
150 / 1,158

Regional Councils

Year[66] Share of votesSeats won
18 / 524
18 / 524
23 / 524
36 / 524
42 / 524
73 / 453

Local Councils

Year[66] Share of votesSeats wonNotes
181 / 1,222
201 / 1,222
171 / 1,222
200729.7% (first preference)
363 / 1,222
Largest party in local government (first Scottish local elections to be held under the single transferable vote).
201232.33% (first preference)
425 / 1,223
Largest party in local government; received largest number of first preference votes.
201732.3% (first preference)
431 / 1,227
Largest party in local government; received largest number of first preference votes.

See also


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Further reading

  • Brand, Jack, The National Movement in Scotland, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978
  • Brand, Jack, ‘Scotland’, in Watson, Michael (ed.), Contemporary Minority Nationalism, Routledge, 1990
  • Winnie Ewing, Michael Russell, Stop the World; The Autobiography of Winnie Ewing Birlinn, 2004
  • Richard J. Finlay, Independent and Free: Scottish Politics and the Origins of the Scottish National Party 1918–1945, John Donald Publishers, 1994
  • Hanham, H.J., Scottish Nationalism, Harvard University Press, 1969
  • Christopher Harvie, Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics 1707 to the Present, Routledge (4th edition), 2004
  • Gerry Hassan (ed.), The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power, Edinburgh University Press, 2009, ISBN 0748639918
  • Lynch, Peter, SNP: The History of the Scottish National Party, Welsh Academic Press, 2002
  • John MacCormick, The Flag in the Wind: The Story of the National Movement in Scotland, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1955
  • Mitchell, James, Strategies for Self-government: The Campaigns for a Scottish Parliament, Polygon, 1996
  • Mitchell, James, Bennie, Lynn and Johns, Rob, The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power, Oxford University Press, 2011, ISBN 0199580006
  • Mitchell, James and Hassan, Gerry (eds), Scottish National Party Leaders, Biteback, 2016.
  • Jim Sillars, Scotland: the Case for Optimism, Polygon, 1986
  • William Wolfe, Scotland Lives: the Quest for Independence, Reprographia, 1973
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