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SNP insiders warn party must learn quickly from election humiliation

© Michael Boyd/PA WireJohn Swinney was repeatedly forced to defend Michael Matheson. Image: PA.
John Swinney was repeatedly forced to defend Michael Matheson. Image: PA.

SNP insiders warn party bosses must urgently learn lessons from their general election humiliation to avoid a battering when voters head to the polls again in 2026 – with some even calling for fresh leadership.

It comes as the already cash-strapped nationalists prepare to lose around £1 million in Westminster funding after dropping 39 seats and 500,000 votes on Thursday.

The final blow was delivered as Drew Hendry conceded defeat to Lib Dem Angus MacDonald in Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire following a recount.

Party figures believe the SNP’s “out of touch” leadership failed to convince pro-­independence voters to turn out for them following a year of chaos in the aftermath of Nicola Sturgeon’s time in charge.

Call for fresh leadership

Former SNP health secretary Alex Neil said the party went into the election with an independence strategy that had “not an ounce of credibility” and a lingering police probe into its finances.

He said: “I saw it coming because, quite frankly, they’re out of touch with the electorate.

“In my view, it was a mistake to appoint John Swinney as leader.

“You need a leader who is not associated with the failed policies of Nicola Sturgeon and the mess that was created over the past three years.

Former SNP minister Alex Neil. Image: Shutterstock.

“We need fresh leadership and fresh policies. I would hope it would be a team led Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn. They are the future.

“We need a completely fresh leadership team if we have any chance of winning in 2026 but that’s not enough.

“We will also need a ­complete reset on policies, concentrating on the things that matter to people like health, education and housing.”

Why did the SNP vote fall?

It appears many former SNP voters stayed home to register discontent at the party’s failure to deliver a new independence referendum and a number of recent policy failures.

Others backed Labour’s message about kicking the Conservatives out of power for the first time in more than a decade.

The failure will cost the SNP dearly, with the nationalists set to lose out on “short money” following a collapse in its support.

Parties receive £21,438.33 for every seat won at the general election plus £42.82 for every 200 votes gained and a £3,000 annual donation to party funds from every MP.

The funding cut could hardly come at a worse time, with questions already being raised about the state of the party’s finances in the run up to the election.

(left-right) Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney, MSP Jim Fairlie and SNP candidate Pete Wishart. Image: PA

Pete Wishart was among the small group of SNP MPs to retain a place at Westminster after seeing off the Tories in the newly-created Perth and Kinross-shire constituency.

He described the ­campaign as “disappointing” and acknowledged the party failed to connect with people as well as they had hoped.

However, he stressed that new leader John Swinney – whose Holyrood constituency falls within his own patch – had undoubtedly helped their cause.

‘Serious questions must be asked’

Wishart said: “We’re going to have to ask very serious questions about how we got into the situation where support for independence remains around 50% and support for the SNP is only around 30%. There might be very good reasons for that.

“Obviously people de-­prioritised independence in this election because of other priorities like getting rid of the Tories or their own personal situation with the cost of living crisis.

“But we can’t allow that to ever happen again where support for independence beats support for the SNP by such a huge margin.

“That’s something we’re all going to have to reflect on and try to find out why we couldn’t get independence supporters to come out and vote for us this time round.”

In a letter to local members, the SNP’s Europe spokesman Alyn Smith, who lost to Labour’s Chris Kane by 1,394 votes, laid the blame at party HQ.

Alyn Smith. Image: PA

He said: “Locally I think we fought a good campaign, but for about two years now I have been of the view that our national organisation, Holyrood and Westminster groups needed a moorburn to allow us to refocus and get back on track.”

Moorburn is the practice of burning off old material on a heather moor to encourage new growth.

Stewart McDonald, who lost out in Glasgow South, criticised the SNP’s independence strategy.

He said: “It’s about time we stopped, paused, understood exactly where we are with this argument, where the people of Scotland are with this argument so that we can build the positive case that we need to build and actually start to move the dial on independence.”

Meanwhile, the SNP’s defeated candidate in Falkirk, Toni Giugliano, blamed Swinney’s handling of the Michael Matheson affair.

He said: “An MSP found to have breached rules on parliamentary expenses must never again be protected – quite the opposite, they must be removed from office.”

It is understood defeated candidates received phone calls from Swinney personally yesterday.