The Demise of the Yes Campaign Could Mean the End of the Scottish National Party

The loss of the Yes campaign dealt the Scottish National Party a blow that's left it with bruises that could wipe it off the U.K. political map by the 2016 election.

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The decisive loss of the Yes campaign in last week's independence referendum has left the Scottish National Party with bruises it is trying desperately to heal — bruises that could wipe it off the U.K. political map by the 2016 election.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond touched on the SNP's need for a new direction when announcing his resignation on Friday, saying the country could "still carry the political initiative" after the loss. "Scotland can still emerge as the real winner," he said. "For me as leader my time is nearly over, but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

The dream, however, is much murkier than before. And with such vague ideals, the SNP may not last. Here are three reasons why:

The Scottish Referendum Was Alex Salmond's Story

It starts with Salmond himself, who became the heart of the campaign. The party became a forceful movement because of his leadership, and as the U.K.'s Western Daily Press reported before Salmond's resignation, "few would dispute his abilities as a political tactician, having led the SNP to a stunning victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, paving the way for the historic referendum."

The party is obviously indebted to Salmond's efforts, and without him, they lose the politician capable of steering the SNP toward a new goal.

Of course, Salmond struggled with the SNP in power and the Yes campaign was far from perfect. Explained The Economist before Salmond's resignation:

If Mr. Salmond leaves the nationalist movement larger and more prominent than ever before, he also bequeaths an uncertain future and unresolved tensions. Many in it were privately critical of the SNP’s role in the Yes campaign. It failed to think through fundamental issues, like which currency an independent Scotland would use, until much too late in the game. It wasted time and effort bickering over the merits of NATO membership. For the first months of the campaign, it did little to build a coherent and organised Yes operation.

In other words, Salmond is the only party leader prominent and experienced enough to understand how the SNP works. Without him, the party has lost not just a leader, but a man capable of revitalizing its platform. Which brings us to the next point:

The Party's Organizing Goal Is Now Irrelevant

The cause — Scottish independence — has disappeared, and the vague goal of attaining more autonomy is less clearly defined. As Business Insider noted:

[The SNP's] problem is as follows: If they actually achieve the goal of getting Westminster to agree to transferring the maximum powers to Holyrood (so-called Devo Max), they will have exhausted their political ammunition and are likely to become a spent force. If they fail to get the powers, then they will now be the first to be blamed."

The party's "raison d'être was independence," The New Republic wrote. For over 20 years, that's been the party's singular goal, culminating in the referendum. Without this clearly established goal, the SNP needs to focus on another point to rally around.

The Party Has No Experience Beyond Campaigning

The Yes campaign is particularly notable for its turnaround — it gained enough momentum in its final months for people to take the idea of an independent Scotland seriously. From The Guardian:

In an unexpected paradox, the independence campaign he fathered had shifted Scottish politics from its old formal ways into an unstructured, youthful mass movement that had activated the Scottish left."

Yet, even if supporters of the party can continue rallying and fighting, "Governance is a different issue entirely," as The New Republic explained. If the SNP can't find a reason to rally, and therefore can't find a way to prove its ability in governing, the party may not find any more reason to sustain itself.

Ultimately, the question will be whether the remaining supporters — who had brought in 45 percent of the final vote — will retain the same enthusiasm in the wake of the loss. Otherwise, Salmond's dream will have to remain, well, a dream.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.