The party was founded in 1934 as the result of a merger between the National Party of Scotland (NPS) and the Scottish Party. The merger was the brainchild of leading NPS figure John MacCormick who desired unity for the nationalist movement in Scotland, and upon learning of the Scottish Party's emergence moved to secure it.
Initially, the SNP did not support all-out independence for Scotland, but rather the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly, within the United Kingdom. This became the party's initial position on the constitutional status of Scotland as a result of a compromise between the NPS, who did support independence, and the Scottish Party who were devolutionists. John MacCormick wanted a merger between the two parties and knew that it would only be through the support of devolution rather than independence that the Scottish Party would be persuaded to merge.
The SNP's early years were characterised by a lack of electoral progress and it wasn't until 1945 that the SNP's first member was elected to the UK parliament at Westminster. The party's first MP was Robert McIntyre[?] who won a by-election for the Motherwell[?] constituency. However he lost the seat in the general election of that year.
McIntyre's brief spell did not particularly galvanise the SNP. The 1950s were characterised by low levels of support, and this made it difficult for the party to advance. Indeed, in most general elections they were unable to put up more than a handful of candidates.
The SNP had by this time lost John McCormick as a member. He left the party in 1942, owing to its attitude to the war. McCormick went on to form the Scottish Covenant[?], a non-partisan political organisation campaigning for the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly. This Covenant in itself proved politically challenging for the SNP, as it stole their nationalist platform. The Covenant managed to get over 2 million signatures in a petition demanding Home Rule for Scotland and secure support from across the parties, but it eventually faded.
It wasn't until Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton constituency in a by-election in 1967 that the SNP began to make a serious impact on the political scene. Ewing famously said on the night of her by-election victory, 'stop the world, Scotland wants to get on', and this spirit seemed to be embraced by many Scots. Her victory propelled the party into the political limelight and many new members joined as a result.
Her by-election victory also provoked the then UK Labour Government to establish the Kilbrandon Commission[?] to set up the blue-print for the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly.
The 1970s was a period of sustained growth. The SNP had been bolstered by their capture of the Govan seat with Margo MacDonald[?] as their candidate from the Labour Party in a by-election in 1973. In the October 1974 General Election[?] they won 11 MPs and managed to get over 30% of the vote in Scotland. The main driving force behind the growth of the SNP in the 1970s was the discovery of oil in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. The SNP ran a hugely successful It's Scotland's Oil campaign, emphasising the way in which they believed the discovery of oil could benefit all of Scotland's citizens.
Former SNP leader Billy Wolfe[?] has argued that along with this campaign, the SNP was aided by their support for the workers in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in[?], being led by Jimmy Reid[?], as well as supporting the workers at the Scottish Daily Express when they attempted to run the paper themselves and other such campaigns.
The SNP continued to ride high in the opinion polls throughout the 1970s, and many members are convinced that if the Liberals, led by David Steel hadn't supported the Labour Government of the time, the SNP might have made further electoral gains in the resulting general election. However, a general election did not come till 1979, by which time the party's support had dwindled.
The party went into a period of decline after the failure to secure a devolved Scottish Assembly[?] in 1979 and its poor peformance in the general election of that year. A period of internal strife followed, culminating in the proscription of two internal groups, Siol nan Gaidheal and the left-wing 79 Group. However, several 79 Group members would later return to prominence in the party, including Alex Salmond who would later lead the party. It proved too much for Margo MacDonald though, who left the SNP, angry at the treatment of the left wing of the SNP, although she would later return to the party and be elected as a MSP.
The 79 Group were bolstered by the collapse of the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) in the aftermath of the '79 election. This resulted in the SLP's leading figure, Jim Sillars deciding to join the SNP, as did a great number of other ex-SLP members. Sillars had been a Labour Party MP in the 1970s but, dissatisfied with the Labour Government's policy on Scottish devolution and their socio-economic programme, had in 1976 formed the SLP. This influx of ex-SLP members served to strengthen the left of the party, to which these new members naturally gravitated.
The 1980s offered little hope for the SNP with poor performances in both the 1983 and 1987 General Elections. Indeed even the party leader, Gordon Wilson lost his seat in '87. The party took stock of these results and started to analyse its policy platform. Sillars began to grow in influence in the party and the SNP was firmly placing itself on the left of centre.
Many old-style SNP members believed that the party should be above the old arguments of left and right and should focus solely on the independence argument. Sillars however argued that the Scottish people had to be given reasons as to why independence would benefit their lives and that this should involve a fully developed socio-economic programme. He argued against the idea that somehow the country could be guided in a 'tartan trance' to independence, as if the Scottish people could ignore the realities of the economic system they found themselves in. Sillars was also key in moving the party to adopting a position of Independence in Europe to alleviate the 'separatist' tag that the SNP's unionist opponents were ever eager to attach to them. Previously the SNP had been at best highly suspicious about Scotland's continued membership of the EEC, but the new policy which Sillars helped secure firmly committed the SNP to supporting an independent Scotland's membership.
As the 1980s wore on the party managed to re-group and in 1988 the SNP managed to win the Govan seat for a second time, with Sillars as their candidate. This was a huge upset, as the SNP overturned a Labour majority of around 13,000 and had not been expected to win. However, a hard fought campaign using the party's sizable activist base won through. Sillars oratorial capabilities and street campaigning methods also played a decisive role in the party's victory.
Sillars' victory provoked great alarm amongst the Labour Party hierarchy in Scotland, much as Ewing's had in the 1960s. Fearing that their strong Scottish electoral base was under threat, they helped establish the Scottish Constiutional Convention[?] to set out a blueprint for devolution. Initially the SNP looked as though they would get involved and party leader, Gordon Wilson and Sillars attended an initial meeting of the convention. However, the convention's unwillingness to contemplate independence as a constitutional option persuaded Sillars in particular against getting involved and the SNP did not take part.
The 1992 General Election had promised much for the SNP. It proved to be mixed in fortunes. The SNP held three seats they had won in 1987, but lost Govan. They had failed to make headway in terms of winning seats. However, their campaign proved a success in terms of votes won, with the SNP vote going up by 50% from their 1987 performance. It proved too much to bear for Sillars though, and he quit active politics, famously describing the Scots as '90 minute patriots'. It also signalled the breakdown of the political relationship between Sillars and Salmond.
The intervening years between the '92 and '97 general elections were marked by some SNP electoral success. In the 1994 elections for the European Parliament the party managed to secure over 30% of the popular vote and return two MEPs (Winnie Ewing and Allan MacCartney[?]). The SNP also came very close to winning the Monklands by-election of that year, caused by the death of the leader of the Labour Party, John Smith. In 1995 they went one better, with victory in the Perth by-election, with current deputy leader, Roseanna Cunningham[?] as candidate.
The 1997 General Election saw the SNP double their number of MPs from three to six and, with the return of the Labour Party to power at that General Election, saw the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament. This allowed for the SNP to firmly establish itelf as a political force in Scotland with the returning of 35 MSPs in the first Scottish Parliament Election[?]. Later that year the party returned two members of the European Parliament, narrowly missing out on sending a third.
The first term of the Scottish Parliament did not offer the SNP much comfort. Two MSPs quit the party, the aforementioned Margo MacDonald and Dorothy-Grace Elder[?], citing the actions of some of their colleagues as reasons for their resignations. The SNP also peformed poorly at the 2001 General Election, with a reduced share of the vote from 1997, and one less MP.
Despite optimism that the party would at least retain the same number of MSPs they gained in 1999, a downturn in electoral fortune at the 2003 Scottish Parliament Elections[?] Elections has weakened them somewhat. They currently have 27 elected members in the Scottish Parliament, making them the second largest party in Holyrood. They have five MPs in the Westminster Parliament and two members in the European Parliament.
The results of the election seem to indicate that the emergence of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and Scottish Green Party (both of whom also support independence) has undermined their vote a bit. It remains to be seen how the SNP will deal with the fact that they are no longer exclusively the party of Scottish independence.
Recent debate within the SNP has been marked by disagreements between the gradualist wing of the party, which believes in taking powers back bit by bit from the UK Parliament and returning them to the Scottish Parliament, as opposed to the viewpoint of the fundamentalist wing. The fundamentalists argue that a greater emphasis should be placed on the party's support for independence to enthuse their activists, as well as their core support. Former leader, Gordon Wilson has publically stated that he believes it may be that these two wings find their views so irreconcilable that the party may split as a result.
Other political figures often characterise the SNP as trying to be all things to all people. They charge the SNP with trying to appear solidly left-wing in urban Central Scotland where they are trying to unseat the Labour Party, and with appearing more moderate in rural Scotland where their electoral challenge is more often than not against the Tories or the Liberal Democrats.
The SNP's policy base is, by and large, in the mainstream European Social Democratic mould. For example, amongst their policies are a commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, progressive personal taxation to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, the eradication of poverty, renationalisation of the railway system, a pay increase for nurses and so on. They are also committed to an independent Scotland being a full member state of the European Union, as well as supporting Scottish entry to the single European currency, although there are some members that disagree with this.
Contrary to the expectations of many, the SNP are not an expressly republican party, although they are committed to holding a referendum on the issue following the attainment of independence. Most SNP members are republicans though, and both the party student and youth wings are expressly so. The SNP is committed to maintaining an independent Scotland within the Commonwealth of Nations.