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View from the street: Rank insiders

Tom Gillingham


Rank insiders

Yesterday, in Marseille, the world’s second-ranked team (South Africa) collided – repeatedly – with the fifth-ranked team (Scotland) in a men’s rugby world cup group match.

These two nations are separated by a vast geographic distance, but they do have a few interesting similarities, beyond the number of South Africans fielded by both teams yesterday afternoon.

By another live ranking, fourth in the world played fifth. Defining ‘democratically elected’ and ‘continuous’ isn’t an exact science, but Scotland’s SNP has been in government since 2007, whilst South Africa’s ANC first took power in 1994. Using the The Economist’s latest democracy index as a yardstick, it would appear these two parties fall behind only the Botswana Democratic Party (1966), Singapore’s People’s Action Party (1956) and Japan’s Liberal-Democratic Party (1955, with a minor technical break in the 1990s).

Despite their relative longevity, Scotland’s and South Africa’s three-letter-acronym parties of government both face significant electoral tests in 2024.

On a political level, there is commonality in some of the perceived failures to deliver significant infrastructure projects, and rising voter concerns about economic performance in both nations.

Both parties are driven by active and engaged bases but both face difficulties such as sharp recent falls in membership numbers, sudden changes at the top of their administrative structures this year and decreased income, potentially impacting their ability to mobilise voters.

Despite these challenges, the irony remains that ‘failure’ in these upcoming elections would look a lot like success for most other political operations.

As the ANC frets about dropping below 50% of the vote in the 2024 South African national election, the SNP is considering what happens if it returns a vote share in the high 30% range at the expected Westminster contest next year. The relative rarity of parties remaining in government so long underlines how unusual this sort of gravity-defying performance is.

But, if an aura of invincibility slips, it’s amazing how quickly things can go into reverse. Just ask the All Blacks. The New Zealand rugby squad’s hitherto imperious form has stuttered of late, culminating in defeat to France in the world cup opener on Friday, their first such loss – ever – in the pool stages of the competition.

If the ANC or the SNP wants to push for a place in the top three longest serving political parties, they will have to avoid minor setbacks spiralling into something more critical and achieve the type of reinvention that most parties only find during a period of opposition.

Perhaps this can be the world’s most niche consolation prize for Scotland, after a bruising loss on the rugby pitch yesterday.


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