DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
One of the advantages that the SNP enjoys is that it tends to be taken at its own estimation by media outlets south of the border. It is perhaps understandable that this should be the case, particularly now. Nicola Sturgeon is an impressive leader, after all, in a period when the UK government lacks any coherent opposition. Sturgeon’s party dominates Scottish affairs and she looks like a strong national leader who knows what she is about.
This dominance means that when Sturgeon pulls a stunt it tends not to be treated with quite the scepticism that might apply if it was pulled by any other leading figure.
So it was that the airwaves were full yesterday of Sturgeon declaring on the steps of Number 10 that her meeting with Theresa May about Brexit had been “frustrating.” There was more ominous talk of a further Scottish independence referendum if May does not find a way for Scotland in the UK to effectively stay in the EU while the UK leaves the European Union.
Sturgeon’s displeasure in Downing Street was the least surprising news of the year. It would have been genuinely surprising – newsworthy even – if Sturgeon had emerged to declare herself satisfied by constructive discussions with the Prime Minister.
But that would never happen. Even if May promised at some point to scrap Brexit, came out for Scottish independence and apologised for Gazza’s goal against Scotland in Euro 96, the SNP would still complain.
With a face like thunder, and a wee shake of the head, the SNP leader of the day would respond that Scotland would not be forced out of the UK by England and demand that not only should the Gazza goal be scrubbed but Scotland should get a chance to take the missed penalty again in the same match.
This is what the SNP does. It complains, and exploits grievance. When no legitimate grievance exists, invent one. Cats miaow, dogs bark, birds fly, and the SNP complains. Its leaders would always – always – rather have the grievance.
In this way, even when the UK Prime Minister convenes a summit giving the devolved administrations their place at the table, this mannerly respect is rewarded with complaints. As though the Prime Minister was going to divulge her secret negotiation strategy with the EU, to Nicola Sturgeon just before the SNP leader went out into Downing Street to address the waiting media. Of course.
Sturgeon’s position is actually bizarre. She complains about the supposed horror of Hard Brexit, while proposing in response an even harder Scottish exit, separating Scotland from what is by far its biggest market, the rest of the UK where more than 60% of Scottish exports go. She is for leaving a successful single market – the UK – to bargain Scotland’s way into a single market, the EU which takes four times less in Scottish exports.
This is all fine, really, as long as we understand what is going on here and what underpins the culture of ceaseless complaint. Indeed, the SNP is at least consistent and has been for decades. It has always done this, because it has one clear goal to which it is dedicated.
Possibly the least convincing statement made by Sturgeon at the recent SNP conference in Glasgow was her promise that finally improving Scottish education is her number one priority. No, the SNP’s number one priority is Scottish independence. It is an entirely legitimate aim (and it may happen) but obsessing over the constitution and framing everything through the prism of grievance, of Scotland overlooked or disrespected, is so much easier than putting in the hard work of delivering the necessary but long delayed reform and improvement of Scotland’s public services and economy. Forget all that. Scotland hard done by. End the UK. That’s what counts and all else is secondary to the SNP.