First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s woes continue to mount, and her position becomes more untenable the longer she remains in post. The end of 2022 was bad enough with increasing scandal and division within her party but 2023 looks to be worse as disquiet grows among the faithful. As we say in Scotland, “her coat is on a shoogly nail.”

The year ended with more controversy for the SNP. Sturgeon’s husband and SNP chief executive, Peter Murrell, was found to have lent the party £107,000 of his own money in the summer of 2021 without disclosing the loan. He apparently didn’t believe such an action needed to be disclosed which for the head of a political party beggars belief.

Why did the party need the loan when it has always claimed to be financially flush? What was the money to be used for? And, more obviously, why did they not simply contact their bank for additional funds? All unanswered and, in an unusual move for such a publicity-loving individual, Sturgeon was escorted by her advisers by a different escape route from Holyrood’s debating chamber to avoid journalists’ questions.

There is an additional £600,000 missing from SNP accounts which is still under live investigation by Police Scotland and there is growing dissatisfaction about due diligence within a party which is run by a husband and wife.

The flawed Gender Recognition Bill was rushed through parliament over two nights with 150 proposed amendments mostly ignored. The killer amendment that was voted down involved refusing to allow convicted rapists a certificate of gender realignment. Apparently, it was essential that this group be allowed to change their gender. Quite how the SNP and Labour will live with themselves if this all goes horribly wrong is uncertain, but it was not just a disgraceful moment but possibly a career-defining one for Sturgeon who pushed for convicted rapists to change gender.

Ash Regan, the former minister who resigned over the issue two months ago and was crassly rebuked by Sturgeon for her rebellion, was one of nine MSPs who defied the party whip to vote against the bill. This week SNP MP Angus MacNeil called for the legislation to be “scrapped”, describing it as “a threat to women”.

But the Gender Recognition bill is just one strand of division within the splintering factions of the Scottish National Party. The growing divide in Westminster continues with newly appointed deputy leader Mhairi Black calling for more strike action across England and Scotland. I suspect Stuart will not have received a Christmas card from the Murrells.

Again, Sturgeon’s famed communication skills have been failing her. Her statement to the media that she is more in touch with the unions than her Westminster counterparts angered some unions – in particular, the health unions – who have rejected her government’s pay offer in exactly the same way as England. Strikes will occur in Scotland in 2023.

The Sturgeon tone is increasingly one of condescending irritation. She knows best but for some reason the old tricks no longer work. Westminster is to blame; Scotland performs better than the rest of the UK; the SNP does better than Labour in Wales; are all sounding flat and unconvincing.

But as many of these claims are found to be false – “Scotland does not have fantastic climate change policies and its targets regularly fail to be met and are often worse than other parts of the UK” is one of the most recent – Sturgeon deflects and challenges, laughs and scowls but the truth is that education is failing and the teachers are striking; health is failing and the nurses and midwives are striking; the ferries scandal continues and was exacerbated with a sneaked out announcement the Friday before Christmas that two new ferries had been commissioned to be built in Turkey. So much for standing up for shipbuilding on the Clyde.

And it continues. Sturgeon can seem a mass of ticks and frowns at First Minister’s Questions, and she must now be looking at her legacy as a leader of Scotland and wondering whether she will ultimately be remembered as an abject failure. Increasing poverty, healthcare targets consistently missed, education standards falling, the highest drug deaths in Europe, falling GDP, among the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the EU, and the goal of independence no nearer than when she began. Never mind the failed minor manifesto promises of free bikes, iPads, and school meals for Scotland’s children, none of which have been delivered.

The fact is the SNP has not benefitted from being better than other parties. It is that the other parties in Scotland have been worse. In particular, the rise of the SNP coincided with the arrogance and indifference of the Labour party. Labour lost seats rather than the SNP winning them. The electorate felt let down by a Labour party that took them for granted. In the same way that the Tories are likely to lose seats to Labour in spite of Labour policies rather than because of them.

The SNP needed to show that it was a party of government if it were to convince floating voters. It has consistently failed to do that and, because it is so centralised and focused on Sturgeon alone, has developed a government where people are frightened to speak out, are unwilling to challenge the leader, and are incapable of producing good ideas to create a better Scotland. The population is waking up to this and is turning to the Labour party because they feel let down by the SNP and are looking for an alternative. Labour seems like the best of a bad lot.

The tide has turned, yet Sturgeon is Canute-like in her resolute defiance that she is anything but invincible. The truth is that the moment has already passed, the electorate has moved on, the Labour vote is rising, and defiance within the SNP is growing. It is now a matter not of if but when Sturgeon leaves.

Colin Wright is a freelance journalist.

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