Scotland

The tide has gone out for Nicola Sturgeon and the struggling SNP

BY Gerald Warner   /  30 June 2017

There are certain finely honed political skills that only a select minority of practitioners of statecraft possess. Among them is the ability, when things are going badly and one’s prospects are calamitously on the downward slide, to seize Misfortune by the hair and aggravate the situation to secure the worst outcome in the worst of all possible worlds.

Such an one is Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister or, in her own perception, Regent of Scotland. Recently things have been going marginally less well for Chairman Sturgeon than was wont to be the case. Among her dismayed colleagues there is a growing feeling that to lose one Westminster parliamentary seat would have been a misfortune, but to lose 21 begins to look like carelessness.

That is exactly what it was. Disdain for the everyday responsibilities of governance was one of the chief causes of the SNP’s massive defeat at the general election. The state of the Scottish NHS – the supposed totem of all left-wing parties such as the SNP – suggests they will shortly be importing large supplies of leeches into Scotland. As for Scottish education, universally acknowledged, within living memory, as the best in the world, there are highly trained circus dogs that can count better than some neglected Scottish primary school pupils.

That was the passive aspect of SNP failure. The active feature was the relentless, nerve-racking, mind-numbingly boring rants from Sturgeon, on a daily basis, about holding a second independence referendum. There was a point, early in her career as First Minister, when La Sturgeon’s worldview momentarily collided with reality and she announced a policy of not attempting to hold a re-run of the independence referendum until support for separatism had stood at 60 per cent in the opinion polls for 12 consecutive months.

The fate of Theresa May, calling an election when her party was 20 to 24 per cent ahead in the polls only to lose her majority, suggests that even the 60 per cent rule would not have guaranteed security to Sturgeon, but it brought momentary reassurance to the public until the hubris engendered by holding office, combined with the pressure from fanatical “Indyref2” obsessives, led to that discipline crumbling in the face of Brexit, a political phenomenon totally misread by Nicola Sturgeon.

In fairness, in that instance, she was in company with millions of other idiots and the majority of commentators across the UK. The crucial error was imagining that Brexit would furnish an opportunity to the SNP; in reality it delivered a death blow. The logical equation, hardly rocket science, is that when a nation finds itself facing unprecedented uncertainty about its future, it will not wish to pile further uncertainty upon its prospects by voting to break away from the state that subsidises it to the tune of billions of pounds and provides its security.

Post-election, the situation faced by Nicola Sturgeon was one that called for the talents of a consummate politician – unfortunately for her. Unlike Theresa May, the election result did not impede Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to govern, since her power base is Holyrood, not Westminster. The problem was that the SNP, to put it politely, had lost momentum – along with 477,000 votes since 2015 – and for the past decade the SNP has relied on maintaining the myth of a relentless nationalist tide leading inexorably to independence. The problem with tides is that they not only come in, but also go out.

Nicola Sturgeon brought this massive rebuff from the Scottish electorate on herself, not only by her neglect of public services but more immediately by her narcissistic insistence on inflicting a second independence referendum on a public that did not want it, especially after the Brexit vote. Think Brenda from Bristol’s dismay at the calling of another general election – to the power of 10 – and you will have some idea of the popularity of a second referendum among the Scottish public.

Sturgeon’s way ahead was clear. Profess a reasonable amount of contrition, kick Indyref2 into some very long grass and pledge herself to dedicate the period between now and the next Scottish elections to a focused reform programme on health and education. Again, it’s not rocket science.

Instead, the First Minister declared her intention to “reset” the referendum timetable from a Bill before Christmas and a plebiscite by spring 2019 to tabling proposals for a new referendum in autumn 2018 (while Brexit talks, supposedly, will still be in progress) with the aim of holding a vote before the next Scottish elections in May 2021. That deadline is essential because of the growing likelihood that the SNP’s outing to the polls then will have a similar outcome to the party’s bruising experience at Westminster this year.

Nicola Sturgeon already heads a minority government: even at the Holyrood election last year the tide had already turned against the SNP, now dependent on the fruitcake Greens. The said fruitcakes are now in dispute with Sturgeon, claiming that dropping the original referendum timetable would make it impossible for Scotland to remain within the Single Market after Brexit. In reality, there is much more than that preventing Scotland from staying in the Single Market.

The equally deluded First Minister has promised to redouble her efforts to influence the Brexit talks. How would you do that, Nicola? Standing under the windows in Brussels shouting through a megaphone is an undignified posture for the First Minister of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon leads a minority government, her Westminster representation has been slashed by more than a third, along with her myth of invincibility, public services are in tatters on her watch, she continues to alienate the Scottish electorate with reiterated Indyref2 bluster, she is subject to the veto of a UK government on the date of any referendum and the nation she misgoverns has a deficit of £15bn or 9.5 per cent of GDP – worse than Greece. The EU, which she wants an independent Scotland to join, sets a deficit ceiling of 3 per cent of GDP for aspiring members.

So, a few little local difficulties, then, for the poor man’s Angela Merkel. At least she still has the consolation of being the highest paid politician in Britain, which suggests that, among the political class, remuneration is in inverse proportion to ability.