Like a yacht becalmed on a windless ocean, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP is in the doldrums. The hyper-activity that saw the nationalists fall just short of a majority in the May Holyrood elections, has long since faded away. The strident battle-cries for Indyref2 have died to a whimper. Even cementing a pro-independence majority in coalition with the Scottish Greens has backfired, forcing the First Minister to forsake the Cambo oil field off Shetland and drive a wedge through her own party, where many of her SNP parliamentary colleagues rely on support from some of the 100,000 people who work in the North Sea oil sector.
The influence of the extremist Greens has created the biggest U-turn in SNP history, abandoning the oil and gas sector that was the foundation-stone of nationalist economic policy, even as recently as the 2014 referendum. For 50 years the SNP have claimed it was Scotland’s oil. Now, pandering to Patrick Harvie and his Luddite Greens, Nicola Sturgeon is claiming that it is Westminster’s oil after all. Her fossil fuel flip flop has achieved net zero for the Nats. Alex Salmond, her former mentor and now arch-enemy, has said her opposition to the 600-million-barrel oilfield is equivalent to Margaret Thatcher’s abandonment of the coal industry in the 1980s and will cost the SNP thousands of votes in the northeast. At least Alex Salmond’s reference to Thatcher was more relevant than the ludicrous assertion by Susan Aitken, leader of the SNP-run Glasgow City Council, who claimed during COP26 that her city’s filthy, rat-infested streets were all the fault of Thatcher, who left office 31 years ago.
But the SNP’s inability to accept responsibility for anything has become legendary. The Calmac ferry debacle, the Ferguson Marine scandal, the Queen Elizabeth University hospital water contamination fiasco, the Edinburgh Sick Children’s hospital holdup, the A & E overload, the ambulance delays, the NHS waiting lists, the plummeting education standards, the spiralling drug deaths, the covid care-home catastrophe, the broken promises and squandered millions, have all been blamed on someone else. There has not been a single sacking or resignation from the talentless, second-rate Scottish cabinet, who stumble on, seemingly oblivious to the damage they are doing and impervious to criticism. ‘It wisnae me’ is the new nationalist slogan. Scotland’s brief flirtation with independence has noticeably cooled as the Scottish public gradually wake up to the reality of what an independent Scotland, run by the SNP, would actually be
Nicola Sturgeon herself has given the broadest possible indications of her desire to seek out a new life after politics, hinting that she and her husband, SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell, may foster a child. Her decision to do a glossy photo-shoot with Vogue, followed by her frenetic schmoozing around COP26, posing for selfies with world leaders and even handing a can of Irn-bru to US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, can all be interpreted as a blatant job application by our ‘knackered’ First Minister. She told Vogue that she is thinking about writing her memoirs, further inflaming rumours that have circulated for many months that the First Minister is contemplating bowing out of Holyrood and angling for a top job at the UN. After 7 years as SNP leader and First Minister, and almost a lifetime in politics, including 22 years at Holyrood, it is hardly surprising that Nicola Sturgeon is casting her eye over the
With Boris Johnson digging his heels in over any question of allowing Indyref2, the First Minister has arrived at an impasse, which seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. To Ms. Sturgeon, her lifetime separatist ambition must seem increasingly unattainable. Former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill MP, who defected to Salmond’s Alba Party, has warned of “growing despair” among nationalists at the lack of progress towards independence, claiming SNP policy on Indyref2 is “moribund”. Alex Salmond claims the First Minister has constantly marched SNP supporters “up to the top of the hill” without any sign of a meaningful strategy. Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh south west, has become embroiled in a bitter war with Nicola Sturgeon over the nationalists’ policy on transgender rights and on her sluggish approach to independence. The squabbling, back-biting, party-splits and internal divisions must be deeply irritating for the First Minister, who enjoys a presidential-style of leadership and has a low tolerance of dissent, similar to the old Communist Party’s policy of ‘democratic centralism’ that forbids any deviation from the party-line.
The public demand for the Scottish government to focus all its energies on rebuilding the post-pandemic economy, instead of constantly obsessing with trying to break-up the UK, has tilted the balance away from the independence debate. So too has the gradual acceptance of Brexit as a done deal, with only a small minority of voters now clamouring for Scotland’s return to EU membership. The concept of scrapping the pound, adopting the Euro, forcing our fishermen back under the claws of the hated Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and imposing a hard border with England, have dampened enthusiasm for the EU. Indeed, recognition of the problems caused by Brexit, such as the difficulty with the Northern Ireland protocol, have concentrated minds of how the breakup of our more than 300-year-old relationship within the UK would be a thousand times worse.
The First Minister has previously claimed that it was Maggie Thatcher that inspired her to join the SNP and begin a career in politics. She told BBC Radio Four’s ‘Women’s Hour’ in 2017, that seeing the effects of the Tory prime Minister’s policies in Scotland, drove her into the belief that Scotland should be independent and free from the clutches of Westminster. Ms Sturgeon would do well to examine Thatcher’s legacy more closely and she would see that as a leader, she was loved, admired, but also hated by many. She nevertheless stayed in power as Prime Minister for 11 years and achieved a fundamental renaissance in the UK’s economic performance following the taming of the trade unions. Before she slinks off to a new job, Ms. Sturgeon should perhaps look at her own record in office and ask if she has achieved anything even remotely comparable.