Tuesday 28 July 2020

As slippery as a Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon at some point expressed a wish that the SNP had a different name and that it did not contain the word “National”. Like all nationalists she dislikes the fact that nationalism has negative connotations. But it is not the word “national” that makes her a nationalist it is her desire for Scottish independence. The political goal of creating a new nation state either through secession or unification is the meaning of nationalism.

But nationalism is expressed not merely through Sturgeon’s political goals, it is also expressed in the way in which Scottish people perceive everything bad that happens to Scotland as due to Westminster while everything that is good is due to Sturgeon.

The national struggle for independence subsumes all critical thinking and morality itself is distorted so that good becomes that which will help us achieve our goal of independence while bad is what hinders us.

 It is in this context that we must view not merely Sturgeon’s performance during the Covid crisis, but also the future parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints about Alex Salmond.  

 To suppose that Nicola Sturgeon will be seriously criticised or even seriously investigated is to suppose that we don’t live in in a Scotland gripped by nationalism.

 Nine MSPs will make up the panel. Four will be SNP, two Conservatives and one each from Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The chair will be the Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani from the SNP.

 So not only will the SNP have twice as many MSPs as any other party it will also have an independence supporting majority and the chair too.

 What two things could most damage the case for Scottish independence. The first thing would be if the leader of the Yes campaign in 2014 had been convicted of serious sexual offences. The second would be that the person Scottish nationalists hope will lead the next campaign for Scottish independence were discovered to have known about those allegations in 2013 or 2014 and decided to ignore them.

 If it could be shown that Sturgeon had been told during the Yes Campaign that there were serious allegations against Salmond, but that the she decided to keep these allegations secret in case it damaged the Yes Campaign, then Sturgeon would suffer serious reputational damage. She would be shown to be someone who cared more about achieving independence than promptly investigating assaults on women alleged to have taken place in buildings which she frequently visited.

Salmond was not convicted. We must assume either that no assaults took place, or that there was not enough evidence that they took place.  But we do know that there were allegations and that women complained about Mr Salmond’s behaviour during the Yes campaign.

 Sturgeon claims that she knew nothing about these allegations until April 2nd, 2018. If the inquiry finds that this is true, then Sturgeon’s reputation will not be damaged.

 Alex Salmond claimed during his trial that there had been a politically motivated conspiracy against him. Sturgeon denies it.

 Now this is where the case gets interesting. Alex Salmond must know that the best chance of Scotland gaining independence is for Nicola Sturgeon to lead the campaign and remain First Minister. There is no one else who could do the job. No one else in the SNP has anything close to Sturgeon’s fame, popularity and ability. The whole campaign for independence depends on her.

 Salmond may or may not know things that would be damaging to Sturgeon’s reputation. We don’t know. He could say that he discussed the allegations of sexual assault with her in 2014 but was able to convince her that they were without substance. He might be able to produce emails or phone records, or he might say under oath what he remembered saying to her. We don’t know what happened, nor do we know who knew what.

 But will Alex Salmond destroy the best chance of achieving Scottish independence just because he has fallen out with Sturgeon?

 This is our problem with nationalism. It justifies anything. When achieving Scottish independence is more important even than morality then it is reasonable to expect the probe into Sturgeon’s conduct to be as gentle as the questions, she gets at her press conferences.

 If Sturgeon had chosen to be a Labour politician, she might be Prime Minister now. But if a previous Labour Prime Minister who she served under had been on trial for sexual offences the media, the judiciary and the police in London would have turned it into the biggest story in decades. There would not have been an inquiry packed with Labour MPs and lead by a Labour chairman. It would have been properly independent, and it would have probed until the truth was discovered.

But this being Scotland none of these things will occur. All scandals will slip off Sturgeon as if she had scales instead of skin. Nothing will get in the way of the sacred cause of separation. If you want to understand what nationalism is, it is precisely this.