Sunday 29 January 2023

Sturgeon's tragic flaw


The Scottish play in which we are all performing even if our parts are minor can still end one of two ways either in tragedy or in comedy. But it is becoming clearer that we are approaching the end one way or the other.

The heroine is Nicola Sturgeon. She may still be hoping for an ending with a marriage, reconciliation and all opposing forces laughing and joking together. But it’s always been hard to see how her victory could in traditional terms be called a comedy because it always involved a divorce.

It’s equally unlikely that we get laughing and joking between the opposing forces. Neither side will accept defeat without a battle and a rematch and a court case. So, what does that leave? Tragedy.

If you think of tragedy in traditional terms it always involves a character flaw which leads the central character to destruction. Hamlet’s indecision and MacBeth’s ambition cause their tragedy. But what then is Sturgeon’s tragic flaw?

Something changed in her character in the years 2014 and 2015, which was caused by both defeat in the referendum and overwhelming victory in the subsequent General Election. Sturgeon began to think that she could not lose, that electoral victory was inevitable.

She was right. In every subsequent election whether for Holyrood or Westminster the SNP won a large majority. 45% will always win you most elections especially when the opposition vote is divided by 3.

But if you keep winning no matter how badly you run Scotland you begin to think that eventual independence is somehow foreordained and inevitable. This complacency is the tragic flaw that eventually brings you defeat.

There is always an historical analogy. After a series of improbable victories, the Confederacy was beginning to think that it could even invade the North. But it had neglected the fundamentals. It had failed to do what George Washington had done in a previous century. It had failed to unite and it had failed to receive foreign recognition.

But surely just one more victory at Gettysburg would bring the Confederacy independence. The Union would be forced to negotiate separation. And so, we reach a fine morning in July 1863 and victory seems inevitable to General Lee. His troops can do anything. His opponent is weak. But instead, the Confederacy loses decisively and loses forever.

If Sturgeon had used her power since losing in 2014 to try to win round her opponents by ruling well and for the good of all Scots, she would not be in the position she is in today. Instead she appealed only to her own side. Every election was about independence. She was never to blame for any setback. It was always the fault of Westminster or the English.

It didn’t matter to Sturgeon that ferries were not built. It didn’t matter that healthcare was poor and often unavailable. She did not care in fact one little bit about any devolved power that was hers. She only cared about a reserved power over the constitution that was not hers. She acted in this way because she thought her victory at any election was inevitable and her cause foreordained.

So her troops were sent into battle at the next General Election. If we reach the top of the hill and get more than 50% we will have our independence. But then she loses her nerve. She had only persuaded the 45% who voted Yes in 2014. She had done nothing to persuade the 55% who voted No. She had done nothing to show that Scotland might be run better after independence because she had done nothing to show that it might be run better before independence.

Only a politician who has begun to believe in the inevitability of her own victory would have gone to the Supreme Court thinking that it might rule that the Scottish Parliament had a power that it explicitly did not have. Worse she was told that she had no right to independence at all, which previously no one had explicitly known.

Only someone who thinks electoral victory is inevitable no matter what we do would come up with a law that puts rapists in women’s prisons. If you run a party whose only goal is independence why waste time and energy on trans rights which baffle most Scots including most independence supporters? They will vote for me anyway says Sturgeon even if it means rapists raping women in jail, because they won’t care, they only care about separation.

But the next General Election will not be about independence. For the first time in a long while there will be a good chance that Labour might win. If Labour do better in Scotland it will be at the expense mainly of the SNP. If Scots give the Labour Government the benefit of the doubt for a couple of years Labour may do better at Holyrood and if the SNP doesn’t win more than 50% then where next for Sturgeon?

It must have seemed to Bonnie Prince Charlie at Prestonpans that the Highland charge was unstoppable and so he chose to invade England without having even secured unity in Scotland. Finally he discovers a little later that claymores and Lochaber axes are no match for drilled musketry on Culloden moor.

Nothing is inevitable in history. But if you want to win independence you require above all the overwhelming support of your population. This is how Poland achieved the impossible, requiring it to defeat three empires, in 1918 and the years following.

It is hard to find an example anywhere of an independence movement continually striving for secession after losing a referendum on the issue and failing to have majority support afterwards. Quebec is the closest analogy, but here too the failure to increase support among opponents is the tragic flaw. Now Quebec independence is as lost a cause as that of the Confederacy. Scotland will soon join these lost causes, for which reason Scottish nationalists dress up as Jacobites. Just one more Highland charge folks?

Sturgeon has nowhere to go, but neither does Scotland unless people start voting on issues other than independence. But quite soon it may become clear to everyone that the SNP simply does not have the support to push for independence and then Scottish nationalists may begin to actually care that rapists end up in women’s prison’s and there is no ferry connection to their island.

Complacency and the sense that it didn’t matter how it ruled because it would always win eventually destroyed Scottish Labour. Nicola Sturgeon has the same tragic flaw for which reason the same fate awaits.