Wednesday 15 February 2023

The chance for independence has gone with her


Why are many Pro UK people celebrating today? Obviously because Nicola Sturgeon has resigned. What does this tell us about Nicola Sturgeon as a political opponent? It obviously tells us that she was formidable, shrewd and a great campaigner. Why else would we be pleased that she has gone?

I’ve never disliked Sturgeon personally. I don’t know her. I doubt very much that we would be friends if we did meet as we disagree about everything, but still, that is no reason to dislike a person personally.

I disliked the political leader Nicola Sturgeon, because I disagreed with her primarily about Scottish independence. But not only that. I disliked the cult of personality that began to arise around her. I disliked how she and Salmond before her had divided Scotland. I disliked how somehow, she could escape judgement no matter her involvement in, for example, the Salmond scandal and how she evaded responsibility for her policies that did not work, her ferries that did not sail and her health service that kept getting worse.

I disliked how Sturgeon blamed Westminster for everything while at the same time taking credit for Westminster polices such as developing a vaccine that were far more responsible than Sturgeon’s TV appearances for getting us through the pandemic.

So yes, I disliked Sturgeon’s policies and political persona. But there are some Pro UK people who are so blinded by their hatred of Sturgeon that they cannot recognise her strength as an opponent.

But what Salmond started, and Sturgeon continued was an incredible transformation. I can remember when the SNP got a handful of seats at Westminster. I can equally well remember growing up in a Scotland where independence was a non-issue.

Salmond first won control over Holyrood and then obtained what the SNP had been campaigning for since it began, a legal referendum on independence. Salmond frightened the life out David Cameron and came within ten points of winning. Sturgeon built on this historic achievement by winning all but 3 of the Scottish seats at Westminster in 2015. This was quite simply unimaginable even 5 years earlier.

Since then, Sturgeon’s SNP has won easily every election it took part in. If that is not a formidable opponent, I would like to know what formidable means.

So, it is as if the Confederacy has first lost Stonewall Salmond Jackson. He stood like a Stonewall against the Union forces. Now it is as if the separatists have just lost J.E.B. Sturgeon Stuart the greatest cavalry commander of them all. We may hate everything the separatists stand for, but we have to recognise the talent of their generals otherwise how can we explain that we have been defeated so often.

There is of course an element in the Scottish electorate who would vote SNP even if it were led by the corpse of Dolly the Sheep, but it is too easy to explain SNP success in this way.

Salmond was a truly great politician. In my view the best Scottish politician since the war. Sturgeon was nowhere near his equal, but if she had not been a nationalist, she could have been a far better leader of the Labour Party than Keir Starmer.

Sturgeon is the only Scottish politician working today who is a household name in Scotland and she is the only Scottish politician who can make international headlines when she resigns and is known and largely respected in England.

But this is really the problem for the SNP. At least the Confederacy had R.E. Lee to lead when Stuart and Jackson were killed. The SNP has no one even close to the stature of Sturgeon and Salmond to take over.

The Pro UK cupboard is bare. We have Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton with perhaps Ruth Davidson lending a hand, but the first three are hardly famous even in Scotland let alone elsewhere. Who would lead a Pro UK campaign in indyref2? Goodness knows. Let’s hope it never happens.

But the SNP cupboard is now equally bare? Angus Robertson is a half German born in London whose greatest claim to fame was something to do with Salmond misbehaving at an airport and his failing to notice. Kate Forbes is just returning from maternity leave and her free kirk views may get her into trouble with the woke crowd. It is as unlikely that Humza Yousaf will lead Scotland to independence as it would have been if Mohammad Ali Jinnah had been called Archie MacPherson.

None of the potential candidates to replace Sturgeon are well known even in Scotland. They are as unknown as their Pro UK opponents.  But every secession movement in history has had great leaders. The lack of one stops the SNP in its tracks.

There is now zero chance that any sort of de facto referendum will take place this year at Holyrood as suggested by Angus MacNeil. The SNP doesn’t have the support to push for it and now it doesn’t have anyone to lead the campaign. The same goes for the next General Election and probably the next Holyrood election after that. Beyond that is merely the long grass.

I would expect support for the SNP to fall somewhat at the next General Election and for support for independence to fall to the early 40s late 30s. It needs to be more than 60% for a good while to put any pressure on a British Government.

 A sensible SNP leader would rule out another independence referendum until certain economic conditions had been fulfilled sometime in the distant future and then work to make devolution work in cooperation with Westminster rather than as an internal foe.

At this point the constitutional issue may go back to what it was like for most of the 300 years that Scotland has been part of the UK. Scots will continue to have a separate national identity but will be broadly content to be part of the UK.

Sturgeon’s achievement is that it is hard to think of another woman politician since the war who has reached her level of fame except Thatcher. Sturgeon won an almost impossible number of seats for the SNP at a number of elections. It is more of an achievement than Theresa May, let alone Liz Truss.

But Sturgeon fell short of the only achievement that mattered to her, achieving Scottish independence. Her success itself meant that no British Government would grant her one. The risk was too high. This left her with no where to go except fringe issues such as men becoming women, which would have baffled her own parents let alone Robert the Bruce. This was Sturgeon’s great flaw. She had the anger and passion to lead Scotland to independence, but she did not have the arguments and in the end did not have the intellect.