Monday 22 January 2024

Scots no longer trust the SNP

Every few years we have a choice between having a Conservative government or a Labour government. It’s a big thing and a lot of time and energy is devoted to the campaign. But it’s not that big a thing. It won’t matter that much. Five years on things will be much the same.

It is for this reason that voters will probably give Labour a chance. The Conservatives haven’t done all that well so why not give the other party a go. Why not indeed? Labour might well make a mess, but we’ve all experienced Labour governments before. When Labour does badly, we give the Conservatives another chance. That’s how our democracy works. It’s not that big a risk. It’s not that big a deal, because you get another go a few years later.

With the SNP the risk is rather bigger. I only have to trust Keir Starmer a little bit to make him Prime Minister for five years. If he mucks it up, I can change my mind later. But the SNP’s aim only policy is to leave the UK, which would at the same time turn the UK into the former UK, like the former Yugoslavia.

There have been endless arguments for and against Scotland leaving the UK. But what they really amount to is do you believe this leader can after destroying a 300-year-old country called the UK bring us Scotland to prosperity without damaging our lifestyle and standard of living in the process. It’s fundamentally a question of trust.

Alex Salmond failed the trust issue, partly because he couldn’t answer some of the fundamental questions, but more importantly because voters didn’t trust that he would have the answers even if he didn’t have them now.

A leader of an independence movement doesn’t have to know all the details about future currency arrangements or how a country would relate to the EU, but voters have to believe that he can be trusted to guide them to the destination of independence without disaster.

This is especially the case with the UK which is an advanced economy with a high standard of living. If you live in Sudan, it’s not much of a risk to leave and become South Sudan, because it wasn’t that great in Sudan. But if you are France, it might seem a greater risk to become an independent Brittany or if you are Germany, you might wonder what would happen if you tried to become an independent Bavaria. Well, the same argument applies to the UK. The risk factor is that what you have is by world standards pretty good. You might get something better with independence, but you might also get something worse.

Salmond does not come across to me as a trustworthy man. He comes across as a chancer. He’s all bluster and make it up as you go along. He comes across as car salesman and be careful you don’t get caught with him in the back seat. I think this is why Yes lost the referendum in 2014.

Nicola Sturgeon by contrast was almost wholly trusted by huge numbers of Scots from 2020 to 2022. It was folly that the UK government didn’t treat the pandemic as a national emergency and allowed the devolved parliaments to run things. It gave Sturgeon exactly the platform she wanted to build the case for independence.

She didn’t need to talk about the deficit, or GERS or currency or anything else. Arguments about these matters are of limited use, firstly because voters quickly get bored and anyway can’t tell the difference between debt and deficit, secondly because they are negative about Scotland, which Scots hate. All Sturgeon needed to do was say “trust me”. Everything will be fine.

So, every day with her excellent presentations skills she was able to say “trust me” look how much better I’m running things than the English. If you give me the chance, I’ll run an independent Scotland better than the English too.

By the end of the pandemic Sturgeon was winning the trust argument. The only thing that was preventing her winning a referendum was the UK government saying No and the Supreme Court reminding the Scottish parliament that constitutional matters were reserved.

I would not have relished a second independence referendum in 2021 or 2022. Even the nominally Pro UK commentators were telling us at every opportunity that independence was inevitable and how fortunate we were to have Nicola Sturgeon looking after our welfare.

But now just a little later support for the SNP is falling. The prospect of another independence referendum has gone. Labour may win more than half the seats in Scotland and the SNP may be about to return to where it was prior to the Scottish parliament. A handful of others.

Whereas in 2020 and 2021 even many Pro UK people began to trust Nicola Sturgeon, now lots of independence supporters no longer trust her.

Most people don’t follow politics that closely, but you don’t have follow closely to have ceased to trust Sturgeon. She suddenly resigns. She can’t properly explain why. There are all sorts of scandals and ridiculous purchases including a campervan. There is an arrest, though no charges have followed. There is a tent outside her house.

Is it any surprise that voters began to wonder if she was as trustworthy as she seemed. Now we discover details about the secret way in which she ran her government. Messages were deleted. Things that were said publicly which were expressed totally differently privately. We were told they were concerned only about the pandemic not politics while behind the scenes they were plotting how to use Covid to get independence.

Looking back Scots began to realise that we didn’t know much about Sturgeon. Why did she fall out with Alex Salmond? Was there some sort of attempt to fit him up? You don’t have to follow this stuff too closely to begin to wonder about whether Sturgeon is trustworthy.

But if Sturgeon might not be wholly trustworthy then maybe the SNP isn’t wholly trustworthy either. Look how it asked supporters for money for an independence campaign. There was no campaign, but there is also no money. What happened to it?

Now we have Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf. Even if I thought he was honest I would not think that he was capable of bringing Scotland to independence without disaster. But anyway, Scots are not merely questioning Humza Yousaf’s competence we are questioning his motivation. He is more interested in foreign affairs than fixing matters in Scotland.  He keeps making preposterous statements like if only we vote for independence, we’ll all be £10,000 richer and that what matters in the next election is for the SNP to defeat the six rural Conservative MPs rather than the army of Labour candidates waiting to defeat it in the Central Belt.

No one believes Yousaf and if you don’t believe him you can hardly trust him.

Trust in the SNP needs to be way higher than trust in any other party, because at the SNP is offering radical change to almost everything we know and therefore voting for the SNP involves a degree of uncertainty that is quite different from voting Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem.

Nicola Sturgeon convinced a large majority of Scots to trust her over Covid, but it was all presentation without substance, because it was all grounded in secrets and lies. So much so that it is hard to reach any sort of bedrock with her character. Is there even any truth to be found there?

If Sturgeon had been honest and open since becoming leader of the SNP and First Minister, then it is quite possible that right now she would have been close to her goal. If the support, she gained in the pandemic had been turned into votes at a General Election then she might have been unstoppable.

But in every tragedy, there is a tragic flaw and Sturgeon’s flaw is to be two faced. She is secretive while pretending to be open, she is deceitful while pretending to never to tell a lie, she is insincere while pretending be trustworthy.  

But it’s not just Sturgeon who was two faced. It is the SNP that went along with her. Trust in the SNP has collapsed, because those Scots who believed in Sturgeon during the pandemic have realised that they were fools to do so.

It matters little now what happens next to Sturgeon in terms of politics. It may matter more to her personally. Whatever fresh revelations or legal consequences follow from her secrecy won’t matter much more now. The damage to the SNP and the cause of Scottish independence has already been done. The wound is deep and infected with the puss of duplicity. Such wounds are mortal.


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