Wednesday 31 January 2024

Sturgeon's whole life is a lie, including the tears

Nicola Sturgeon won widespread popular support in Scotland due to her handling of the Covid pandemic. It could have been the catalyst that led to Scottish independence. But what it really revealed was not merely the flaws in her performance as First minister, but also the flaws in the whole devolution settlement.

When devolution was set up no one envisaged a peacetime crisis on the scale of the Covid pandemic. In previous pandemics it had been necessary to basically carry on as normal. It was impossible to work from home during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 so you had to go to work no matter the risk. The same was the case during flu pandemics in the 1950s and 1960s.

Without the Internet we would have had to have gone to work in 2020 too, but because much more work could be done now from home it was decided to lock us up. No one could have guessed that this would happen when Scotland voted for devolution.

The problem was that healthcare was devolved and unless the British government decided to treat the pandemic as a UK national emergency it was inevitable that the Scottish government would be in charge in Scotland.

But the problem was that Nicola Sturgeon had power without responsibility. It was as if the Second World War was declared but Scotland had the power to decide where the Spitfires were situated, and Scotland could make a separate peace with Germany if it thought fit to do so.  

The only way that Scots could be kept at home locked up and the only way that Sturgeon could enforce her policies was because the British government was paying furlough to those workers who could not work from home and keeping Scottish businesses afloat.

The British government like every other government made poor decisions, but it had to at least take into account the financial situation. The Scottish government on the other hand could keep Scottish workers locked down for as long as their wages were paid by the British government without even thinking of the economic implications. This is clearly untenable.

The solution to the pandemic eventually came through vaccination and from the fact that enough people gradually built-up immunity. You can argue one way or another about  whether lockdown was worth it, or alternatively whether we would have saved lives by acting as we had in 1918. The latter is almost certainly the case.

But despite the praise that Sturgeon obtained the important decisions with regard to entering lockdown and developing vaccines and how to support a population that was not working, were not made by her or her government.

She could appear on TV and use the knowledge that was shared with her by the British government in order to appear that she was in charge, when really, she wasn’t. This was the first instance of her dishonesty.

Sturgeon’s rule during the pandemic was largely superficial. Few if any lives were saved by her decisions about entering or leaving lockdown or whether a Scot could wear a mask while drinking in a bar or not. Her micromanaging did not save lives, but Scots frequently believed that it did out of fear or because they found themselves tempted by her Scottish nationalism. If only we didn’t have a border with those dreadful, dirty English we’d be saved from the plague. It was a medieval attitude.

No one thought that a devolved government would have such power, worse no one realised that a devolved government would have such power but would have to rely on such a lack of expertise. The British government was advised by genuine experts in their field, the Scottish government was advised by a dentist, a gynecologist and an American who wasn’t even a doctor.

Sturgeon’s Gold Command did not need Kate Forbes to attend because it didn’t matter how the Scottish economy was doing, it was being paid directly from the Treasury by Rishi Sunak. But not only did it lack financial expertise it lacked all other expertise and didn’t make use of the epidemiological expertise that was available in Scotland.

Both the British and the Scottish governments can be criticised for their handling of the pandemic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the whole western world only, Sweden got it right. The only lesson is that lockdown was worse than the disease.

But the fundamental difference between the British government and the Scottish government is that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings were held to account. None of them are involved in government today. We have a pretty good idea about the decisions taken by the British government, and we have access to members of that government making fools of themselves and using crude language, but we only have glimpses into the inner workings of Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

Sturgeon ran a government, as I suspect she had almost from the beginning in 2014 of insiders and everyone else. You might be the Health Minister as Humza Yousaf was at the time, but the decisions were not made by you, they were made by Sturgeon’s inner circle. You might be the Finance Minister as Kate Forbes was, but she was a Potemkin village Finance Minister, the real Finance Minister was in the inner circle. It was Sturgeon or else it was Murrell.

Secrecy is at the heart of Sturgeon’s method of ruling. We still have no idea what really went on at the heart of Scottish government when it started investigating Alex Salmond. We know still less about what happened during the pandemic.

Sturgeon and her friends and family whether they were officially SNP MSPs or civil servants, or her husband ran Scotland as if it were a family business. There was no need to tell anyone else.

The significance of Sturgeon deleting all her WhatsApp messages is not that act in itself but that it signified her long-term contempt for accountability. Other people may have deleted messages, but nowhere do we know so little about the real decision making.

Having access to Sturgeon’s day to day thoughts is like having access to the manuscript of a novel with all its corrections and additions. But Sturgeon burned the manuscript like she burned the phone.

A lesson must be learned about devolution. There cannot be such power without responsibility. There cannot be such control over millions of lives without those lives knowing in full the reasoning behind the decisions.

Sturgeon is a pitiful figure. She was once so angry and so aggressive in 2016 about Brexit and now has descended to crying in public about what she has been reduced to. But it is not primarily about Sturgeon it is about finding a way to rule our country in a credible manner.

If there were another crisis, we need to be ready to face it not with a cobbled together group of amateurs pretending they have real expertise and not with a secret society pretending to run a country when it depends for all its money on someone else.

There is a pattern of behaviour here. Nicola Sturgeon ran her life and job like an absolute monarch who ruled by diktat without responsibility and without accountability and with a degree of secrecy that is untenable in a modern democracy. Let her be punished if any crime can be proved to have been committed. But much more importantly realise that this pattern of behaviour was a function of devolution. There is power but in the end, there is no responsibility and no accountability. No matter how badly you rule you still get bailed out.

Rebuild how we share power in the UK or be faced with similar excesses. This is no way to run a democracy.

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