Weekly Column

Nicola Sturgeon

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It would be easy to knock Nicola Sturgeon (as almost everyone seems to be doing now that she has left office.) Scotland is in something of an economic and social policy shambles and is demonstrably far worse than when she took office. Her one-trick-pony policy of Independence lies scorned in the gutter (recent polls show it at only 35% in favour); her attempts to secure a second referendum a failure; her party in (perhaps) terminal disarray; and a great many questions hanging over her private and financial life. Never can any leader have been more ‘marmite’- by some venerated as nearly saint-like (not unlike Jacinda Ahern); others could not stand to hear her name mentioned.And yet on a personal level, I secretly rather admire her - her manner, her sheer chutzpah in the face of adversity; the way she handles herself. She is a total political professional. Not only that (or perhaps because of it) she has taken the SNP from a tiny minority joke (as it was during my childhood in Scotland) to the powerful political force which has run Scotland for so many years. I also feel personally sorry for her- having soared to such great heights, but now being forced from office in ignominy. All political careers end in failure; few more so than Wee Nippy’s. (Don’t ask…)A mark of her stature can be measured in the national ripples spreading out across the political pond from her departure. There really is no very obvious successor, and her party looks likely to split over it. There are the ideological purists who want a radical separatist agenda which may be ideologically satisfying for them, but do the people of Scotland really want it? A Unilateral Declaration of Independence style approach risks taking them back to the political wilderness whence they came. Yet a Westminster-friendly regime would alienate the true believers. The tragedy of the SNP (perhaps rather like UKIP) is that their strength comes from campaigning for a referendum and for independence. Yet the outcome of any such referendum would either be: a ‘yes’ to independence, in which case who needs the SNP? Or it might be a ‘No’- in which case they are anyhow finished having lost two successive referendums on their main purpose in life. So their strength comes from campaigning for independence, but they would be emasculated by either achieving it; or not doing so.The consequences will be widespread, and national. Labour are licking their lips in the hope of resecuring their Scottish ascendancy; and we Tories stand a good chance of picking up 6 or 10 seats if the SNP are routed. Either outcome of course could make or break the next General Election. A ripple or a tsunami? We shall see.Through these great political earthquakes, these shifting of the national tectonic plates, there is something reassuring about the half-term Recess in the quiet of one’s constituency work. A visit to the brilliantly well run Food Bank in Cricklade and a stimulating policy discussion about poverty- its causes and cures; the planting of a tree in Lea School near Malmesbury in memory of a Kindertransport child who found refuge there; a funeral in Fairford; surgeries in Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett; a meeting in Grittenham to discuss a rash of traveller encampment applications; a political supper club in Sutton Benger; canvassing in Lechlade; dinner in Sherston; even a couple of days gardening with my son down from Scotland for half term; these are the perhaps mundane, but to me hugely important meat and drink of a constituency MP’s life.So I salute Nicola Sturgeon (while disagreeing with her fundamentally on almost everything) - for her diligence, her commitment to public life and her stoicism under fire. But I smugly congratulate myself on being a lot happier, albeit perhaps conventionally less successful, than Nicola or Jacinda, Boris, Liz or Rishi.

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James Gray
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Published Date
February 17, 2023