Brian Monteith: Is Nicola Sturgeon Scotland’s Margaret Thatcher?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: SWNS
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: SWNS
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First Minister means business but she is exceeding her remit to the detriment of other duties, writes Brian Monteith

Is Nicola Sturgeon the new Margaret Thatcher? I do hope the First Minister is not about to read my column in today’s The Scotsman as she enjoys her kippers or muesli or whatever passes for breakfast in Bute House. Nor do I want it scanned and included in the media summary for her early-morning briefing by some press assistant who thinks she should read everything that mentions her, in case she is questioned about it.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher greets the crowds in Downing Street, London in 1987. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher greets the crowds in Downing Street, London in 1987. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I don’t want to contribute to the First Minister experiencing any hypertension, dizzy spells or even panic attacks; but I do have to be honest about how she is behaving. She is becoming the New Model Margaret Thatcher.

Before I go on I must stress to readers that I do not write the following copy in a gratuitous manner to play the (wo)man rather than the ball. I simply want to draw attention to a number of similarities and raise the question in an innocent and objective fashion. In street parlance this is normally referred to as “just askin”.

It may seem trite but the First Minister’s mode of dress is undoubtedly derivative of latter-day Thatcher. I don’t mean the Margaret Thatcher that wore a red chiffon dress in 1976 as a joke to poke fun at the Kremlin just after it had dubbed her the Iron lady (in case you do not know, it was the Soviets that came up with the term as a form of abuse). No, I mean the occasional power shoulders, the two piece outfits of bright colours, the highlighting trims.

Some would say that it is a sexist statement to consider what the First Minister wears but I dismiss this completely. If political commentators only considered female fashion it would be a fair accusation but since British male politicians started foregoing their neck ties to try and be more in touch with the relaxed European style of dress, not to say appear younger and more informal, the application of fashion to try and seduce the voter has been open to fair comment, irrespective of gender.

There is something else about Nicola Sturgeon that is very Thatcheresque, it is her propensity to become absorbed by her own fame, her own publicity and to take to the stage beyond her responsibility.

Let me say I am a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher, but I do not believe for a minute that she was infallible – and neither did she. One of her mistakes in her third and final period of government was how she spent too much time on the international stage when there were still great issues that required her attention at home. In part this was because she appointed such poor and disloyal Foreign Secretaries that she felt she had to constantly intervene in foreign relations.

Sturgeon is already showing the same tendency to deceive herself and be distracted to affairs beyond her domain.

The National Health Service in Scotland is on the cusp of meltdown. Hospital wards in SNP constituencies are on the verge of closure, none of which will surface until after the May elections, but these realities are known within the health boards.

The Scottish education system is in an even worse state and is widely recognised as having regressed under the SNP. Sadly, indeed shamefully, the extent of the problem makes it impossible to believe Scottish education was once considered a world class model open to ordinary children irrespective of their background – and certainly better than what was available in England. Not any more.

Public education in Scotland has always been the remit of the Scottish Office and then the Scottish Parliament. All priorities and all decisions are, and have been for the last nine years, the responsibility of the SNP. There is no hiding place for Sturgeon over education – and yet she spends a great deal of time making speeches in England.

Indeed the First Minister has offered to campaign in England on the issue of the European Union, as well as make speeches at every opportunity across the continent and beyond. Of course, a case can always be made that it is somehow helping Scottish trade or cultural links, but that’s exactly how Thatcher behaved, spending too much time outside her own country when there were serious issues that required attention. This hubris contributed to her downfall – and it will be no different for Sturgeon.

All of this is not to say that Sturgeon and Thatcher are not different in many respects; the former is committed to human rights but is delivering a parental guardian scheme that is the antithesis of personal freedoms – while the latter believed in individual freedom and delivered it to millions in Eastern Europe by standing up to the Soviet menace.

This week Sturgeon will step on to the public stage and, like an episode of Stars in Their Eyes, become Thatcher once again. She will announce how her independence referendum policy will mean no independence referendum.

Confused? Back in the late seventies Thatcher knew that any incomes policy only led to greater industrial conflict and the suppression of wage differentials that rewarded hard work and aspiration. She resolved to do away with such delusional economic planning. Her incomes policy was to have no incomes policy.

By comparison our First Minister will confirm that her independence referendum policy is to have no independence referendum, because by requiring the support of the Scottish people for it to proceed she is ensuring it will never happen.

Why the caveat even if she is re-elected? She does not expect to have the Scottish public behind her on independence – even if the UK leaves the European Union – and will therefore not risk having a referendum she would lose.

Her referendum policy is to have no prospect of a referendum, just as Thatcher’s incomes policy was to have no prospect of an incomes policy.

The First Minister is Scotland’s new Margaret Thatcher. It remains to be seen if she will have the same effect – of being appealing to her party but toxic to the rest of Scottish society.

• Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain