NICOLA Sturgeon’s public comments since 18 September have fallen into two distinct and – at first glance – seemingly contradictory categories.
One minute she is talking about putting the disappointments of the independence referendum behind her, respecting the will of the Scottish people as expressed through the clear result and enthusiastically embracing the Smith Commission process to achieve a much more powerful Holyrood parliament within the UK. Then the next minute she is talking as if the referendum is still in full flow, cheerleading for the independence cause, insisting a free Scotland is still her avowed aim, refusing to rule out another referendum in a few years’ time and scorning the UK parties’ efforts at tinkering with devolution.
It would be all too easy to jump to the conclusion that this politician was at best confused, or at worst Janus-faced, telling different people what they wanted to hear. But that conclusion would be a mistake. What is becoming all too clear, and is crystallised in an article by Sturgeon in this newspaper today, is that this seemingly contradictory approach is in fact the only strategy Sturgeon can adopt as she faces a far trickier post-referendum landscape than she might have anticipated.
Sturgeon’s biggest problem is, ironically, a consequence of the SNP’s extraordinary success in trebling the party’s membership since 18 September. On learning about this surge, the questions every existing SNP member wanted to ask were simple: ‘Who are these people? How do they think? And how will they change the character and outlook of my party?’
The answers soon became apparent. These are mostly people whose primary – and in many cases sole – political motivation is a free Scotland. That is the way they see politics, and that is how they see the SNP. As for changing the character and outlook of the party? Well, the legacy SNP membership had been expected to respond to a No vote by licking their wounds for a while and then embracing devolutionary politics in Scotland with as much grace and dignity as they could muster, accepting that their party’s primary role, in the short and medium term, was now to fight for the Scottish national interest within the United Kingdom. Independence would have to wait. Meanwhile, Sturgeon, aged just 44, would dominate Scottish politics for a generation. With the independence question safely settled, her party riding high and the main opposition party in disarray, she would rule Scotland for a decade or two. She would be Scotland’s answer to Jordi Pujol, the moderate Catalan nationalist who ruled over Catalonia from 1980 to 2003. That was the plan.
That plan now needs to be carefully tweaked. The new arrivals in the party, having been marched right up to the top of the hill of independence, are in no mood to be marched right down again to devolution. But Sturgeon has absolutely no intention of risking all in another referendum any time soon. March them down that hill she must. That is why, in today’s article, she presents stronger devolution as the means by which the SNP can turn the 45 per cent backing for independence into 50 per cent plus one, eventually. To get independence, the SNP first needs better devolution.
It is deft politics. Whether or not it is convincing to the people who take pride in calling themselves “The 45” remains to be seen. But it is the only realistic strategy open to a leader who in a few weeks’ time will be leading an entirely different party to the one Alex Salmond was in charge of. Sturgeon and this SNP are, in many ways, strangers to each other. She is a gradualist leading a party of fundamentalists. For most political leaders, the biggest challenge of their careers comes a few years into their tenure. Nicola Sturgeon’s biggest challenge starts now.
Police must seek out cases of child sex abuse
Lessons learned from Rotherham show a proactive approach is needed in Scotland
POLICE Scotland’s decision to set up an investigation unit to look into sexual grooming and child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a most welcome development. Back in August this newspaper revealed that there were dozens of CSE cases going through the Scottish criminal justice system. It was an eye-opener for many Scots. The degradation suffered by 1,400 teenagers in the Rotherham CSE saga had been greeted with shock around Britain. But the prevalence of such systematic abuse in other parts of the country, including here in Scotland, had not been fully acknowledged. The establishment of this unit is a heartening sign that lessons learned in Rotherham – and closer to home in Operation Dash, centred on Glasgow – will be applied across the country.
Heartening too, to hear Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, the senior Police Scotland officer who spoke exclusively to our reporter Dani Garavelli this weekend, draw a parallel with the force’s attitude to rape. Some aspects of the move to a single national police force for Scotland have been controversial – issues of accountability still need work, as the recent furore over armed officers clearly indicates – but one of the undoubted success stories has been the national run-out of best practice in the handling of rape, which is now regarded as a crime that demands as much care and attention as a homicide. This has necessitated a change in mindset and a centrally enforced rigour in the approach to this crime.
Now the same care and thoroughness is to be applied to CSE, which is emerging as one of the most complex challenges to face contemporary policing. Tackling it requires close co-operation with health, education and social service workers. It demands a proactive form of policing that does not wait for complaints but goes out looking for this crime taking place. It requires a subtlety of approach to the children involved, many of whom do not identify as victims. It needs close consultation with prosecuting authorities. And it requires racial awareness, given that may of the perpetrators seem to come from certain ethnic community backgrounds.
No-one is clear just how prevalent child sexual exploitation is across Scotland. This new initiative will make it the police’s duty to find out.