Brian Monteith: The Holyrood election is open again and even Sturgeon could lose her seat

Politically speaking, a great deal of water has passed under the Forth Bridge in the last week and the result is the Holyrood elections might actually deliver change.

Nicola Sturgeon's seat may be under threat, writes Brian Monteith. (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire)

The outcome could even go as far as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon losing her seat.

After the assured performance of Alex Salmond in front of the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s disastrous changes to sexual harassment policy it was time for the Lord Advocate to make a reappearance and then for the First Minister to have her say.

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I cannot tell what people in legal circles thought of the Lord Advocate’s performance but in political terms it was seriously misjudged. His aggressive tone and threatening demeanour brought no credit to him or the Crown Office. In suggesting the committee should be careful not to impugn the reputation of the institution he oversees he made two obvious errors. Firstly he failed to recognise the Crown Office serves the people of Scotland and must be accountable to parliament – not the other way round.

Secondly he rather forgot it was only a few weeks ago when he was required to apologise to the full Parliament for a malicious prosecution by the Crown Office of two innocent citizens in charge of Rangers FC when in administration. With a compensation settlement already at £20 million and likely to rise as much as five times that number the committee would be hard pressed to malign the Crown Office’s reputation any more than it has achieved on its own.

The Lord Advocate’s appearance was, however, a mere amuse bouche for what was to come the next day.

In comparison to Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon delivered a performance that reminded me of the saying, “never mind the quality, feel the width”. Yes, the First Minister showed stamina but it was to say the least verbose and, in peppering her answers with some fifty variations of “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” she came over as unconvincing and less than sincere.

The body language was revealing, often crossing her arms and looking stern as soon as Murdo Fraser or Jackie Baillie were allotted time for questions. Her usual defensive tactics of deflection and whataboutery were on full view, with the addition of non-denial denials thrown in for good measure when asked if she was accusing witnesses of lying who had corroborated Salmond’s testimony. As for corroborating witnesses of her own version of events, she offered none.

The reek of possible cover-up and corruption emanating from the upper echelons of the Scottish Government has been growing for the last month. Now it’s so intense even triple-masking cannot disguise it. No surprise then that over the weekend two new opinion polls appeared showing a continuing fall in support for both independence and the SNP. That makes three damaging polls in the last ten days – before the reaction to the Government’s evasiveness has had time to sink into the public’s consciousness.

A single poll tells us little but three suggests the public mood is turning, or that some of those who had no opinion are now doubting the value of trusting the SNP.

The opposition parties have further cause to smile for the advantage lies with them.

Firstly, the SNP is experiencing a festering civil war with the demarcation being far deeper than just Salmond versus Sturgeon, but also including Sturgeon’s abject failure to offer a deliverable route to deliver an independence referendum. Saying repeatedly it will happen does not amount to a strategy. In addition there is the transgender divide that is also linked to the bringing forward of Humza Yousaf’s egregious Hate Crime Bill, both enough to make the milk curdle in the First Minister’s fridge.

Then there has been the election of Anas Sarwar to lead the Scottish Labour Party, a wise choice that puts real pressure on Sturgeon in Glasgow and amongst minority groups the SNP once thought reliable but must now be considered in play.

The Conservatives have also started to take more robust positions as the leading opposition party and are seeing their vote share climb as a result. The placing of a no-confidence motion in the First Minister probably had more to do with ensuring they were not beaten to it by Sarwar’s Labour (so he might show intent) – but the real deal is their motion of no-confidence on John Swinney. Swinney is deserving of this for not publishing the OECD report into Scotland’s educational failures, but the manner in which the legal advice has been dragged out of his desk in piecemeal fashion – after two majority votes of the Scottish Parliament demanding full disclosure – is beyond contempt.

All of that offers hope for the opposition that the tide is turning, but here’s the kicker, Sarwar could well stand in the same constituency that Sturgeon currently holds with a handsome majority – and with the possibility of tactical voting becoming half of Scotland’s new favourite pastime and SNP support falling she might then lose.

Even were the First Minister to hang on a fall in her support would be a serious embarrassment and Sarwar’s challenge a rallying cry to encourage tactical voting elsewhere.

I am not making this possibility up, it is already being written about in the blog of independence supporter Stuart Campbell, who points out that as Sturgeon is ranked second on the SNP’s Glasgow regional list she could be out of politics altogether if she does not win Glasgow Southside.

If Sturgeon resists resignation for obvious breaches of the Ministerial Code such an outcome could be public justice the Crown Office should learn from .

Brian Monteith is editor of and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.

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