As Nicola Sturgeon's spell is broken, it's clear the SNP is past its sell-by date – Brian Wilson

Former SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil says ‘the deference you were expected to show Nicola whenever she spoke was a big part of the problem’

It was slightly alarming to find myself nodding in agreement with much that my Member of Parliament had to say this week, given that he is Angus Brendan MacNeil, who is not normally given to great profundities. In his demob happiness, Mr MacNeil has taken to delivering home truths as perceived from a Barra croft. The fact they coincide with much this column has been pointing out for the past decade should not blind the faithful to their veracity.

While Mr MacNeil’s primary audience is among those who share his preoccupation with Scottish independence, the rest of us cannot fail to notice that most of his critique applies to Scotland as a whole. His basic charge is that under Nicola Sturgeon the SNP became “a brand name” without substance. Being “utterly clueless” about how to deliver independence, it instead pursued diversionary conflicts while “the deference you were expected to show Nicola whenever she spoke was a big part of the problem”.

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He goes on to espouse his own cornpoke theories about how independence should be achieved. However, the significance of Mr MacNeil’s commentary lies in what he tells us about the past, rather than his less lucid ideas for the future. Under Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s devolved government was reduced to one long stunt. The six-year journey to the Supreme Court to determine whether Holyrood could ordain an independence referendum produced the result everyone expected – a protracted, expensive stunt, contemptuous of public money and demeaning of legal process.

Nicola Sturgeon's time as First Minister was one of many missed opportunities (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon's time as First Minister was one of many missed opportunities (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon's time as First Minister was one of many missed opportunities (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As an aside on radio, Mr MacNeil suggested the Scottish Government should now abandon its Supreme Court challenge over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which will end in exactly the same way. That seems a good idea to save a few hundred thousand. Mr MacNeil bemoaned “eight years of missed opportunities”. While his own disappointment stems from how Ms Sturgeon failed to advance the cause of independence, the same description translates to her divisive legacy for Scotland as a whole when so much could have changed for the better.

It was not necessary to be a fan of Alex Salmond or share his politics to recognise there was some substance to them. He had ideas other than independence even if delivery fell short. Fancying himself as a deal-maker, he was capable of reaching out beyond his own tribe. And, of course, he succeeded in advancing his cause. None of that applied to Ms Sturgeon.

Many in Scottish civic society, including the civil service and media, should examine their consciences about the absence of challenge as the intellectually vacuous, deeply manipulative nature of her time in office became apparent. It may have been a private matter for the SNP that its elected representatives were cowed into “deference whenever she spoke”. Many outside that circle had a duty to know better but went along with the tame reluctance to call out the empress’s clothes.

With the best will in the world, I am unclear about Mr MacNeil’s alternative strategy. The problem it appears to overlook is that the majority within Scotland don’t want a separate state and nothing that has happened since 2014 – including Brexit – has moved the dial by one degree.

Neither is there any pressing mood for a referendum to test the question, in the vague hope it might produce a different result. So why would any government offer one? Whereas Salmond built such a mood, Sturgeon – in more favourable post-Brexit circumstances – conspicuously failed to do so. For the time being at least, it is a dead duck and Humza Yousaf is not going to breathe life into it.

There was a rare moment of enlightenment early in the Sturgeon reign when she said a sustained period showing 60 per cent support for independence would be the cue for another referendum. She then settled instead for a career of spin, self-promotion and grievances while evidence of good government, which just might have persuaded doubters, fell by the wayside.

I wholeheartedly endorse Mr MacNeil’s suggestion that the SNP-Green coalition should graciously step aside and summon an early Holyrood election, which it is entirely within its powers to do. My MP thinks this would be a noble route to forcing a de facto referendum as early as this year. Unsurprisingly, SNP MSPs – half of them unemployable outside Holyrood – are reluctant to facilitate the early arrival of their P45s. So that isn’t going to happen.

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Meanwhile, Mr MacNeil wants Humza Yousaf to “de-couple” himself from Ms Sturgeon, but it is too late. On an accelerated journey to Bute House, Nicola was the horse pulling the First Minister’s coach into Charlotte Square before the road was blocked off by Police Scotland. As for the road to independence, Humza’s confusion seems like only a slight variant of Angus Brendan’s own.

Once scales start to lift from eyes, a lot of manoeuvres become more transparent. Amidst all the useful policies that could be implemented to tackle Scotland’s terrible record on drug deaths and misery, the one our SNP-Green leaders want to headline is also the one they know Westminster would block if it ever got that far, which it probably won’t.

Is it because possession is not formally decriminalised that Scotland has 3.5 times more drug deaths than the north-east of England? I doubt it. What most folk now recognise, in a way they might not have even a few months ago, is another pursuit of confrontation when common sense calls out for the effective use of devolved powers and constructive engagement with the rest of the UK.

Does even such a matter of life, death and human misery have to be reduced to a constitutional dispute in pursuit of an aim that is off the agenda? Scotland has surely had enough of a tarnished political brand that is past its sell-by date.



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