Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are dishonest populists and it's time for both their clown shows to end – Susan Dalgety

Former Prime Minister Theresa May is having the time of her life. On Tuesday night, as Boris Johnson tried desperately to save his job after his Chancellor and Health Secretary resigned, May was enjoying a night at the opera.

She watched a performance of Pagliacci (Clowns), which finishes with the line: La commedia e finite! – the comedy is finished. Thirty-six hours later, the premiership of her nemesis, and the clown who has been masquerading as Prime Minister these past three years, was indeed finished.

May was then spotted on Thursday night by former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, enthusiastically dancing to Craig David at the Glastonbury for really posh folk, the Henley Festival.

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Murphy later deleted his tweets of May enjoying herself, but not before 500,000 people had liked the clips. “The responses were overwhelmingly kind to her,” he said. “But four people made comments about right to privacy. As a former politician I accept that…”

But life is not just an endless round of social engagements for May. On Thursday morning, as Johnson cowered in his Number 10 bunker, finalising his petulant resignation speech, she was giving a lecture at the respected think tank, the Institute for Government.

The title of her talk, the inaugural James Brokenshire Memorial Lecture in memory of the Tory minister who died last year, was “Restoring Faith in Politics”. It received little coverage but as we contemplate the tragedy that is British politics, it is worth reading.

Her speech explores themes such as “playing by the rules”, “strengthening our democratic process” and “seeking consensus over division”, all predictable stuff. But at the heart of all is “trust”, she said, adding, “…it largely comes down to how we treat one another… Prioritising decency, honesty and integrity. We can all do more to live up to those values.”

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Nicola Sturgeon's independence rhetoric echoes Boris Johnson's lies about Brexit, says Susan Dalgety (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon's independence rhetoric echoes Boris Johnson's lies about Brexit, says Susan Dalgety (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon's independence rhetoric echoes Boris Johnson's lies about Brexit, says Susan Dalgety (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Are you listening Boris Johnson, and the wildly ambitious herd of mediocre politicians who want to succeed you as Prime Minister? And yes you, Nicola Sturgeon. Decency, honesty and integrity. Values we expect from a first-year apprentice electrician, but ones that our current crop of political leaders have ditched in favour of division, incivility and lies.

Pitching people against each other has become the governing principle at Westminster and Holyrood. Populist nationalism is the new creed by which all policies are measured.

Brexit will lead to greater prosperity, promised Johnson, Farage, et al. Six years later and Britain has the highest inflation of the G7 countries and small businesses – the backbone of our economy – are struggling to cope with the red tape generated by being outside the single market. But never mind, cry the Brexiteers, your passport (if it ever arrives) is British.

Leave the UK and our public services, our welfare system and our economy will flourish, promises Sturgeon in a script eerily reminiscent of that used by Johnson during the Brexit campaign. What she does not mention is that the London School of Economics calculate that the cost to Scotland of leaving the UK will be two or three times that of Brexit. But never mind, cry the nationalists, your passport with have a Saltire on the cover.

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Decency has more or less disappeared from our political lexicon. Johnson is a serial adulterer, and rumours persist about the number of his children he has fathered, but for an electorate addicted to reality television, his chaotic private life seemed to enhance his reputation, not damage it.

As for the SNP government, they have given up all pretence of decency. Sturgeon may lead a blameless life, but she presides over a tawdry cabal of sexual abusers. As we watched Johnson’s downfall unfold, the young victim of sexual harassment by the SNP’s former chief whip at Westminster was threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out. Let me repeat. The victim of sexual harassment was threatened with disciplinary action.

And then there are the lies, damn lies and even more lies. Johnson lied so much that dishonesty became part of his personal brand, along with his ridiculous haircut. Sturgeon, on the other hand, has a much more sophisticated approach to the truth.

Only last year she told a Holyrood inquiry, under oath, that she had not been aware of any allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by her close friend and mentor, Alex Salmond, until 2017. As I wrote at the time, I heard of specific incidents in 2009, as did many others. I am telling the truth.

And her entire political enterprise is based on one big lie of omission. She promises that Scotland outside the UK will be wealthier, healthier and happier than it is now. Yet she knows that, for at least the first few decades after independence, Scotland’s economy will struggle to meet a government’s most basic obligations, such as the state pension.

Her government’s proposition, that leaving the UK will not come at significant cost to the Scottish people, is as dishonest as Johnson’s promise that Brexit would release £350 million a week for the NHS; Sturgeon is just much more sophisticated in her sleight of hand.

Earlier this week, the First Minister argued that the Westminster system is broken. “We need an alternative,” she insisted.

I would suggest that neither Westminster nor Holyrood are broken beyond repair. Instead our political system has been hijacked by a generation of populist politicians who view integrity as negotiable and enthusiastically bend the truth to suit their personal and political agenda.

Surely it’s time to bring down the curtain on the entire clown show.



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