Liz Truss is already proving to be a better politician than Nicola Sturgeon - Brian Monteith

We are well past peak Sturgeon, but we are still to see peak Truss, and yet for all that we can see in the temperament of Truss she is already proving to be a better politician. Let me explain why.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

It might be comparing Lemons with Pears, but it is clear to me – and becoming clearer to many disposed to her – that Nicola Sturgeon has been a highly divisive if not acerbic First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party.

At no time can I remember Scotland being so bitterly divided and for so long a period – with families and friends continuing to be pitted against each other by Sturgeon’s continued stoking of the constitutional question when there are many other priorities that the majority of us (including those in her own party) want to see addressed.

The division extends to the splintering of her party through the formation of Alba and the continued internal war on defending the definition of women and existence of women’s rights.

She has lost the majority that she once had in the Scottish Parliament and has since sought refuge in a formal alliance with the Scottish Green Party. Even so she cannot evade the repeated catastrophes that follow her and her administration; not just the much-ridiculed ferry-building contract and deteriorating ferry services, the smelter deal going into meltdown, the drug-related deaths that remain grossly obscenely in comparison to the rest of Europe – and now a pushbike purchase scheme that had two flat tyres from the start. Everything the Sturgeon’s SNP touches turns to hubris.

The latest pile-up in slow motion is Sturgeon’s attempt to deliver a legal referendum in 2023 likely to end up with her facing embarrassment and ridicule. Her only hope of salvation is blaming the Supreme Court as an example of British institutional failure.

Having once claimed she would establish a nationalised energy company to save Scottish people money – only for it to never supply a single therm of gas or kilowatt of electricity – Sturgeon now claims Westminster prevents her from tackling the cost-of-living-crisis as if her energy promises had never been made.

For all the belligerence and aggression towards opponents her policy outcomes have more in common with the Keystone Cops than The Sweeney. Distilled down, her politics is no more than headline grabbing and name calling.

By comparison, the political journey of Liz Truss is still in the ascendency. After a nervous start to the Conservative leadership she is showing signs of a commanding self-confidence in her debating performances and thus far looks imperious compared to Rishi Sunak’s desperate policy U-turns. Sunak’s decision to concede cutting VAT on energy could make political and economic sense only served to show when confronted he will instead wilt like lettuce at the slightest sunbeam. We need a leader that, when challenged by a storm emanating from Brussels commissioners or union barons, will hold firm, not ask how high to jump.

Take the criticism of Truss for her previous campaigning in favour of “Remain” during the EU referendum, as if to suggest she cannot be trusted because she’s now seeking to make Brexit work. This behaviour is actually a strength to be extolled and complemented, not berated.

Her work as a Trade Secretary in managing to refresh or improve the existing trade deals for the UK, previously been established by the EU – and then going on to set up new deals with Australia and New Zealand and lay the foundations for others – showed not just losers’ consent but a public spirited example of accepting democracy in practice.

Imagine how much better Scotland would be now if Nicola Sturgeon had decided to attend the service of conciliation at St Giles Cathedral after her failed referendum campaign – and joined others of goodwill and public harmony in attempting to bring the Scottish people together. Imagine she had kept her signed word and respected the outcome of the vote and worked to make devolution a success rather than continue to plot and campaign to tear it up.

Imagine if she had given up on all the petty divisiveness and shallow signalling to her supporters – such as not allowing a Union Flag at the official photograph of herself and Prime Minister Theresa May in Bute House.

I do have reservations about Liz Truss; I fear she can appear too eager to please, needs to show she recognises the threats to democratic accountability from our self-serving technocrat elites at home and abroad, and has a firmer grip of detail on the issues that hurt ordinary people. Most of all she has to show she has the temperament for the job of Prime Minister – an ability to lead and be firm in doing so, but taking people with her by use of convincing argument and establishing a moral case for her actions.

It is something we probably cannot know until she is tested in the role. I am, however, warming to her performances thus far.

If Truss enters Downing Street she has adequate time to correct the worst of Boris Johnson (and Rishi Sunak’s) economic mistakes, establish trust in her administration and set a new tone that can win the electorate round. She can – as a former Remainer – bring the British people together in a manner Sturgeon has never shown an interest in achieving between the divided people of Scotland. That’s why Truss is already a better politician than Sturgeon. It truly is a question of pears and lemons.

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and is editor of ThinkScotland.org

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