Nicola Sturgeon: A fitting tribute would be to name the delayed, over-budget Hull 802 at Ferguson Marine shipyard after her – Brian Wilson

What visual image best recalls the age of Nicola Sturgeon? Many will opt for the man in a pink hoodie and blonde wig clambering into a taxi. More charitable spirits may seek to envisage a baby box.

My own clear winner is the picture of her “launching” a ferry with painted-on windows. It created such a telling metaphor – the false front concealing an engine that never connected to the funnel.

It was appropriate that Sturgeon’s last big performance was foreshadowed by a report from Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee which did its best to unravel the ferries scandal – which, let us remember, inflicts damage on fragile Scottish communities every day of every week. The entrails will continue to be studied but, as Sturgeon departs, the report’s wider significance is as an exemplar of how her government operated. Throughout, in search of political advantage, there was contempt for checks and balances which are supposed to stop these things happening.

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Expert advice was brushed aside. Pleas to delay announcing the Ferguson yard as the preferred bidder were dismissed. The specific plea that it should not be turned into a high-profile circus fronted by Sturgeon was ignored because she smelt a political opportunity.

Nicola Sturgeon at a launch ceremony for the MV Glen Sannox in 2017 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Nicola Sturgeon at a launch ceremony for the MV Glen Sannox in 2017 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon at a launch ceremony for the MV Glen Sannox in 2017 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

When appearing before the committee, Sturgeon claimed to have been unaware of the controversy around her making the announcement. As in so much else, truth was not an impediment. Of course, as later confirmed, she had been told and of course she didn’t care.

Now everyone is a loser, except those most responsible. Far from being “saved”, as was possible, the Ferguson yard is again imperilled. The communities at the sharp end of an ailing CalMac fleet are the most obvious victims. The public purse has squandered hundreds of millions that could have been put to useful purposes. And all because…?

Under Salmond and Sturgeon, the Scottish civil service became politicised to a deeply unhealthy degree. Truth is unwelcome where it conflicts with politics so one disaster follows another. It is the antithesis of how the relationship should work and gradually replaces challenge with complicity.

The committee unanimously deplored “delays in securing the attendance of some civil service officials and in receiving evidence from Transport Scotland, with little or no explanation provided. We question the level of respect and regard shown for accountability and parliamentary scrutiny”.

Civil servants take their lead from the top. The report equally criticised ministers, and particularly Keith Brown – now Justice Secretary – for obstructing the committee’s work. The Scottish Parliament’s usefulness to Sturgeon has been as a platform and rubber-stamp. Accountability and scrutiny were never part of the script. Hence bad legislation, divorced from reality.

If the next First Minister is Humza Yousaf, we can be confident all this will continue as before, just more incompetently and ineffectually. With Kate Forbes, there is at least the possibility of a fresh pair of eyes looking at the way the Scottish Government operates and understanding its problems are about a lot more than fiddling with a few policies.

After a period of ritual sycophancy, it will be recognised how little was achieved for Scottish society during Sturgeon’s eight years with enormous resources and extensive powers at her disposal to really make a difference. At least part of the reason is that she was a control freak who schemed to close down points of challenge rather than respect them.

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One consequence of treating MSPs like sheep is that Holyrood is a pale shadow of Westminster in terms of accountability. This week, we heard Tory MPs grilling a former Tory Prime Minister mercilessly in order to establish the truth. They could do so because of an intellectual licence to separate the duties of party loyalist from those of a parliamentarian. That simply does not exist at Holyrood.

Scotland can benefit from seeing the back of Sturgeon but only if her replacement is prepared to dig deep into the realities of what she leaves behind. Meanwhile, if a fitting memorial is required, I can’t help noticing that Hull 802 at Port Glasgow is yet unnamed. All aboard for the “MV Nicola Sturgeon”.



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