Nicola Sturgeon 'British'? Don't fall for the SNP's latest ploy in their bid for Scottish independence – John McLellan

Some years ago, there was an attempt to add a “Festival of Politics” to Edinburgh’s August attractions, but for some strange reason earnest discussions about policy development down Holyrood way seemed to prove that “showbiz for ugly people” definitely wasn’t box office.

Despite Alex Salmond’s best efforts in 2017 to put that beyond all reasonable doubt, with an Assembly Rooms run that was such a critical success it was snapped up by Russia Today, how wrong we turned out to be.

Now political heavyweights past and present are queueing up for a gentle quizzing in the convivial atmosphere of the Fringe or Book Festival, attracted by the promise of an easy conversation free of constant aggressive interruptions by their host.

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And no-one has taken to it quite like Nicola Sturgeon. After conversations with Iain Dale, Matt Forde, Graham Spiers and that quintessentially English inquisitor Basil Brush, she has managed to eclipse even Jerry Sadowitz as this year’s most publicised performer.

Nicola Sturgeon attends the 'Aftersun' opening gala at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this month (Picture: Euan Cherry/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon attends the 'Aftersun' opening gala at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this month (Picture: Euan Cherry/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon attends the 'Aftersun' opening gala at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this month (Picture: Euan Cherry/Getty Images)

And there’s another one on Monday, a nationalist love-in at the Book Festival with actor Brian Cox. Never mind Liz Truss asking how she managed to get into Vogue, Nicola Benedetti, Sir Simon Rattle, and Alan Cumming must all marvel at a talent for promotion which would leave the Duchess of Sussex scratching her head.

Hardly a day has gone by without a new story or a follow-up stemming from something she’s said on the Fringe.

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Although the first interview, with LBC radio presenter Dale, generated enough headlines to satisfy the most media-savvy politician that they had taken hold of the domestic agenda in the quiet political weeks of the August recess, back she came for more.

Labour’s Anas Sarwar’s “piss off” comment about Boris Johnson was the closest any opposition leader got. As for her Green government partners Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie, with the Scottish Government’s energy policies unravelling as the SNP rediscovers the “it’s oor oil” arguments thanks to this week’s new expenditure and revenue figures, the lower their profile the better.

The less confrontational style of these interviews continues to enlighten, but with every performance the less inadvertent the First Minister’s revelations seem.

Perhaps the key was her answer to comedian Matt Forde’s question about how she approaches television debates, and if her aim was just to avoid mistakes. Not so, she replied, worrying about avoiding mistakes would only make them more likely, and TV set-pieces were an opportunity to get a point across.

Political operators will agree, and someone so experienced ─ no other political leader has done more leader debates than I have, she boasted ─ will take the same approach to these Fringe talks.

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Like all good performers, the trick is to make something appear relaxed and natural when it is a well-rehearsed act, and as she has staked her political reputation on a separatist majority at the next general election, the question is how her appearances fit with the programme?

If the strategy is to demand independence on the back of an election result in no more than two years’ time, then spending so much time on seemingly frivolous easy-chair chats must be part of a tactic, especially when the crippling of Scottish public services by strike action should be a higher priority.

The opportunities seem two-fold; the first, and most commented upon, is the regularity with which she willingly responds to questions about her political future, allowing speculation to mount about paving the way for her exit after she falls short when Britain next goes to the polls.

But trying to show there is a gentler, more diplomatic, and thoughtful person beyond weekly confrontation and abrasive dismissal of opponents at Holyrood and tetchy Bute House press briefings is as much for domestic consumption as the lucrative world of international quangos.

Opening an “embassy” in Copenhagen on the day the devastating £3,549 energy price cap was confirmed when there is, according to her, “no bottomless pit of money”, smacks of international image-making on the public purse.

With the Conservative leadership candidates doing their best to give every impression of a government tearing itself apart without a pragmatic plan for tackling the energy crisis, independence supporters might think the goal is in sight, but Ms Sturgeon will understand better than most that the more likely a Labour victory appears, the greater the chances of soft SNP voters switching to Labour and the “de facto” referendum instead becoming the “de facto” end of her political career, so she needs to pull out all the stops.

Into that category falls her claim to consider herself British as well as Scottish. Admitting to sportswriter Graham Spiers it “might surprise people” redefined understatement and if she has said anything similar before in a political lifetime arguing for the break-up of Britain, it’s long forgotten.

If British “is an identity that comes from being part of the British Isles”, that will be news to five million Irish republic citizens; not for nothing is the old “British Isles” rugby side now officially known as the British and Irish Lions.

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“If a life-long independence supporter like me feels British, so too can you” was the not-so subliminal message to waverers.

I don’t believe a word of it. No-one who feels British argues they would no longer do so after independence but being part of Britain is vital to that identity. Separation takes that away, something she clearly neither feels nor understands.

Ms Sturgeon, however, wants us to believe that Britishness would survive the end of Great Britain as we know it, when the words would never pass her lips again if independence was ever achieved.

Even more incredible was her claim that the rabble outside the Perth hustings would have abused her as much as Conservative members. Ms Sturgeon is a class act, but how to pull off such a blatant attempt to persuade unionists and Conservatives to suspend their disbelief should be something for her chat with Brian Cox.



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