Nicola Sturgeon has spent eight wasted years sowing discord and division – Brian Wilson

It is neatly symbolic that polling on independence is at exactly the same place as when Scotland voted in 2014. Eight wasted years of constitutional bickering; a nation in stagnation on so many fronts.

Nicola Sturgeon became Scotland's longest-serving First Minister this week (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon became Scotland's longest-serving First Minister this week (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/Getty Images)

This has been interpreted as a failure for Nicola Sturgeon in her core aim. I would dissent. Ms Sturgeon’s core aim has all along been the entrenchment of division along constitutional lines and in this she has been eminently successful.

For as long as the great majority of the 45 per cent vote for the party of independence, Ms Sturgeon and her circle are secure. One movement against three parties holds the advantage while that remains the way Scottish politics is defined.

They are no nearer to becoming a majority than in 2014 but to hold devolved power they don’t need to be. Just keep the rhetoric going and every manifestation of failure will be subordinated to the higher cause. Forty per cent will do nicely.

Ms Sturgeon has never wasted time on talk of unifying the nation, a cause to which her mentor Alex Salmond at least paid lip-service. On the contrary, her tongue is devoted to “othering” those who dissent, particularly if they dare to work together.

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Not wanting to break up the state one lives in is not a naturally unifying cause because it is arrived at from many different perspectives. Forming a counter-movement from right to left to mirror the SNP would be an admission of defeat for anything other than short-term necessity.

That does not mean parties should debar themselves from working together where shared objectives exist. Local agreements aimed at having the bins emptied more efficiently or to combat town centre dereliction are not the stuff of ideology, and it is fatuous to pretend otherwise.

There are two obvious reasons why the SNP’s foot-stamping about deals which exclude them in some local authorities, including Edinburgh, is so hypocritical. The most obvious one (and I won’t even bother going back to 1979) is that it was an SNP deal with the Tories that allowed them to take power at Holyrood in the first place.

At that time, I thought it was foolish of the Tories since they were acting on the “enemy of my enemy” principle without recognising longer-term implications. For Mr Salmond and his then deputy, Ms Sturgeon, their naivete was gold-dust and to secure the keys to the kingdom, they were overjoyed to do deals with the Tories.

The second reason for the charge of hypocrisy is that local deals which involve the Tories are accused of being endorsements of “austerity”. However this makes no sense. As far as Scottish local authorities and the services they provide are concerned, the principal source of austerity has been the Scottish Government which has savaged budgets and hoarded powers over the past 15 years.

Indeed, one of the strongest arguments for doing local deals which exclude the SNP is that their councils tend to act as party branch offices, Glasgow being the prime example. Local government should have led resistance to Edinburgh-imposed austerity but too many council leaders have had a political interest in denying that dynamic rather than advancing it.

There should be no centrally directed prohibitions on what can be done locally and that applies to Labour as much as to the SNP or any other party. Personal relationships can be as important as party labels and if there is potential to work across barriers, as the PR voting system is intended to facilitate, then that is a local matter.

Talk to anyone across Scotland with a history in local government and they will tell you the potential to make a difference for their communities is far, far less now than it was in decades past, regardless of who was running the old Scottish Office or the Scottish Executive.

That is a shameful reality on which Ms Sturgeon and her acolytes should face challenge. More widely, what purpose has the focus on constitutional division actually served for Scotland over the past 15 years, other than ensuring a mediocre devolved government remains in power?


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