Nicola Sturgeon's a good tactician but lacks the strategy to deliver Scottish independence – Kenny MacAskill MP

I’ve an old friend who spent many years in international affairs at the highest levels, often trying to broker settlements on very testing issues and mingling with all sorts of leaders.

Nicola Sturgeon has been remarkably successful but has not done enough to further the cause of independence, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Neil Hanna/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon has been remarkably successful but has not done enough to further the cause of independence, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Neil Hanna/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

So, when he spoke I listened, and I recall him describing Nicola Sturgeon as a tactician, not a strategist.

By that he meant that she’s very able in setting a short-term agenda and reacting to immediate events. But longer term, there was neither vision nor planning. There’s no doubting her political acumen in courting popularity and reacting to issues as they arise, but her ability to formulate a longer-term position is lacking. Coronavirus in some ways appears to be confirming that as her much-lauded articulacy in explaining events is supplanted by questions about just what has been or is being done.

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But it was especially brought to mind by Denis Canavan’s recent comments on indy campaigning and planning. Or rather the almost complete lack of it, which caused the old stalwart and former chair of the Yes campaign to speak out. His comments were measured but resonated amongst many frustrated at the soundbite-but-no-substance position taken by the SNP.

What motivated Denis was the support for Yes slipping in the polls. No surprise, some might say, given that, other than rhetoric, the Scottish Government has done nothing to promote it, and even the talk been muted.

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But frustration’s growing and, as the end of lockdown nears, it’s becoming clear that leadership of the independence cause will have to come through extra-parliamentary action and be led by other organisations. Standing outside Holyrood last week, I confessed to another old stalwart that I never imagined, when I campaigned for its establishment and even sat in it, that I’d be saying that. But that’s where short-term tactics and zero strategy gets you.

In 2017, Nicola Sturgeon marched the Yes movement up the hill, only to march them all the way down again. Since then it has never been mobilised at all, they’ve simply been expected to vote SNP and believe that action would follow. But it hasn’t and it won’t for there’s no strategy, just short-term positioning for elections.

In that Nicola Sturgeon has for certain been remarkably successful, though she’s benefited from an appalling opposition in Scotland and governments in Westminster that Scots loathe. As Labour did for years, she’s swept up the vote as folk sought protection from and the need to register opposition to whoever, from Heath through Thatcher to now Johnson.

But as Denis Canavan said on planning and preparation for indy, there’s been nothing. In parliament, London or Edinburgh, they’ve huffed and puffed but delivered zilch. The opportunity to extract concessions in Westminster when votes were tight was wasted and in Holyrood there’s been little done other than basic administration. There’s been little action and certainly no vision.

The cause though continues and maybe what’s needed is for Denis to pull together the organisations, as it’s them that are going to have to drive the cause forward.

Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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