Nicola Sturgeon’s descent into comedy is no laughing matter - Brian Monteith

For the past couple of years there has been the occasional outbreak of speculation about what Nicola Sturgeon will do when she finally retires, resigns or is replaced as First Minister of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon is all smiles at the ceremony to mark the official start the sixth session of the Scottish Parliament last October​​​​​
Nicola Sturgeon is all smiles at the ceremony to mark the official start the sixth session of the Scottish Parliament last October​​​​​

It tends to happen when she is on some foreign trip or meeting foreign dignitaries – such as her surfeit of selfies at COP26 in Glasgow last November – causing jokes about her looking for a high-powered UN role. Well it all has to stop. There’s really no need to speculate anymore for it’s now abundantly clear – Nicola Sturgeon wants to be a stand-up comedian.

I am not joking, what other conclusion can one make after our First Minister has decided to tell gags in Holyrood rather than talk sense? Unfortunately, people are not laughing with her but at her. Swapping First Minister for First Comedienne is not an easy transition.

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I write, of course, about Ms Sturgeon’s recent routines on classroom doors and old age pensions, both of which her had opponents cackling like hyenas.

Trying to defend her Government’s funding of alterations to classroom doors as being a decision for councils to take fooled no-one. The point people thought was laughable was she could see nothing wrong the range of alterations including doors having a couple of centimetres lopped-off the bottom (supposedly so air could more freely circulate ) and actually sought to defend it.

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Simple inexpensive alternatives such as having doors temporarily wedged ajar rather than permanently damaging their potential to provide fire safety breaks were soon flying around social media platforms.

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Cartoons, memes, video clips all mocked mercilessly the First Minister’s defence of what had very quickly become “her” idea. In time there’s a real chance “doing a Sturgeon” will come to mean shortening anything by an inch or more.

If just one joiner can be found actually making the door-shortening adjustment in this age of camera-phone whistle-blowers it will soon be beamed to the world for all to laugh more at the First Minister. It has the makings of a great comedy sketch, were it not for the fact our Scottish broadcasters appear to struggle with the concept of political satire that has the First Minister or the SNP as the target.

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That was one playground gag, the next was more political but no less preposterous – the idea, indeed the full-on propagation of a new unicorn on wheels, that following Scotland seceding from the UK those Scots who would have expected to receive the state pension from the UK would still have it paid for by who would remain in the UK.

This truly was comedy of the absurd.

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What SNP leaders are actually suggesting is they will be campaigning for dependence on the UK, rather than independence from it. Would-be comedians like Sturgeon and Blackford expect English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers to fund transfers of their money to a Scottish Treasury.

Why stop at pensions, why should the RAF not protect Scottish airspace and the Royal Navy not patrol Scottish waters free of charge? If you don’t think the concept of another country paying the pensions of another then Just look at it the other way round. If England were to leave the UK would you expect the taxpayers of Scotland to contribute to English pensioners in future?

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Some nationalists are trying to make a case for there being a liability because Scots that have made contributions to National Insurance can expect to receive a state pension and this is transferable wherever they go in the world. Such an approach makes the mistake of treating the state pension like a contributory-based pension where a fund or pot exists that can later be drawn down from. This is not how our state pension works; taxes raised today – including National Insurance – fund pensions today. There is no pot.

The liability the British government has is to pay out to UK citizens – by choosing to no longer be a UK citizen Scots would be choosing for Scotland to pay their pension. I humbly suggest any level of uncertainty around pensions being paid will be enough to make many previously sympathetic to secession have second thoughts. One thing people want certainty about is their money being safe and if an “independent” Scotland would be dependent on the UK – why take that risk?

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When John Swinney’s memo to fellow Cabinet members about the costs of leaving the UK was leaked in 2013 it discussed how Scotland might not be able to afford to pay the state pension at current levels. Swinney, the Finance Secretary at that time, conceded pensions and other welfare payments might have to be cut. He dismissed the memo as a draft – but draft or not the point is it accepted the premise the Scottish Government held the liability for paying the State Pension.

The White Paper “Scotland’s Future” that Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond launched in November 2013 said, “an independent Scotland will take on responsibility for the pensions of staff within the civil service, armed forces and others who work in Scotland’s public service, as well as existing pensioners and deferred members” it then went on, “current pensioners will receive their pensions as now, on time and in full. Accrued rights will be honoured and protected.”

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What has changed since that honest if ambitious acceptance of reality? The old double act broke up. Most people thought Alex was the wise-cracking member of the Salmond and Sturgeon double act, but we were wrong. He was the straight man. Now we’re left with only the joker, but the last laugh will be on the SNP.

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

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