Nicola Sturgeon's disdain for Holyrood could result in First Minister becoming like Tony Blair, held in contempt by a once-adoring public – Murdo Fraser MSP

While Covid has proved that you can do a day’s work without ever going into the office, Nicola Sturgeon has proved something that sounds like the converse. You can be in office without doing a day’s work.

Tony Blair and Nicola Sturgeon shake hands at the dedication service of the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial at Horse Guards Parade in London in 2017 (Picture: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images)
Tony Blair and Nicola Sturgeon shake hands at the dedication service of the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial at Horse Guards Parade in London in 2017 (Picture: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images)

In fact, these days she doesn’t even bother turning up to her desk to do nothing.

The leader who felt the need to address a TV audience every lunchtime during the first Covid lockdown doesn’t even come to the Scottish Parliament any more to answer questions on the growing crisis in our NHS and explain why patients are literally dying while they wait hours for an ambulance to come to their aid.

Before devolution, it was argued that Scotland‘s needs were neglected by politicians who spent most of their week in London. Well, now we have a Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s needs are being actively neglected by a First Minister who doesn’t go there and she doesn’t even have the excuse of having to travel over the Border.

While at one end of the M8, Scotland’s elected representatives gathered to question those who govern us, the First Minister was at the other end of that road last week lecturing any passing camera on how genuine world leaders should be conducting themselves.

If Scotland was running smoothly you might find it possible to forgive this deluded vanity. But it is not. The First Minister turned up at COP26 to trumpet her environmental achievements, only for them to be shot down by Greenpeace. But it was not carbon dioxide she wanted to eradicate, it was Boris Johnson.

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What Scotland does truly lead the world in is tragedy. We have the greatest number of drugs deaths in Europe. Deaths from alcohol abuse have risen to record levels. Another wave of Covid may be coming to engulf a health service already teetering on the edge. But our First Minister has nothing to say about any of that.

No update on the energy company she said she was setting up four years ago. Nothing to improve standards in our failing schools whose record she now hides from international comparison. No words of comfort, let alone deeds of purpose, to give our elderly the serenity they deserve.

Last week at Holyrood her deputy, John Swinney, struggled to answer any of the questions on the issues that are challenging this SNP administration beyond its limits. One man preparing for retirement filling in for a boss looking for her next job.

What this is doing to Scottish politics – to the Scottish public square – is beyond party interests and even the constitutional question. Government is not even being attempted by the group of people empowered to call themselves the Scottish government. Now debate is not even attended by the First Minister, let alone engaged in.

When the Scottish Parliament building was being designed, the then Presiding Officer, David Steel, argued hard for a semi-circular debating chamber. He did not want the adversarial style of argument encouraged by the House of Commons rectangular arrangement and instead wanted consensual exchange of competing ideas. He got his wish only in the sense of where the furniture was placed.

For the Scottish government, Holyrood is not a place where ideas are encouraged. Questions are not answered, but instead the questioner’s right to ask it is questioned. When she does attend, one of the First Minister’s favourite rejoinders is to start an ‘answer’ by saying that she’ll “take no lessons” from the questioner due to what she will allege about the history of them or their party.

What is patently obvious from her record in government is that she will take no lessons from anyone. Not from the nurses and doctors struggling to keep our health service alive, the teachers seeking higher standards for their pupils, or the lawyers who believe our legal system should be just. The businesses who make the money she spends are hardly ever given permission to speak.

Ms Sturgeon will argue that the people of Scotland support her. At elections they do, but not when asked to vote for the only idea you could accuse her of having – secession. And patently the tactics for her party, however successful for them, have not translated into a strategy for a nation.

New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused of undermining the UK Cabinet by indulging in what was called “sofa government”. Nicola Sturgeon is now conducting the government of the empty chair.

Ms Sturgeon may succeed in emulating Mr Blair by leaving office without being defeated at the ballot box. If she does, I think she may well also emulate him in something else – being held in contempt by a public that once adored them.

True, she hasn’t been part of a military invasion like Mr Blair, but she trumpets her own achievements as he did Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and both seem impossible to find.

Ms Sturgeon used to try to paint a divide that it was only the nationalists who believed that Scotland was a nation and that unionists did not. That was not true then and isn’t now. But the real divide seems to be between we who believe that Scotland is a nation and Nicola Sturgeon who believes Scotland is her own personal media opportunity.

The Scottish Parliament was established so that Scotland’s voice could be heard.

Since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister she has endeavoured to make it a place where Scotland’s voice is stifled. Now it is a venue she deems unworthy of her attendance.

It took more than a century of campaigning to establish the Scottish Parliament. Less than a quarter of a century later, who would have thought it would be rendered obsolete, for this First Minister at least, by the invention of the camera phone.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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