There is a time in politics when a public mood begins to develop that is unstoppable and ushers in change that a little while ago seemed impossible. A sense a government has been in power for too long takes hold and has a momentum of its own.
It can seem like winter is very long and inhospitable but suddenly Spring arrives and the first shoots of a new season, of new growth and with it new opportunities, force their way through.
Last week the final few days of Winter were played out in Holyrood with an engrossing evidence session from former First Minister Alex Salmond at the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the SNP government’s harassment policy and how it led to a failed attempt to prosecute him.
There was a time, only a week or so ago, that people talked of the “inevitability” of Britain breaking up, of Scotland risking its future despite all the warnings it could be catastrophic economically. You will not hear that this week. There is no such thing as inevitability in politics.
The demeanour and approach of Salmond in giving evidence was wholly convincing and plausible. He did not attempt to grandstand the Committee unlike some of its more amateurish members; he did not appear flippant or humorous; he never sought to be gratuitous towards potential opponents or bluster his way out of difficult questions. These are all allegations I have laid at Salmond’s door in the past, and with just cause, but on Friday I saw a different man who used his words carefully and of all things displayed humility.
Most of all he did not go out of his way for headlines by calling for the First Minister’s head, nor did he go beyond what he had evidence to support, or which others might provide evidence to support. Instead he called on people to consider their own positions, to look at themselves in the moral mirror.
This was all in the context of the First Minister challenging him the previous week to present evidence of an alleged conspiracy to remove him from politics, only for the Crown Office to act as her 7th Cavalry by retrospectively redacting the evidence he offered.
Not redacting evidence about actual complainants or what might provide jigsaw construction about complainants – but redacting references to the First Minister’s role. It was the stuff of all-controlling dictatorships in the thirties when movies like “The Lady Vanishes” were made about nefarious skulduggery – only this time the lady vanishing was the First Minister and her potential involvement.
Where I would disagree with Alex Salmond was his denial that Scotland is now a failed state. Of course he would not concede such a conclusion but the evidence is comprehensive and compelling.
Failed states can come about for a variety of reasons; the institutions may be unfit for purpose; they may also be susceptible to and unable to resist financial or political corruption; there may be a serial lack of professional leadership from officials – and there may be an utter lack of ability amongst the political class, often disguised from public view by an ability to communicate better than most people shoved in front of cameras and bright lights. I would argue the current SNP Government actually scores well on all these points and that the evidence is replete with examples of persistent failure.
How many failed and failing new hospitals does it take to convince people the SNP government cannot run our NHS? How many windowless ferries unable to get out of the builder’s yard does it take before people accept the SNP government could not steer a banana boat up the Clyde? How many in a long list of failed policies – such as abolishing Council Tax, abolishing student debt, or delivering a national energy company – does it take before people realise the SNP political class are all fur coat and no knickers?
And how much denial of evidence by the Crown Office does it take to realise there is no separation of powers between the executive and our justice system?
Scotland was not a failed state in 2007 when the SNP took power, it was note even a failed state under Salmond – but it is a failing state now. The institutions have not so much changed as become infected with the virus of Sturgeon’s more bitter nationalism that has made them beholden to working for one thing and one thing only – the obeyance of the leader who will deliver the cause of her cult.
Economics will be turned inside out and upside down to deny reality. Statistics about education, healthcare, housing, justice and the rest will be denied the light of day so evidence-based policy becomes impossible.
Now there is a new mood about and it is not one the First Minister is in control of. Salmond’s evidence session was most likely the catalyst that will awaken many nationalists to consider they have been taken for mugs by their current leadership.
Sturgeon’s SNP has still not developed a consensus around a financial plan for separatism that explains how the currency, state pensions and avoiding austerity can work. Labour has a new leader who can offer a fresh and unifying approach – if he is bold enough to work with others, such as supporting a Tory no-confidence vote on John Swinney. All while the UK’s role in providing us with vaccine’s reminds us British solidarity still has a huge value, and the polls are trending away from secession towards remaining British.
If the withheld evidential texts become available I expect it shall be all over – and we can reform and rebuild Scotland with a new First Minister.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively