Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon is using nationalist cause to stay in office without actually advancing it – Murdo Fraser MSP

Nicola Sturgeon likes to portray herself as the greatest advocate for Scottish independence in the land.

Yet at the same time there is a strong case which suggests that she has done almost nothing to advance its cause.

This year’s Programme for Government may not contain a bill to hold a referendum on leaving the UK, but that didn’t stop the First Minister once again dangling the prospect of one in the first half of the new parliamentary term, in her statement to Holyrood. It’s like a Scottish version of Groundhog Day.

Every year, the same. Every year she tells her party faithful that another poll is just around the corner but, with Ms Sturgeon, the bend seems unending.

This year, we are told, will be different. With her Green coalition she has the votes to pass the bill although with Patrick Harvie she didn’t really need to give him a ministerial car to get him on side. She could just have whistled and he’d have danced.

Promising a referendum has two pragmatic, if cynical, advantages for her. It keeps the SNP’s increasingly restless rank and file in line, and takes away from her appalling record of inaction and decay in government.

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This year’s exercise in deception is no different from the rest. The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to call a referendum without the UK government’s consent, which will not be given – the UK government taking Ms Sturgeon at her word that the last poll in 2014 was to be a once-in-a-generation event. Cue the SNP to gripe and groan up until the next Scottish election, and never, ever talk about their own record.

Nicola Sturgeon should compare her track record to that of former Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, who abolished hanging, decriminalised homosexuality, effectively legalised abortion, ended theatre censorship and liberalised divorce (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

For people like me, who instinctively believe that Scotland belongs in the United Kingdom we built, there was a fear that after 2014 the SNP would build a new case for independence. There has been none made. No refreshed radicalism, just a re-hash of the tired messages of old.

There was a sense that they might try to reform Scotland into such a different place from the rest of the UK that the step of leaving might have looked deceivingly logical. But in truth there has been no reform of Scotland under the SNP, only decline.

Our schools, once the envy of the world, slip down virtually any global league table the Scottish government allows them to join. Our vital NHS struggles to cope with the increasing demands we put upon it. The Scottish economy continues to stagnate.

Even Nationalist supporters and former Yes voters complain about Ms Sturgeon’s lack of grasp of the economy. Like the taxpayer, businessman Jim McColl has been stung by the debacle of Ferguson’s shipyard. Long-term supporter of Alex Salmond, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Sir George Mathewson, can see no economic strategy or willingness to engage business.

If only the First Minister directed a tenth of her energy and enthusiasm for her own PR towards improving education or health or the economy, we might not be in as bad a position as a nation as we are. This is a woman who has lifted more babies for selfies than children out of poverty, by a long shot.

Think of the callousness required when challenged over the greatest drugs death toll in Europe, more than 1,300 Scottish souls lost in one year, and responding as First Minister by merely saying that she and her government “took our eye off the ball”, and you get an idea of Ms Sturgeon’s priorities.

No new thinking is offered now about Scotland’s future. Seven years since Scotland rejected the SNP’s independence prospectus, there are still no new ideas from Ms Sturgeon or her advisers on currency. No answer to tackling the growing deficit. No answer to the question of how the suggestion of EU membership would be achieved, or solution to the dilemma of a hard border.

From schools to hospitals, the economy to the drugs crisis, there is no new thinking from the First Minister. And the truth is there is no fresh thought going into her case for separation. For her office is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Power is not a precious gift of trust from the people to be cherished and used wisely, but a badge of her own self-worth.

As she gropes for her place in history, Ms Sturgeon should study it. I don’t want to make a point about my own party, so let me choose another. In barely two years as Home Secretary, Labour’s Roy Jenkins abolished hanging, decriminalised homosexuality, effectively legalised abortion, ended theatre censorship and liberalised divorce.

In stark contrast, after 14 years in office, what exactly have the SNP achieved to better the lives of people in Scotland, with all the powers – and cash – at their disposal?

Ms Sturgeon has put up the price of white cider to tackle alcoholism – and deaths due to alcohol abuse are at record levels. Last summer she said she had all but eradicated Covid. Last month Scotland recorded record numbers of Covid cases.

There is a pattern here, a pattern of abject failure.

Perhaps as someone who supports Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, I should be grateful that Nicola Sturgeon is in charge of making the case for separation.

But I care for Scots and Scotland too much to follow her down that path of cynical, world-weary politics.

Scotland had more than enough problems before the pandemic. Now we have more.

The vital business of re-building our country, our economy, and our society post-pandemic is too important to be obscured by Ms Sturgeon’s self-obsessions.

Those who earnestly and honestly believe in the case for independence must despair about their leader’s lack of imagination.

If they don’t want to join pro-Union people like me on the constitution, we can surely find common ground on the need for Scotland to be better governed – and the acknowledgement that Ms Sturgeon does not have the wit to achieve that, whatever constitutional arrangement is your choice.

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

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