Scottish Independence: Nicola Sturgeon’s camel train lurches from one mirage to another - Brian Monteith

Imagine you were in The First Minister’s shoes, what would you do? Consider the political scenario that she has, in the main, created for herself.

You have been responsible for Scotland’s public services, the policies, finances, contracts, pay settlements and appointments of officials for the last eight years.

There is no getting away from the fact the collapse – and I really mean collapse – of public service standards has been on your watch and was already well advanced before the arrival of Brexit or Covid. Now that collapse is accelerating – as Anas Sarwar and Sandesh Gulhane have exposed forensically in the case of the NHS.

The next few years – up until the next Westminster or Holyrood elections are going to make this all the clearer. There will be no hiding place.

Members of All Under One Banner gather for an independence march and rally in May this year. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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In particular you are going to be under great scrutiny from Holyrood’s chief inspector of failure – the Auditor General – who is independent of the Government and reports to the Scottish Parliament and its Public Audit Committee.

This committee is the sole, probably one true, improvement in political accountability and democracy that Holyrood has delivered over the old pre-devolution model of Westminster committees. Typically, it has now become a target of SNP Neanderthals who would rather drag their knuckles over its budget, accusing it of getting “too powerful” and cut it down to size.

Such is the record of incompetence of this Scottish Government it would be far better to create a second Audit Committee, just as there used to be two justice committees when the workload demanded it be so – and also double the budget of Audit Scotland that has, over recent years, been forced to do far more for less.

If there is a justification for Holyrood it must be that it holds Scotland’s executive to account, without that function it is nothing more than a stage for narcissists with a talent for communication – just like demagogues of the ages have exploited democracies the world over.

As First Minister you are also leader of the SNP and since 2014’s Scottish referendum you have not sought to heal the wounds of the Scottish body politic, instead you have picked at the scab. You did not attend the reconciliation service in St Giles’ Cathedral after the referendum and this has defined your approach ever since.

Instead at every opportunity you have poured Domestos on open wounds, you have not sought to bring harmony but instead accentuated differences and allowed your camp followers to vilify, demonise and bait as un-Scottish those who have not accepted the SNP narrative.

The result has been that rather than become more open, more welcoming, more moderate – the nationalist campaign has become more bitter, more exclusive and more extreme. Don’t take my word for it – just look at how its marches have deteriorated into a thin parade of Braveheart extras rather than everyday ordinary people. Especially troubling for your leadership is that you have kept marching them up the Radical Road only to march them down again, and the only way to keep them paying their subs and imbibing the Kool-Aid is to offer another chance of going over the top to fight the enemy. How then do you keep that attention span engaged?

The answer in this scenario – and I believe it is the real here and now we all endure in Scotland – is to offer yet another referendum that you know cannot be delivered.

By all means ask the Supreme Court to decide if you have legitimacy in holding a vote – if, for no other reason, you can then blame that court as an example of UK institutional bias.

If it surprises most who have any specialised knowledge of these matters and you can have your way, then your grievance (immediately melted) will have been shown to have been manufactured. This, of course, shall not result in magnanimity but in hubris, as you will then go on to demand the referendum that, legal or not, still has no democratic legitimacy.

The truth is you did not win a percentage vote share in those that voted (achieving only 49 per cent) and as a percentage of registered voters, at 31 per cent it was even smaller – less than a third. Legal or not, that is no mandate for a referendum.

The point is (and as First Minister you know this) – going down the rabbit holes of so many tunnels you are burrowing will occupy the media and the electorate to utter distraction up until the next general election. It shall also cause salivation amongst your followers who, yet again, will fall for your raising the regimental standard, cheering you on, waving their flags and tilting at in the windmills of their mind.

Meanwhile Scotland shall go to the dogs. But why should you as First Minister care? The worse Scotland’s economy, its public services and – yes, even its drug deaths and life expectancy gets – so the more you can mine for grievance and blame Westminster.

Yet on less money per head, with greater pressures from population expansion and the inexorable challenges of a more congested geographic, England performs better. All because its government is not distracted by grievance mining but does its day job. And just as well, because it exports its munificence, with a belief in the British security that comes of sharing and pooling, sending heaps of love and kisses, believing it will, one day, be recognised as what being British means.

It should not be an unrequited love.

There will be no referendum next October. There can be no de facto referendum in a general election. It is all about keeping the First Minister’s camel train plodding from one taxpayers’ oasis to the next. It’s time to expose the mirage.

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

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