Rather like football, however, that stark ruth does not mean the SNP might not continue to have some victories to provide silverware for the trophy cabinet. To believe that would be foolish, even if there is no obvious successor to Nicola Sturgeon and her vast retinue of advisers, media manipulators and cheerleaders dependent on the taxpayers’ shilling.
Nor is there much point in asking if we have had peak Indy. Despite the protestations of the First Minister, and she doth protest too much, the Prime Minister is not going to back down when his policy of denying any legitimacy to a Holyrood-run referendum is proving so effective, indeed it is one of his most successful policies (from a narrowing range). The polls continue to back this success up, with support for secession or even having a referendum continuing to wane.
Nevertheless, no disciple of Scotland remaining British would be wise to become complacent and retire from the battle for the soul of Scotland. One of the undoubted strengths of the United Kingdom is how it evolves and accepts change such as electoral emancipation, or the shifting tides of centralisation and devolution. Thus its adherents can never rest on their laurels but must always proselytise the benefits of change so acceptance becomes settled and further evolution can be considered. In this way Brexit will eventually lose its Marmite quality and even nationalists will wish to avoid joining a federalist European Union.
The reality for now, and for the near future, is the SNP shall continue to dominate Scottish politics and continue winning but taking us nowhere.
As a result of this political logjam, where the SNP is all powerful but disinterested in the real politics of healing the country and repairing the public services it has broken and abandoned there has been growing speculation about when the current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, will depart for new challenges. The reason is not just she appears to hawk herself at international events in Glasgow, New York or Reykjavík (although these certainly contribute to speculation) but more importantly the opposition do not look like beating her – or the nationalists abandoning her.
The opposition parties have not yet managed to take the risk of challenging Sturgeon on her atrocious domestic record and prefer to fight over the issue of preventing a second independence referendum being held – which means the opposition parties are always fighting each other for second place.
The SNP faithful – despite having suffered a schism that has thus far failed to become a disruption – would rather throw Scotland’s education, its justice system, its health service and its economic prospects to the wolves than confront the dawning reality that Sturgeon will never hold another referendum. Having chosen to self-define herself as the Duchess of York and with an opposition missing the target, Sturgeon appears impregnable no matter how bad our public services get – and no matter how often she marches her followers up and down.
This need for constant movement, as if Sturgeon is aping Mao on his Long March, explains why the SNP chose to have a second (virtual) conference in the space of a few months. Such dynamic events create opportunities for publicity, for no longer does the Holyrood Parliament matter to the SNP, indeed it must be avoided at all costs, for there lurks the opposition.
Holyrood – for which John Swinney plays the role of the ineffectual Swiss Guard, defending the institution with the same unconvincing menace but without the dapper pantaloons – allows opponents to put dangerous questions or embarrass the First Minister. Members of whatever station can raise inconvenient facts like Scotland’s record drug deaths, the appalling deaths of rough sleepers, the regularity of unexpected deaths in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the falling life expectancy – all on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch,
By contrast an SNP conference can focus on what Sturgeon’s strategists advise and thus evade the scrutiny that so obviously discombobulates her. It means countless “pre-conference interviews” that are softballs to be hit for home runs – and opportunities to fill front pages and grab news bulletins by announcing a policy (like a new energy company) that can be ditched when a mere grey squirrel crosses the road and everyone’s looking the other way.
An unimportant and unnecessary conference without the inconvenience of anyone attending can also be part of the counter-truth action plan for delivering falsehoods and false realities. A possible motion about the problem of facing up to a hard border for people as well as exports to Scotland’s largest market can be disappeared without a picket, a protest, or a sit-in. Or a million newspapers can be distributed through letterboxes pushing blatant lies that even a presiding officer would have to rein-in, were it said at Holyrood.
Better still, the Finance Secretary can make statements that Scotland raises all it spends in complete contradiction to the data which her own statisticians release and she has agreed to sign-off. In so doing Kate Forbes, Keith Brown and Humza Yousaf look less and less like leaders in waiting and more like the next sacrifice to make Sturgeon look indispensable. And some people wonder why there is no one ready to relieve Sturgeon of her tiara?
Sadly, nay tragically, we might as well be living in North Korea or Cuba for all the democratic process currently matters.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and previously served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.