Euan McColm: Cooledonia won’t always be in Vogue

Nicola Sturgeon conducted an interview with Vogue which was published earlier this week. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon conducted an interview with Vogue which was published earlier this week. Picture: PA
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REMEMBER Cool Britannia, that period in the 1990s when all things British were considered impossibly hip?

British music, fashion, and politics seemed rejuvenated; Britain was full of possibilities. The Union Flag was reclaimed from right-wing nationalists and, for a while, the country got ideas above its station.

Many will have listened with gritted teeth as Sturgeon spoke of Elizabeth’s years of service

This was, of course, a media wheeze. The international success of pop groups like Oasis and Blur, the emergence of a handful of brash young artists, and the prospect of a change of government collided to create the sense that something special was afoot. People, if they were not drinking themselves insensible on alcoholic lemonade, mainly spoke about the zeitgeist.

As this nonsense reached an unbearable fever pitch in 1997, the magazine Vanity Fair devoted an entire issue to the Cool Britannia phenomenon. The front page, readers of a certain age may recall, featured a photograph of Oasis singer Liam Gallagher and his then wife Patsy Kensit lying back in bad, she in a sheer black bra and he wearing a woolly hat. It was preposterous.

Buried inside the magazine was a piece on another star of the time. Tony Blair – who in just a few weeks would become the first Labour prime minister in 18 years – was the ­politician it was acceptable to idolise. ­According to the magazine, Blair was part of a House of Commons ­“youthquake”.

My mind drifted back to that edition of the magazine this week as I read an interview in Vogue magazine with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The piece is trailed on the front page with the promise that she “talks diets, power dressing, and independence” and inside, alongside some highly styled photos, Sturgeon recounts some of the many challenges and joys of her professional life.

It is, perhaps, slightly odd that the First Minister should choose the so-called “style bible” that is Vogue to discuss the irritation she feels about the intense interest in her appearance but, nevertheless, it’s an interesting enough read. Sturgeon is pleasantly insolent about her former boss Alex Salmond’s attempt to shift a few pounds on the 5:2 diet (she says that Tory Chancellor George Osborne was more successful in that endeavour) and admits to being especially hard on herself.

Almost every day, Sturgeon says, as she replays events in her head, she thinks she should have done things differently. She’s “quite hypercritical” of herself, she says, calling this a “Scottish thing”, where one thinks one must be better than everyone else to be good enough.

Just as Blair was once a political icon, so now is Sturgeon. The Vogue appearance was her Cooledonia ­moment.

But politicians should be wary, I feel, of allowing themselves to become celebrities in the way Blair did and Sturgeon has. The more we love a politician, the more we might one day be prepared to hate them.

Blair was truly adored by voters in 1997. He had swathes believe that he represented a real change in the way politics was done. Just as Sturgeon has done, Blair built his success on the notion that he represented something truly different, a break from the dirtier side of his business.

Blair’s New Labour took the moral high ground over John Major’s Conservative Party, which became bogged down in sleaze scandal after sleaze scandal.

Blair was a new kind of politician who understood the concerns of people who felt they’d been left behind by their leaders. He was in touch with what mattered to people while the ­Tories could scarcely have cared less.

Now Sturgeon is that Blair-like ­figure, a politician who has the ­adoration of voters and their faith that, somehow, she is not like other politicians.

There is, perhaps, a reason that so many divorces are so unnecessarily brutal. Love gone sour creates a particularly deep anger.

When things started to go wrong in Blair’s relationship with the public, fairly early on in his time as Prime Minister, he offered some soothing words.

You may recall, just a few months after Labour’s 1997 victory, it emerged that Formula One racing magnate Bernie Ecclestone had donated £1 million to the party shortly before the sport was exempted from a tobacco advertising ban.

Blair popped up on TV to claim that he was a “pretty straight sort of guy”.

But doubts crept in. The veneer was tarnished.

Ultimately, Blair lost the love of many of his supporters over the war in Iraq. This was seen as a betrayal of principle and it continues to haunt the Labour Party, years later.

There is no Iraq war on the horizon for Sturgeon. As leader of a devolved administration, she has the luxury of never having to make decisions about difficult foreign policy issues.

But there are potential pitfalls for the First Minister, who enjoys the love of supporters while they believe that she will lead Scotland to independence.

The day before this months’s Vogue hit the shelves, Sturgeon welcomed the Queen to Scotland. The First Minister was at her most stateswoman-like, exuding considerable charm as she spoke warmly of the monarch.

Many of Sturgeon’s supporters – and quite a few of her elected members – will have listened with gritted teeth as she spoke of Elizabeth’s years of public service, but they will have known that this was a necessary bit of diplomacy.

Independence remains the prize and if Sturgeon has to play the establishment game along the way, then so be it.

A couple of polls have shown a small majority in favour of Scottish independence. The numbers are nowhere near enough to convince the First Minister to call a second referendum, but they are easily enough to convince supporters of the break-up the UK that it’s time for another crack.

The challenge for the First Minister is to mange their expectations.

Supporters of independence may love Nicola Sturgeon as they have no other politician. But if she doesn’t ­deliver what they expect – and soon – that love will wither. «