Why Nicola Sturgeon will survive to divide Scotland for another year - Brian Monteith

Looking ahead for how Nicola Sturgeon might fare in 2023 there are many reasons to argue it should be the year the SNP seeks to change its leader – but the question remains, how?

When last week I reviewed the prospects for Rishi Sunak in 2023 I argued his nadir must surely come this May when England’s local elections take place. A likely evisceration at the hands of the electorate will act as the catalyst for Tory MPs to consider their futures and who should lead them into a general election. It is to Nicola Sturgeon’s great fortune she has no such test to push her out of office.

Every fresh political scandal that erupts around Sturgeon’s government – be it financial, ethical, sexual, or political – generates cries for her resignation, yet she remains immovable.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Every fresh collapse in Scottish public service levels – be it in Scotland’s NHS, education, drug rehab, ferry services, and so much more – brings appeals for Sturgeon to focus on the day job instead of campaigning to break up Britain, yet she remains immutable.

Nicola Sturgeon will remain immutable, impervious, immovable and impregnable in 2023, says Brian MonteithNicola Sturgeon will remain immutable, impervious, immovable and impregnable in 2023, says Brian Monteith
Nicola Sturgeon will remain immutable, impervious, immovable and impregnable in 2023, says Brian Monteith

Every fresh revelation, like the police investigating her party’s finances, or her husband’s £107k personal loan to the party being declared late, or the repeated covering up of inappropriate personal behaviours by elected SNP politicians – causes demands for Sturgeon to take responsibility by departing, yet she remains impregnable.

Every divide the First Minister causes in Scottish society over gender politics, marginalising the rights of women and accelerating the sexualisation of our children – and even every fresh split she causes in her own party on how best to obtain a referendum or deliver “independence” – causes more and more people of all political persuasions to wish to see the back of her. Yet for all their pleas for moderation and compromise she remains to them absolute and impervious.

Were the Scottish Parliament’s executive run by any other party than the SNP it is impossible to believe their leaders would have survived as many calamities without at least having faced a credible leadership challenge. Discipline, however, remains at the core of the SNP operations, with the cause of “independence” allowing every error to be excused or ignored. Nothing can happen without the party leader’s consent, therefore no breach in loyalty to the party leader can be contemplated.

Unfortunately for Scotland the SNP is now run in the manner of a personality cult where the supreme leader’s approach – stoically aloof from all but a few ministers and advisors – has been accorded that of a deity.

Her divine creed of secession from the UK at any cost means no amount of economic harm is too injurious – for it will be blamed on Westminster. No amount of personal pain or loss through failing ambulance attendances or overrun A&E services or extending hospital queues is too distressing – for it will also be blamed on Westminster.

As economic catastrophe is followed by financial or sexual scandal is followed by healthcare disaster there is no corrective, no reckoning and therefore no repentance for the First Minister – so she goes on to repeat her mistakes. “Lessons will be learned” is an insult to our intelligence.

The First Minister has the economic powers at her disposal and the authority of her long tenure to rule Scotland in a consensual manner, wrong-footing her opposition by bringing them in to work together with her on specific issues such as drugs. Such an approach is, however, the antithesis to Nicola Sturgeon’s modus operandi.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic the records now becoming public show Nicola Sturgeon sought to gain political advantage by grandstanding on the issue of wearing masks – against the official scientific evidence, forcing UK ministers to adopt the same message contrary to prevailing advice.

Why then should we expect the First Minster to behave any differently in setting her priorities and healing our divided Scotland in the coming year, when gaining political advantage is everything?

Having sought and failed to win an electoral majority in the 2021 elections – and now having failed to establish the authority to deliver the referendum she promised for October this year – she is now intent on pushing for her objective of setting the next general election as a “de facto” referendum. She is seeking the approval of her party at a conference in March but given the way she and her husband – as chief executive of the SNP – run the operation can we honestly expect a rebellion to disagree and make her position untenable?

If she wanted, the First Minister could still seek to heal the divisions in Scotland but in 2023 is set to bring forward yet more legislation that will split the country, this time on banning conversion therapy using new laws that will threaten free speech itself.

Meanwhile, with the Scottish NHS universally accepted as being at the precipice of collapse – despite record amounts of money being made available by Westminster over the years (but not fully passed on by the SNP) – the first debate to take place when Holyrood reconvenes is on… independence.

Devolution has been tested to destruction by Sturgeon’s administration and it has failed beyond their ability to repair it. But it has also failed beyond the public’s ability to repair it – for there is no election until 2025 and no obvious means to change that institutional weakness.

Nicola Sturgeon may well be on her way to making herself even more unpopular and Scotland even more divided but until the SNP politicians who keep her in power decide to look for a replacement and bring a change about she can remain immutable, impervious, immovable and impregnable. Nicola Sturgeon is here to stay for the foreseeable – no matter how disastrous her tenure in office becomes.

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



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.