Why Nicola Sturgeon's irritation, impatience and indifference suggests she knows she is beat - Brian Monteith

The First Minister has misread the room and not for the first time.

Indeed it is becoming more common – or maybe it is just that over time more and more people are beginning to join the dots differently and are asking themselves if they have been played for mugs in the past?

Three examples inform us of Nicola Sturgeon’s shortening fuse and growing aloofness. The first involving attitudes towards mere media hacks doing their jobs of asking questions, the second being the rush to introduce tighter regulations concerning public gatherings after Boxing day, and the third is the lack of care towards the economy.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA

I read of regular criticism on social media of journalists for not asking probing follow-up questions of the First Minister after she has given her justifications for divisive policy decisions or Covid-related restrictions.

Such an accusation could not be made of the Scottish Daily Mail’s Michael Blackley when he asked Sturgeon, with respect and politeness, a perfectly reasonable question about her Government providing financial support for Scottish businesses.

Individual owners and trade representatives had complained of a likely a collapse in Christmas demand, especially in hospitality, caused – in part – by her own warnings of a “tsunami” of Omicron Covid cases.

In response, the First Minister became aggressively acidic, turning milk sour and wine to vinegar as she remonstrated in a morally superior tone that as her administration’s Budget had been announced, where did he propose she now found savings to fund such generosity? Which cuts should she make, in the NHS for instance?

Sturgeon’s belligerent tone did not create the impression of a political leader seeking to show compassion for a key community suffering huge economic distress as a result of her choices, however reluctantly they were taken.

No, she came over as uncaring, irritated and dismissive – as if to say, “what’s it got to do with me?” rather than “we are doing everything we can to help and hope to be able to find the means to assist genuine cases of hardship”.

Then, lo and behold, proof there is a Father Christmas emerged when the First Misanthrope conjured up some £100 million from within existing budgets by taking some (unspecified) “tough” decisions.

Was the money stuffed down the back of the sofa or were a number of faux embassies to be closed? The truth has still to be revealed.

Still, the lesson of how one might be publicly defenestrated by asking the sort of questions that are normally the everyday stock-in-trade of journalists will not be lost on other scribes. That is the state of public discourse in Sturgeon’s Scotland, going into 2022.

Then there was the unnecessary race by the devolved administrations to announce their restrictions to deal with the spread of Omicron. But why?

All the available evidence had pointed consistently to Omicron being a weaker strain of Covid. The clinician who identified it herself expressed surprise at the alarm it was creating in Britain.

Would it not have made sense to learn more about its likely impact? (I say this without benefit of hindsight as I had argued for a liberal approach from the start).

Boris Johnson’s Government, which in the case of its responsibilities means essentially only regulations in England, was still evaluating the data when Sturgeon unveiled new restrictions that took a demolition ball to festive events – but only from Boxing Day. Christmas was saved, but Hogmanay was wrecked.

The obvious question was that if Omicron was really so fearfully threatening, why wait? Surely if it is a matter of life and death the semi-lockdown of events should happen immediately?

Then there were the obvious inconsistencies of restricting gatherings at – primarily – football matches to no more than 500 spectators, but allowing 100 people standing in pubs or 200 seated.

It only takes half-a-dozen hostelries for the numbers of people rubbing-up inside a pub to become higher than what could be in an open-air stadium. The unconfirmed “problem” was simply displacing the same people to a potentially worse location.

Likewise, spectators might just gather indoor in houses to watch the footy on TV in a way they would not have before. Any Scots visiting friends or relatives in England for Christmas could go to a football match there, but not in Scotland – and some will. What advantage was being gained?

A number of football teams asked another unwelcome question; why not immediately bring forward the Scottish winter closure for the Premier League, which would also allow punters to attend the smaller clubs who rarely break 500 through the turnstiles?

My question is did the SNP Government not think to speak to the football authorities to explore what might be done to help clubs to retain revenues in the future rather than lose them never to be recovered?

Then the reports came through that Omicron did indeed lead to 20-70 per cent fewer hospitalisations and the First Minister is left looking to have over-reacted without thought for the economic damage being done – and without necessarily helping the NHS. It’s as if the SNP leadership doesn’t understand business or simple economics.

And maybe they don’t? Finance secretary Kate Forbes is proposing SNP austerity for local government by making cuts of £370 million, as claimed by Cosla, that must inevitably lead to higher council taxes, which in turn will mean less disposable income circulating in the economy that might keep private businesses afloat. All while the Budget provided by Westminster is the largest known at Holyrood.

The idea that Forbes could replace Sturgeon, when she eventually departs, is beginning to look increasingly weak.

Within the space of seven months from retaining her place as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s irritation, impatience and indifference suggests she knows she is beat.

- Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and previously served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.

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