A civil war splits her party, and Nicola is stuck in no man’s land.
By Graham Grant
CHECK the cauldron of bile and mutual recrimination that is Twitter on any day of the week and you’ll see plenty of comments about Govanhill.
That’s no great surprise – it’s a part of Glasgow notorious for slum landlords, crime gangs, mountains of rubbish and shocking levels of deprivation.
On Friday, an angry woman in the Govanhill area sent a tweet outlining yet another complaint – this time about a journalist who was standing outside.
The woman in question wasn’t a resident, though, she was the First Minister (and the local MSP), and she was sounding the alarm over the presence of a Daily Mail reporter.
‘Daily Mail are outside my constituency office – seems they doubt my business here today,’ she tapped out on her smartphone.
The rather barbed tweet concluded with the hashtag ‘#investigativejournalism’ – and her loyal fan-base duly went into meltdown.
One said: ‘Do you want me to come round and tell them to go away in Scottish?’, while another lamented ‘the mainstream press in Scotland is a disgrace and an embarrassment’.
Our visit had been prompted by Nicola Sturgeon admitting on Twitter that she had snubbed talks with the UK Government on Friday about the Brexit deal, because she ‘wasn’t prepared to cancel [her] constituency commitments’.
She said it was ‘outrageous’ for Theresa May’s deputy David Lidington to claim she had ‘rejected’ talks – when in fact her own tweet proved that interpretation was entirely accurate.
It was a strategic misstep of a kind that was once relatively rare but is gradually becoming more common as Miss Sturgeon comes under pressure from all sides – not just from Unionist detractors, but also from her restive powerbase, itching for indyref2.
There was a touch of paranoia in her dog-whistle tweet summoning some of her more rabid disciples – indeed, for all her avowed loathing of the US President, it’s arguably Trump-esque, smearing the media when in a tight spot.
We’d only wanted to ask her some questions, after all, and she is in high public office: why the panicked response on social media?
Well, Twitter is a safe space for Miss Sturgeon, but remains toxic for many others, often thanks to pro-independence activists.
Despite repeated assurances that the SNP would root out some of its more unhinged followers, last month Miss Sturgeon could be found swapping book chat with one of her least lovable acolytes on Twitter.
‘I love being surrounded by books,’ she told foul-mouthed ‘Roy1Batty’, unmasked by the Mail in 2015 as Robert Dickson, who had used the most foul language to attack women, deploying the c-word on scores of occasions.
Back then, it emerged that the First Minister tweeted that it had been ‘lovely’ talking to Dickson after they had met.
Tackled about her association with Dickson at the time, her spokesman insisted she couldn’t be expected to keep up with every comment on the web forum.
(There’s always the option of not tweeting, of course, but that’s clearly an unpalatable prospect.)
As for why Miss Sturgeon renewed her online acquaintance with Dickson, it’s anyone’s guess – but whatever the reason, it was ill-advised.
Further signs of a muddled approach are apparent in Miss Sturgeon’s Brexit strategy, such as it is.
Time and again, she has misread the mood of the SNP grass roots by opposing Brexit at every turn, despite widespread backing for EU withdrawal among her own membership.
Now she plans to back Labour in opposing the Withdrawal Bill, and is threatening another independence referendum in the ‘not too distant future’.
In the meantime, even hardcore separatists, such as broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, are warning her approach is a farce – what’s the point in campaigning for discrete Single Market membership for Scotland when it’s an option neither Tories nor Labour will tolerate?
She wrote yesterday: ‘So, since neither the Tories nor Labour will ever accept this halfway house, why are the SNP still pushing it?
‘Are they virtue-signalling – demonstrating that the Scottish Government can embrace a rational solution to Britain’s Brexit problems even if it cannot be stomached by No 10? If so, why bother?’
Hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s more evidence that some of Miss Sturgeon’s much-vaunted celebrity appeal is looking a little jaded these days, even among her own – normally fairly fanatical – supporters.
At the weekend, SNP donor Tony Banks, who bankrolled the business wing of the Scottish independence campaign in 2014, urged Miss Sturgeon to call a second referendum – or quit as First Minister.
He said: ‘Time for the Scottish politicians to stand up for Scotland. If the SNP cannot get Scotland on an immediate road to leaving the UK then Nicola Sturgeon needs to go. Getting to be as wishy-washy as Maybot!’
Of course, Mr Banks and many others are getting ahead of themselves: the UK Government needs to rubber-stamp indyref2 before it can happen (spoiler: it won’t).
Also a new poll shows support for independence has sunk to 43 per cent, down from 45 per cent at the 2014 referendum.
But if an SNP donor is talking in these unequivocal terms, clearly the writing is on the wall for a politician whose domestic policy agenda is also in a state of constant crisis.
One senior pro-independence activist told me: ‘I have known for quite a while that there has been mounting unhappiness at all kinds of levels in and around the party.
‘It’s been building and building – it’s not just independence, it’s also policy and party democracy. But there isn’t much doubt this is a tipping-point.
‘There are moments which define you for good. To be honest, this is almost already Sturgeon’s version of Gordon Brown bottling an early election.
‘I’ve been getting emails this morning from people she most certainly does not want to fall out with. They’re not one bit happy…’
Fire the starting-pistol on indyref2, and Miss Sturgeon faces the prospect of defeat (assuming the fresh poll were to be given the go-ahead); hold firm and ignore her supporters, and her own position could be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile Miss Sturgeon continues to face uncomfortable questions over the sex scandal surrounding her predecessor and mentor Alex Salmond, currently the subject of a Police Scotland investigation.
Those questions centre on precisely how much she knew about the allegations of sexual misconduct, and when, and the content of her discussions with Mr Salmond about the Scottish Government’s internal investigation of the claims – a process that he is now set to challenge at a judicial review in January.
After four years leading a government eternally driven by an objective the electorate decisively rejected in 2014, Miss Sturgeon is no longer the sure-footed political operator Mr Salmond helped her to become.
The unexpected ending to her time in office may well be a prolonged period of civil war within the independence movement – ending her leadership and damaging the party’s electoral fortunes.
The days of rock-star welcomes in stadia full of enraptured loyalists have never seemed more distant.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on November 20, 2018.