Class war is the dying groan from Sturgeon’s zombie government
By Graham Grant
IN damning figures sneaked out over the summer recess, Scotland was revealed as the drug death capital of the developed world.
You might have thought prolific tweeter Nicola Sturgeon would have taken to social media to comment on this social catastrophe.
But she was on holiday, and a few days later was filmed happily clapping along on stage with crime writers, including Val McDermid, who were performing in a band at a literary festival.
Nearly a fortnight on, the First Minister has yet to make any meaningful intervention – though she was happy enough to dress up as a Viking for a picture posted on her Twitter feed on Saturday.
Sporting a winged helmet and brandishing an axe as she launched the SNP by-election campaign in Lerwick, Shetland, she captioned the snap: ‘Ready for you, Prime Minister!’
Well, at least we know her priorities: but her rather juvenile photograph raises an important question – is she, or her enervated government, anywhere near ready for that battle?
After all, Boris Johnson as Prime Minister presents something of an open goal for the SNP, as in the eyes of most of its membership he is the devil incarnate: a Tory toff who’s toxic for many Scots.
For SNP Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman, the case for independence ‘stands on its own merits, but this posh boy dictatorship will drive many fair-minded Scots towards us – encourage them, use civility, kindness and their love of democracy’.
Not much civility on show there, and yet jibes about class litter many SNP ruminations about Mr Johnson’s promotion – almost as if, drone-like, Miss Sturgeon’s MPs and MSPs are complying with some diktat from party HQ to highlight the new PM’s ‘poshness’ as his Achilles’ heel.
Most ‘fair-minded Scots’ will remain unpersuaded, not least because they don’t much care about class as long as the job gets done.
And yet Mr Johnson is almost universally perceived within the independence movement as the embodiment of the longed-for ‘indyref2’ trigger: the crystallising moment which creates the justification for a second tilt at destroying the Union.
Mind you, almost anything these days qualifies as such a trigger – last year, some independence supporters believed a row about which powers would be handed to Holyrood following Brexit could lead to a second referendum.
Broadcaster Lesley Riddoch said, with some understatement, that ‘fertiliser composition and food hygiene [some of the powers at the centre of the dispute] may seem unusual triggers for Indyref 2'.
But she insisted the ‘tone deaf Tory Government could yet be hoist by its own petard’.
The row was so esoteric that no-one really bought the Riddoch thesis – not even the SNP die-hards who recognised that persuading voters of the burning need for oppressed Scots to exercise complete control over fertiliser ingredients was a tough sell.
Mr Johnson is a more credible target for Nationalist ire, but at precisely the juncture when the SNP needs to be on its mettle, the party and wider movement are hopelessly fractured.
Despondent at Miss Sturgeon’s inertia on pulling that indyref2 trigger, some Nationalists, including Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, and Chris McEleny, the SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, have resurrected madcap plans to push for a unilateral declaration of independence.
When Mr Johnson became PM, Miss Sturgeon said she might ‘accelerate’ her plans for another independence referendum – even if all the available evidence suggests she is merely accelerating towards another brick wall.
Every day, cracks in the previously impregnable edifice of internal party discipline are widening, as rival factions enter into open combat, while ambitious MPs and MSPs are beginning to believe Miss Sturgeon’s position is no longer unassailable.
They include Joanna Cherry, QC, a supporter of Alex Salmond, the former First Minister still regarded by many as the separatists’ spiritual leader, despite his impending trial on a series of sex charges.
Then there is the prospect of a parliamentary inquiry into a botched Scottish Government misconduct probe into Mr Salmond – which has been dogged by concerns that key emails and messages may have been irretrievably deleted.
How much time Miss Sturgeon has spent preparing for the inevitable fallout from these events, which could see her having to move out of Bute House, is anyone’s guess – but it’s hard to believe there haven’t been any sleepless nights.
Meanwhile SNP members and parliamentarians are at loggerheads over reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) which – if passed – would allow trans people to self-identify and remove the requirement for medical evidence.
Infighting is rife – senior party members disclosed last week that they were seeking legal advice after posts from a private message board were made public.
This came after Nationalist MP Dr Lisa Cameron received more than 1,000 abusive messages following a Commons vote on liberalising abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
Dr Cameron voted against the move, and many of the abusive messages, which appeared on a private Facebook page, were made public.
For hard-pressed families fretting about mortgages and rising tax bills, or concerned about falling school standards, this incessant bickering is about as far removed from the priorities of their everyday lives as it’s possible to imagine.
Activists are also in disarray: the ‘All Under One Banner’ pro-independence group is mired in a row over claims of misappropriated cash, only weeks after former SNP MP Natalie McGarry was sentenced to 18 months in jail for embezzling more than £25,600 from separatist organisations – including cash for a food bank.
In government, the SNP’s sclerotic policy agenda has been marred by failure, a profound lack of innovative thinking, and chaotic implementation.
Public services are in a state of decline after more than a decade of negligent stewardship by a party that devotes more time to attempting to cover up its myriad shortcomings than trying to remedy them.
Miss Sturgeon has never looked weaker, and her zombie government is shuffling towards an abyss of its own making.
By contrast, Mr Johnson in his first few days in office has displayed a level of dynamism which Miss Sturgeon – even in full Viking regalia – would struggle to match.
His ramping-up of police recruitment, and other spending commitments in England, mean more cash for Scotland – and the prospect of shelving planned cuts to officer numbers.
Nor did Mr Johnson come empty-handed on his first visit north of the Border as PM yesterday, announcing that Scotland will receive some of the £300million earmarked for ‘growth deal’ investments to boost the economy.
With his staunch defence of the Union, and his refusal to countenance another indyref, Mr Johnson has shown he can be the antidote to a discredited Nationalist project that promises yet more division, stagnation and policy paralysis.
Far from providing the SNP with another chance to realise its dream of splitting up the UK, the new PM – the ‘posh boy’ the party wants us to despise – could hasten its demise.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on July 30, 2019.