Sturgeon’s no tyrant, but the fawning cult worship of her would shame North Korea
IN the ‘hermit kingdom’ of North Korea, mass displays of synchronised applause for Kim Jong-un are common.
We know from the testimony of defectors that refusing to clap, or stopping too soon, isn’t the best idea, if you’re keen on continuing to live.
Veneration of this kind is what most leaders crave, from homicidal monarchs such as Henry VIII onwards: they want to be loved – on their own terms.
In modern Scotland, of course, we’re a much more outward-looking bunch – and wouldn’t for a moment seek to idolise our senior politicians in this way.
Well, maybe, but just take a look, if you dare, at social media, and you will see a surprisingly large, or certainly vocal, constituency for whom Nicola Sturgeon is infallible: not merely the head of a devolved administration, but also a source of divine wisdom.
Last week the hashtag ‘ThankYouNicola’ was trending on Twitter, and an independence-supporting newspaper faithfully recorded that ‘as she set out the country’s route map out of lockdown today at Holyrood, Sturgeon was the subject of an outpouring of appreciation’.
This is the kind of publicity Stalin in his pomp might have killed for – indeed, did kill for.
For the masses of acolytes hero-worshipping Miss Sturgeon, she’s no tyrant, but a leader inspiring devotion and indeed craven adulation.
Not so long ago, quite a lot of them were baying for her blood, and rallying round her predecessor Alex Salmond, because they felt she wasn’t pushing the independence cause with sufficient gusto.
That seems like a different, long-ago era, and Covid-19 has helped to shore up Miss Sturgeon’s standing, for now anyway.
Having spent so many decades in the political wilderness, even the most hardened SNP activists, though sceptical of her tactical approach on separatism, are prepared to set aside their doubts to join in the extraordinary ‘outpouring’ of love for her.
It could be that in times of crisis any leader who doesn’t lose the plot, as Donald Trump has – if indeed he ever truly possessed it – becomes an inspirational figure, even for those who previously harboured serious doubts about them.
But what are we to make of Scottish TV, which on Sunday posted perhaps one of the most chilling social media videos you’re likely to come across – children thanking Miss Sturgeon for keeping them safe.
It was positively North Korean, and triggered an outcry among that portion of the population for whom Miss Sturgeon is flesh and bone; as a senior politician, they might even think she should be accountable to the public.
The video clip didn’t last long and an STV executive, who initially tried to play down the error, later appeared to wipe all of his tweets.
We’re told an internal investigation is under way, but it’s an odd mistake to make: someone thought it was acceptable to post it.
It wasn’t made by STV, it seems – it was sent in to the digital team which then posted it online, before incoming fire forced a volte-face.
(Adulation: but hero-worship has become a substitute for reasoned analysis)
If a similar exercise had been carried out to thank the Prime Minister, one assumes Miss Sturgeon would have been among the first to tweet her fury.
Creepy stuff, but don’t forget the move to duplicate the success of the ritual of clapping for nurses every Thursday night by encouraging a national round of applause for Miss Sturgeon.
Sadly, I missed the planned slot – between 6 pm and 6.10 pm on Friday last week, the time when Howard Begg, a furloughed builder in East Lothian, suggested would be the ideal moment to show our love for the First Minister.
He said: ‘I want people to take part and do it to say thank you to Nicola for the way she handled the outbreak and as a thank you for not being bullied by Westminster.’
Then there was the Twitter storm over BBC journalist Sarah Smith, when she said Miss Sturgeon had ‘enjoyed’ ploughing her own furrow on the path out of lockdown.
Miss Sturgeon and any number of her colleagues weighed in and Miss Smith had to clarify she’d muddled her words – but the level of visceral opposition to her online was barmy.
The Nationalist movement on Twitter doesn’t need much excuse to reach boiling-point, and on that occasion it had a collective meltdown; it was an unedifying sight.
But it was another manifestation of the cult of Nicola, as evidenced by the Twitter broadcasts of Miss Sturgeon’s daily Covid-19 briefings: just look at some of the comments rolling in from her admirers.
There’s not much love in the room for the pesky media asking all kinds of impertinent questions.
Although it was journalistic inquiry which uncovered the scandal of propertied former medical guru, Dr Catherine Calderwood, who quit as the state’s top doctor.
In the early phases of full lockdown it emerged she’d visited her family’s coastal retreat in Fife, but Miss Sturgeon stepped in to save her.
There was an excruciating Press conference where apologies were made, but she was beyond salvation when news of a second trip emerged.
That uncomfortable moment has been airbrushed, Soviet-style, from the party’s history books, which allowed Miss Sturgeon to call for Dominic Cummings’ scalp.
Mind you, the First Minister has made a decent fist of the presentational side of guiding us through the Covid-19 nightmare, even if Boris Johnson and his coterie have set the bar fairly low on that score.
That’s not to say there haven’t been blunders: the Nike cover-up, the care home disaster and the dearth of protective kit for those on the front line of battling the pandemic, can’t be forgotten – even with the Nationalist revisionists applying extra elbow grease with that overworked airbrush.
In comparative terms, Miss Sturgeon has played it well, though those around her are a rag-tag crew of uninspiring placemen veering from one fiasco to another safe in the knowledge they’re unlikely to lose their jobs for a while yet.
That said, there will be many of us, after this weekend, reflecting that whatever her shortcomings, and there are a few, Miss Sturgeon’s management of the response to coronavirus has been more sure-footed than Mr Johnson’s.
That wouldn’t be hard, admittedly, given the mess over Mr Cummings – a display of tone-deafness reminiscent of the Calderwood scandal, but at least that was relatively short-lived.
Still, those of us appalled at the Cummings fiasco will probably be able to resist the urge to clap for Miss Sturgeon, or berate journalists for having the temerity to ask her questions, or frantically retweet STV videos about her supposed popularity among primary schoolchildren.
Give her credit where it’s due, but let’s not pretend she can do no wrong – unless we want to clap our way further into a Soviet Scotland where mindless praise replaces reasoned analysis.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.