Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Nicola Sturgeon's Legacy Problem: Why Doesn't She Just Run Scotland?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Nicola Sturgeon's Legacy Problem: Why Doesn't She Just Run Scotland?

Article excerpt

Nicola Sturgeon had a smart line prepared for the political TV merry-go-round on 14 May. Responding to Theresa May's comment last week that there were "boy jobs and girl jobs" around the home and that one of her husband Philip's chores was to take out the bins, Scotland's First Minister said that her own husband did the cooking and cleaning while she did the "girl job of running the country".

It was a neat inversion of May's own words on The One Show on 9 May, and of a piece with the Sturgeon's admirable determination that her elevation should inspire other women and young girls (though I'm sceptical that Mr Sturgeon--the frenetically busy chief executive of the Scottish National Party, Peter Murrell--has much time for cooking or cleaning).

But critics will argue that "running the country" is a less apposite description of what Sturgeon is about than "gaming the country": that the purpose of her premiership is proving to be little more than cattle-prodding Scotland towards a second independence referendum. More and more these days, the school-gate political chat I hear is likely to contain a frustrated variant of the First Minister's own phrase: "I wish she'd just get on with running the country."

If you're not a convinced separatist--and Scotland remains split fairly evenly on the issue--the SNP's relentless constitutional game-playing can be both wearying and irritating. Even those of us keen to give Sturgeon the benefit of the doubt, who admire her integrity, passion and wit and regard her as a fine public figurehead for the nation, can sometimes find it hard not to slip into cynicism about the motives behind some of her pronouncements and positioning.

The truth is that, for all its recent success, and despite the large proportion of seats it will retain at the forthcoming general election, the SNP is in trouble. I accept that on the face of it this sounds ridiculous, given the party's impressive performance at the 2015 general election, the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, and this month's local elections. But coming first in elections is not what the SNP is for, or what it really cares about. Neither gives the opportunity to govern: the aim of its rivals. These can only ever be a means to a very specific end--the end of the United Kingdom. And there are growing signs that this greater goal is slipping away.

In the Scottish Parliament at present there is a majority for a second independence referendum; indeed, Holyrood voted for such a step just a few months ago. But that majority is tight: 69 pro-independence SNP and Green MSPs, against 58 pro-Union members provided by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Sturgeon saw Brexit opposed by 62 per cent of Scots--as the game-changer that opened the way to another vote on separation. She attempted to bounce the Prime Minister into letting her hold one in either the autumn of 2018 or the spring of 2019. May said no.

When Sturgeon cried foul to the Scottish electorate, she did not get the response she expected. …

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