July is an intense month for dates ready-registered in your e-diary. From American independence (4th) through Battle of the Boyne (12th_ to Bastille Day (14th) and even the Plot to Assassinate Hitler (20th). Today (19th) is something of a non-day, with not much to celebrate. But that will change.
Because today is Nicola Sturgeon’s 50th birthday and she stands on the verge of achieving the goal to which she has dedicated her life: Independence for Scotland. Regular readers will know this reporter shares that goal, and might comment “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” But there is more to the assertion that that. For the first time ever, objective and even unionist scribes are sharing that view. It is not just veteran political observers like Ian MacWhirter, but respected academics like Professor. John Curtice and equally respected card-carrying sceptics like the Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson and Alex Massie.
In the barrage of issues that have charaterised the five months of Covid hogging the media spotlight so much that even the previous blitz of Brexit news has struggled for air time, a steady drift of public opinion in Scotland has gone largely unreported. This has been further muffled by a tendency—especially in the BBC—to talk of the success in the battle against the virus as being comparable between Scotland and England. When differences are mentioned, it tends to be assertion that care home deaths have been higher in Scotland. Much of the coverage blurs the distinction between UK and England. Even social media has missed what is going on, as evidenced by this:
Nicola is absent from the second group. She deserves to be there. While UK media was trying to follow Boris’ administration bumbling England into the mody disorganised Covid handling in Europe, Nicola, after a bad start from following England, built a strategy, explained progress against it in front of the cameras herself, bringing the death rate down to single digits a week while England’s is still in the hundreds.
While British media may not have clocked this, the Scottish people have. There is a UK poll on net approval rating done by YouGov that puts Boris at -4, compared to Nicola at -22. But a similar poll of Scots only, done by the Scotsman has Boris a -25, while Nicola romped home at +74. This is going unreported.
Dealing with Covid dominates politics both sides of the border. Leadership shown in it is crucial and will influence Scottish Parliament elections, due in just over nine months . Ruth Davidson brought Scottish Tories back from the brink because she exuded competence. Her charisma reached beyond the Tory faithful. Jackson Carlaw lacks her breadth of appeal. Alex Massie has described him as “the kind of Tory you would find propping up a golf club bar in Newton Mearns”. Cutting and slightly unfair as this may be, it underscores the problems oppositions to Nicola’s SNP face next May.
If they contest the election on the union—their raison d’etre, Nicola will regard it a pre-referendum to justify a real one, The old argument that Scotland’s too poor can’t hold water, with UK debt at an unaffordable £2 trillion and climbing. She would be likely to win the election, make an undeniable case for and likely win “Indyref 2”. If the Tories fight on the SNP government performance on domestic issues, on which they have been lacklustre, that may be dismissed. Nicola remains popular, despite this,
People saw Boris as a shoddy journalist, a mediocre London mayor, a bumbling foreign secretary and a Brexiteer who fudged his facts. But his simple message, high recognition and ebullience won him a solid majority. Nicola is on track to do more than emulate him.
Even allowing for six months of wrangling, referendum within two years and the actual separation within two more, this could make Nicola—provided the SNP won the first independence general election—Prime Minister before she was 55. Having clocked a decade leading the SNP at that point, it is unlikely she would serve another decade to full retirement. SO when she steps down in, say, 2028, don’t be surprised if July 19th becomes a national holiday.
Nicola came into Scottish politics when Labour dominated it but could do nothing against Thatcher with their ‘feeble fifty” MPs. My first sight of Nicola was at the 1993 SNP conference at Dunoon when, as a firebrand of the Young Scots for Independence, she railed against Tory colonial rule , Trident on the Clyde and the poll tax. The SNP had just lost Govab…for a second time. She made it hers, fought it four times before she won and has held it since,
Clunking into National Executive meetings in sober suits and fashionable shoes, she does not exude Salmond’s lad o’ pairts bonhomie, nor John Swinney;s bookish earnestness but has presence. When she speaks, it is quietly forceful and well reasoned. She may not laugh as readily as her former Provost mother Joan, which has helped build her ‘nippy-sweetie’ moniker. But her humour is subtle and keeps a balanced view of herself
She would be successful even if husband Peter Murell did not run the party back office as Chief Executive. He is no Dominic Cummings, but that is a good thing. Let Boris and Dominic play fast and loose with a cranky and vulnerable English constitution. Nicola eschews such bluster, is ambitious for her country more than herself and is tough enough and smart enough to be awarded a holiday on her birthday.
It will be well earned.