Liz Truss appealing to darkest Tunbridge Wells by suggesting any government she led would ignore Nicola Sturgeon is political folly for any unionist. Over a year ago in May 2021, this site featured a blog entitled “Sturgeons Stavka”, in which the talents of her new 10-member Cabinet was discussed. The conclusion was this would be a government with ideas to leave both Tory and Labour opponents floundering
We were wrong; the noise you hear is the munching of a big slice of humble pie.
Ms Sturgeon has lost the plot—not that she does not remain the best politician operating in Scotland. Back in May 2021, she was riding high, having given a master class in leading a nation through the Covid crisis and delivering on major projects like the Queensferry Crossing or EGIP electrification.
Since then, ossification has set in. Declaring an independence referendum to be held on October 19th has been the only news. The silence from her Cabinet has been deafening. What’s going on? Surely electoral success, her steady hand on the tiller against a backdrop of ineffectual opposition from Ross or Sarwar and bonkers Boris self-immolating in No 10 should mean things only getting better.
As regular readers will know, this site takes a pro-independence stance in matters political. That said, it also attempts to be a critical friend to that cause, pointing out overlooked ideas and promoting debate. But, with the last year of Sturgeon’s Stavka looking like a damp squib the referendum’s jaikit is on a shoogly nail.
The problem appears to be Ms Sturgeon herself. Whereas Alec Salmond’s robust ego handled opposing views from senior colleagues aas debate, and not a threat, Ms Sturgeon is behaving as if a palace coup were in train. Our FM does not like criticism and the Cabinet seems to have been muzzled and become a rubber stamp. Even Cabinet Secretaries now avoid challenging her, or showing much public presence.
As examples, in the previous Cabinet, Kevin Stewart and Joe Fitzpatrick had already into a passive “don’t-make-waves” roles. Their more experienced replacements have been equally silent. Shona Robison’s massive portfolio covers Social Justice and Housing (each needing undivided attention), as well as Local Government, currently in revolt because of ham-fisted control and budgeting. Angela Constance has the Drug Policy brief, but after a year in post, deaths remain four times that of other UK nationss.
Margaret Thatcher reportedly said she only needed two or three good men to help run the show. Nicola prefers women but doesn’t make use of either. Keith Brown was once willing to challenge, but was moved and has been singularly low-profile in the Justice brief—far more so than Kenny MacAskill, whose headlines over integration of Police Scotland, and culling of District Courts made him famous.
The urbane Angus Robertson took over the Constitution brief from the equally urbane Mike Russell, but is seldom in media as Mike was. Shirley-Anne Somerville took over the can of worms that is Education from John Swinney (as loyal a lieutenant as anyone could want), but her more abrasive style sits badly with unions and parents and is seldom seen defending PISA scores. Health combined with Social Care is a promising idea, but so far, little more than papering over the gulf between with Joint Boards has happened. Granted, creating a National Care Service in current times would tax Nye Bevan. Unfortunately, the affable, inexperienced Humza Yousef is no Nye Bevan.
Assigning Cabinet roles to the young and thrusting is no bad thing. But when ambition is cautious, Ms Sturgeon can dominate the Government more than is good for democracy. Her Cabinet lacks balance,d opinions, especially as it placess too little emphasis on the economy and its growth. Combining economy and finance under Kate Forbes is a very British construct. For all the talk of being European, the SNP remains a classic British party in many respects. Even before independence, public finance depends on the strength of the Scottish economy, which receives scant attention. The tax powers the SNP clamored for come with responsibility and unpopularity attached. But Ms Sturgeon’s avoids those to focus is to give voters what they want. The means to pay for it gets short shrift. Her manifesto is commitments simply don’t add up.
While the voters still think the SNP is competent, much evidence is mounting that Sturgeon’s Government is far from that. Danger flags include PISA scores, incomplete ferries, resentful councils (even SNP ones), drug death statistics and stalled poll levels supporting independence. She remains lucky, in that her opponents have been so weak and very lucky that Westminster Tories are such clots when dealing with what they treat as the Provinces.
But all that cuts little ice with Scottish business, nor the absence of any big ideas to sway Scotland’s ambitious middle class who see no economic benefit because the case has yet to be made. The claptrap coming out of Holyrood about “cleaner, greener, fairer, more prosperous society” needs real policy flesh to be put on such spindly bones.