There is absolutely no doubt that being on the frontline of politics comes at a huge personal cost. We have seen that cost etched on the furrowed brow of Nicola Sturgeon in recent weeks as she has battled personal attack, divisions in her party and the realisation that she had acted in error in announcing her plan to make the next General Election a “de facto referendum.”
I wish her well for her future and in taking up opportunities outside politics.
From her stint as First Minister, she will be remembered as a formidable political operator and the most effective communicator in the business during her time at the top.
It should be noted that Sturgeon has dedicated her life to the issues she believes in. She is a ruthless champion for the causes that are close to her heart, obviously with number one being independence for Scotland. But we have also seen this in recent weeks with the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. Regardless of your own views on this, it is clear that she continued to defend this policy as she believed it was the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences to her own popularity and political career. This will now undoubtedly be part of her legacy.
I’m happy to be magnanimous, as have been many of the complimentary statements made by her political rivals in response to her departure. It should be noted though that she has not always been so kind herself. She literally danced on live television when the widely respected former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson lost her seat.
I couldn’t help but be struck by the lack of basic self-awareness in her resignation statement. She expressed little regret about her enormous failures in government.
Our NHS is on its knees, with waiting times breaking records for all the wrong reasons. It is crying out to be nurtured. The attainment gap between pupils from the poorest and richest families, closing which was Sturgeon’s self-proclaimed ‘defining mission,’ is as high as ever.
Councils are facing another round of budget being slashed, that will result in services to the most vulnerable being cut. Drug deaths remain the highest in Europe. Life expectancy is going down.
This did not just happen to occur while Nicola Sturgeon was at the helm. These are the consequences of her choices as First Minister. Primarily her choice to make campaigning for another referendum and for breaking up the UK her number one priority and the priority of the politicians that she led.
This was regardless of poll after poll showing that the people of Scotland do not support leaving the UK.
This was regardless of poll after poll showing that even fewer people supported a second referendum happening in the next couple of years.
Nicola’s height in popularity came as we battled through the darkest days of Covid. Her leadership and communication skills were put on full show, as despite the case and death rates of Covid being almost identical in Scotland as that in the rest of the UK, and we saw the disastrous results of the care homes policy, Sturgeon achieved record favourability ratings which dwarfed those of other politicians at the time.
That level of support was short-lived however. Whilst she has remained a popular politician, the level of this popularity has been steadily dropping ever since.
And the uncomfortable truth that the SNP needs to accept is that those brief rises in support that we have seen occasionally for independence have usually been closely tied with support for Sturgeon, especially during and since Covid. Will a new leader achieve that level of influence?
In her eight years in office, I have admittedly lost count of the number of times she has launched, and relaunched campaigns for independence or a second referendum.
Unfortunately it has been successful in keeping the debate about our constitutional future at the forefront of our political discourse and the public’s minds.
This has caused two problems. The first is that many still define themselves and others by their view on independence, keeping us split when this really should have been put to bed in 2014.
The second is that this debate has been the smoke which the First Minister has been able to hide her disastrous governance behind.
But polls this week show that years of this campaigning from Sturgeon’s SNP has ultimately increased support for Scotland remaining in the UK.
My jaw dropped when I heard her claim in her resignation statement that, “there is now majority support for independence,” when the most recent poll, just 48 hours old, gave a clear 12% lead for Scotland remaining in the UK.
It was immediately clear when she announced her “de facto referendum” plans that she had acted in error. No one person or party can control what issues people choose to vote on, and the constitution is way down the list of priorities for the vast majority of voters. To try and declare independence following an election with no referendum would be ludicrous. And it seems that voters, and much of the SNP, could see that quickly.
She had backed herself into a corner and the outcome became inevitable. She could not lead her party into the next general election and therefore must resign sooner rather than later.
The next leader should be focussed on uniting our country and using all of the powers that the Scottish Government has to put in place solutions to the problems we are facing now; fixing our public services and helping people through the cost of living crisis.
It is for those of us in opposition to nationalism to be relentless in our pursuit of the SNP and the Greens. Their arrogance, hypocrisy, failures in government and divisiveness must be exposed and highlighted.
Now really is the time for the people’s priorities, not the SNP’s.
This article by Scotland in Union's Chief Executive Pamela Nash first appeared in The Scotsman on 16/02/2023