If it wasn’t for their election blunders, the SNP would have no campaign at all.
After an Edinburgh nurse grilled Nicola Sturgeon on live TV over the SNP’s one percent NHS pay cap, Nationalist frontbencher Joanna Cherry told the BBC the healthcare worker was the wife of a Tory councillor. Not that it should matter — it no longer being 1953, women are allowed different opinions from their husband — but it wasn’t true; the celebrated QC had picked up a rumour from the cybernat cesspit and run with it. The First Minister stood by her candidate in Edinburgh South West, characterising her behaviour as ‘an honest mistake’. Who amongst us hasn’t briefed against a lifesaver or two in our time?
Earlier this week, an SNP activist in Cowie, Stirling filmed herself following Tory campaigners as they delivered leaflets to voters. The Nationalist stalked them from her car, blasting music, and shouting ‘get out of Scotland’ and warned she would be ‘coming after’ them if they returned to the village. Another SNP leading light attacked Christine Jardine, the Lib Dem candidate in Edinburgh West, in a cruel and callous Twitter rant. This troll, a Nationalist council candidate just last month, accused Jardine of campaigning during the post-Manchester election truce. In fact, she was burying her husband that day but her pleas for decency went unheeded by Nicola Sturgeon’s boot boy.
One Tory candidate reports that his Nationalist opponent has taken to accusing voters at hustings of being secret Labour members. Sorry to disappoint the SNP but this is an election in Scotland, not an episode of Homeland. Most of us can’t remember if we’re still in the office lottery syndicate let alone co-conspirators in a Unionist masterplan to throw the election.
For an “unrepresentative minority”, the SNP sure seems to have a lot of these people. But Nicola Sturgeon is mightily grateful for them this election cycle because they are distracting from her listless, scattershot campaign. The slogan remains the same as in 2015: Stronger for Scotland. As bumper sticker mantras go, it’s pithier than ‘Stronger for that Narrow Slice of Scotland that Wants Another Independence Referendum’ and more upbeat than ‘Honk If Your Child Can Still Read This Sign’. At least the slogan is consistent, unlike everything else about the SNP’s campaign. They’ve assured us this election is both about Scotland deciding when to hold a second referendum and nothing whatsoever to do with Indyref2. They’ve had more positions on the EU than the EU has member states. Their message changes day by day, their lines of attack hour by hour. Good governments run on their record. Bad governments run from their record. This government can’t work out what its record is.
If you want to understand where things have gone wrong for the SNP, we have to talk about Kevin. Most voters will never have heard of Kevin Pringle but there are two things you have to know: 1) He bears more than a passing resemblance to Tim Stamper, the Machiavellian chief whip from the original House of Cards TV series, and 2) He is ten times as ruthless and effective. The former SNP spin doctor was an architect of its two historic victories — the 2007 election to government and the gravity-defying majority in 2011. He got the polls, the Press, the punters and how to make all three work to the SNP’s advantage. Today, he works as a high-end lobbyist and it shows, for his party is rudderless, belatedly fighting a rearguard action against a Scottish Tory Party that has been insurgent for more than a year.
Backroom boys excite the makers of Netflix dramas more than the general public but they serve an important role. The best, and Pringle very much falls into that category, are not just shills for their boss but ambassadors from Normalland, inside the bubble but providing regular updates from that strange, distant realm known as ‘the country’. They keep their leader tethered to the concerns of ordinary people, reining in lofty visions with hard truths about schools, hospitals and jobs.
There is no Kevin Pringle in the Palace of Sturgeon. The First Minister reigns over a lonely court, attended only by consort Peter Murrell, her husband and SNP chief executive, and deputy first minister John Swinney, an ex party leader and veteran Nationalist. Mr Swinney knows where the bodies are buried and he has the shovel to prove it. But there is no one with the courage to tell her she’s lost touch or the nous to help her get it back.
The smell of desperation thickens the air. Yesterday, a Sunday newspaper which functions as the Murrell Family Round Robin splashed across its front page Miss Sturgeon’s dire warning: ‘Just ten days to save Scotland from the Tories’. Save us from what? Are they going to make Jackson Carlaw Sings the Best of Gilbert and Sullivan a mandatory unit in the Curriculum for Excellence? Or send Murdo Fraser round to rearrange everyone’s flower bed into the pattern of a Union Jack?
The SNP has nothing left and so it is falling back on that old classic, The Tories Are Coming To Get You. We will find out on June 8 how much that dread tale still scares Scotland. Going around talking to voters, this does not feel like a frightened country. In the pubs and front rooms and work canteens of Scotland, fear is not the foremost emotion; in truth, it’s not even anger. It’s exasperation. Scots are fed up with a government that has the power to do almost anything but the will to do almost nothing. If it’s not independence, the First Minister doesn’t care and the voters are starting to catch on. The whole country is now Govanhill, a place Nicola Sturgeon vaguely knows, seldom visits, and no longer understands.
There are many things that could be said about a man who blows up children at a pop concert but none of them are printable in this newspaper. And I don’t want to say them anyway. Manchester was attacked by a villain but he brought out the city’s heroes. Stephen Jones, the homeless man who tended to the wounded until the paramedics could arrive. Paula Robinson, the passerby who guided 50 terrified teenagers to the safety of a nearby hotel. Then there were the Mancunians — typical Mancunians — who opened their homes to strangers, fed them, gave them cups of tea and phones to call distraught loved ones. When we come to debate British values, as we surely will in the weeks ahead, we will again struggle to define them. Whatever they are, they were on display last week in a thousand acts of love that carried a city through its darkest night.
Hillary Clinton has broken her silence again. ‘I admit that I’m not a perfect candidate,’ Mrs Also-Ran 2016 said in yet another magazine interview. Nonsense, Hillary. You managed to lose to the most unqualified man ever to run for the presidency. You were the perfect candidate — for the Republicans.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.