Why face the bitter truth when you can just blame Brexit, Nicola?

What do NHS understaffing, low growth and imitation whisky have in common?

It’s something they share with a weakening of environmental protection rules, lack of teachers in our classrooms and threats to agricultural support. So too business anxiety, rising import prices and fears of mass job losses.

Getting warmer? Ask yourself what unites rising inflation, a return to roaming charges and public sector under-recruitment.

Okay, one last clue: It’s the reason Scottish farmers are having a hard time hiring soft fruit pickers.

Answer: Brexit. The above is only a partial list of all the horrors Nicola Sturgeon has blamed on the UK’s exit from the EU. There is still another year to go before we actually leave but the First Minister has so far assured us that Brexit will cost, variously, £2,000, £2,300 and £5,000 per head. (Any advance on £5,000?)

Last week at Holyrood, the SNP leader was asked to explain why economic growth in Scotland is a third of that of the rest of the UK. You will be shocked to learn where she laid the blame.

‘We are against the challenge of ideologically obsessed Tory Brexiteers who want to rip our country out of the EU against our will,’ the First Minister declared.

Scapegoats are wonderful things. How much more pleasant life is when all our problems are someone else’s fault.

Bumped next door’s car while reversing out the driveway? Their bad parking, not your careless driving. Credit card bill has one too many noughts on the end? Amazon shouldn’t have tempted you with all those deals. I misplace a comma in my, copy? This useless laptop…

Nicola Sturgeon figures that blaming Brexit is easier than admitting the unpalatable truth: that she and her predecessor have failed the Scottish economy and the people they were elected to serve.

Don’t point the finger at us for falling standards in schools, they say. Blame Brexit. Don’t hold us to account for the fact your wee one had to wait six hours in A&E the other night. It’s all down to Brexit. Can’t find a job or facing a cut in your hours? Nothing to do with economic mismanagement and punitive taxes. A big constitutional referendum did it and ran away.

This is no exculpation of Brexit. I voted Remain because I calculated it was the best outcome for our economy, trade and political standing on the world stage. I also have bat radar when it comes to nationalism and, despite a respectable case for maximal sovereignty and liberalised trading, that appealing tune was drowned out by the sirens of jingoism, closed borders and protectionism.

I respect the democratic decision of the majority, and the sincere principles that led many to it, but this was one vote where I would have rather seen Nicola Sturgeon on the winning side.

So when I accuse the Nationalist leader of exploiting Brexit to excuse her legion failures as First Minister, it is not the sour grapes of a sore winner but the frustration of someone who agrees with her.

When Brexit presents its bitter medicine, we will be entitled to spit it out in the direction of the Tories. Brexit is a project of their devising. If it turns out to be a rip-roaring success, I will hold up my hands and give them credit. If the road ahead is as bumpy as I expect, I have no intention of popping a Dramamine and keeping quiet.

But bashing Brexit, especially one year out, is a convenient excuse for a government that has been in office for nearly 11 years and, flush with incompetence but miserly in its attention to any issue other than independence, has failed to use the vast array of powers at its disposal.

We learn that, after squalling endlessly for more welfare powers, they are asking Westminster to hold on to some a little longer. These are the people who were going to found a new state in 18 months.

The First Minister’s attempts to weaponise Brexit would have a little more credibility if her own position was at all clear.

Patrick Harvie last week became the latest querier of Sturgeon’s stance on Brexit and received what has now become her stock response: ‘I do not think my views on membership of the EU are any mystery. I oppose Brexit in principle, I do not want us to leave the EU, and I want Scotland to continue to be a proud European nation.’

Sounds definitive, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but with this First Minister, every word must be parsed. She is against Brexit, of course, but note that she does not commit her party to taking Scotland back in. Norway is a proud European nation and the Swiss are daft for Brahms, Michelangelo and the Enlightenment but neither is a member of the EU.

Her sleight of tongue is purposeful. Thirty years on from the SNP’s adoption of ‘independence in Europe’, she finds herself leading an increasingly uneasy coalition of Remainers and Brexiteers and must assuage both or risk a rift.

For the former, she does her small-European-nation spiel; for the latter, she monsters the Common Fisheries Policy mandatory for EU membership.

At some point, a reckoning will come. Until then, one thing Nationalists can agree on is that the UK Government is at the root of all Scotland’s ills. If Westminster didn’t exist, the SNP would be the first clamouring to invent it.

Putting Brexit in the dock for the Scottish Government’s mistakes feels a safe strategy. It is, in fact, a high jeopardy one. Nationalism promises strength but the moment people feel strong it loses its hold over them, so the First Minister must go on portraying the most powerful devolved parliament in the world as weak and helpless.

No one wants a First Minister they have to feel sorry for or a government that would do bold and progressive things if it weren’t for rotten luck. Nicola Sturgeon once messianically pledged to ‘save Scotland from Brexit’. The only thing she is trying to save is her own skin.

*****

While the rest of us spent Easter weekend dozing off to The Greatest Story Ever Told after scoffing some of the worst chocolate ever poured into an egg mould, Willie Rennie was sprinting up his very own Calvary.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader is darting along the Fife Coastal Path in aid of mental health charity SAMH. The North East Fife MSP hopes that running the 117 miles (or 188 kilometres in Lib Dem money) from Kincardine to Newburgh will help raise awareness as well as much-needed cash. Highly admirable, even if he is making everyone else look terrible.

When I wrote about my own struggle with mental ill health on this page back in February, I was overwhelmed by the kind emails and messages from readers. We don’t invest nearly enough in this area so SAMH needs all the help it can get.

If you can spare a few pounds, you can donate through Willie’s charity webpage: justgiving.com/ fundraising/willie-rennie.

*****

‘One year to go and I still wake up punching the air each morning!’ tweets Andrea Leadsom on the countdown to Brexit. I wouldn’t like to wake her up when she’s overslept. Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg says we’re ‘a great and powerful ship’ and ‘the destination of Liberty is still in sight’. I think the captain should ration the rum.

Have your say on these issues by emailing scotletters@dailymail.co.uk.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk. Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.

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