Sturgeon girns, spins and splurges for the faithful

They couldn’t agree a slogan for the SNP’s Aberdeen conference and so there were three.

The branding read ‘Stronger for Scotland’. Nicola Sturgeon kept telling us she was ‘moving Scotland forward’. The garish-yellow lanyards were emblazoned ‘We can’ in a scratchy font that looked like it had been scribbled in biro at the last minute, and might well have been.

Scotland is trying to move forward but it can’t shake this woman running after us demanding to know how much sugar is in our tea. The First Minister spoke to delegates at the AECC for about 40 minutes on Saturday. It was a matter of girn, spin and splurge.

The Tories, you’ll be shocked to learn, still eat babies and worship Satan. ‘This UK Government is a shambles,’ Sturgeon inveighed. ‘It is reckless, it is selfish and the sooner it holds no sway over Scotland, the better for all of us.’

‘Ruth Davidson’s rhetoric very rarely survives contact with reality,’ she added. Nicola Sturgeon knows a thing or two about reality. She gets a good look at it from her branded helicopter every five years.

That was the girn. The spin came in an audacious attempt to present her workshy, constitution-fixated ministry as a policy powerhouse. This consisted mostly of re-announcing everything she announced over the past two months. Much of it was commendable but, as of Tuesday, she will have been First Minister for 1,300 days. What’s taken her so long? That’s the problem with Nicola. She can but, unless it suits her, she won’t.

Next, she got out the national credit card and went shopping for votes like Imelda Marcos with a shoe closet to fill. She announced pay rises for some NHS staff, long-overdue student support, and 750 new or revamped nurseries. Someone’s rattled by Richard Leonard’s lefty hectoring.

Suddenly, a grenade: ‘Our responsibility is this: Not just to focus on the “when” of independence but to use our energy and passion to persuade those who still ask “why?” Right now, that is the more important task.’

You’ve never heard silence till you’ve heard an entire SNP conference pause to take in the news that, yes, they’re going to keep banging on about another referendum but they won’t actually be doing anything about it. We’ll see how long they let her away with that.

On Friday, the First Minister had a nasty run-in with Channel 4 News reporter Ciaran Jenkins, who had the temerity not only to ask her a question but to ask her one she couldn’t answer. How much was she claiming it would cost to set up an independent Scotland? Blank stare. She had forgotten, though in fairness it’s not easy to recall a number that was plucked at random in the first place.

Sturgeon glared with cold fury at her interrogator. I’m not saying Ciaran hasn’t been heard from since but all his family asks is that it’s a nice gulag. Deliciously, at the very moment Sturgeon was being skewered on Channel 4, delegates were passing a resolution backing Glasgow’s bid to be the broadcaster’s new HQ.

Elsewhere, Derek Mackay continued his long-running battle with Gerry Fisher, a veteran member who has been remitting back motions since Robert McIntyre was a lad. As party business convener, it’s Mackay’s job to get conference through the agenda on time. As Gerry Fisher, it’s Fisher’s job to do everything in his power to prevent that happening. If Scotland voted for independence, he’d remit back on a technicality. Many regard him as a tedious pettifogger but he’s an annual highlight for those of us who appreciate bolshy pensioners and independent minds.

Clara Ponsatí took the stage to a standing ovation, accompanied by her lawyer Aamer Anwar. The 61-year-old is being sought by Spanish authorities on charges of rebellion and misappropriation of funds for her role in arranging last year’s unilateral referendum in Catalonia. Madrid turned the rozzers on Catalan voters — and was allowed to by the bold democrats of the EU — and now wants us to believe Ponsatí is a dangerous subversive. Granny Sedition nervously cried ‘thank you’ over and over, before heading back down the road to St Andrews University, where she is Head of Economics. A regular Lev Kamenev, that one.

Even so, there’s something unseemly about the way the SNP keeps wheeling her out like the Mother Teresa of separatism. She wasn’t there on Saturday to be shown solidarity but to serve as warm-up act for Nicola Sturgeon. ‘A referendum is never illegal in a democracy,’ the soft-spoken academic declared, and the building almost shook at the roar. Ponsatí is being used to signal that the SNP aren’t a bunch of insular parochialists.

When folk who think the differences between people in Coldstream and Cornhill-on-Tweed are so irreconcilable that we need to erect a border between the two start to call themselves internationalists, you know irony has built a wall and is making the rest of us pay for it.

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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at  

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