The spotlight, perched on high in the gods, bathed the stage.
A murmur ran through the audience as the main feature began to roll. The star swept into view in bubblegum pink, ready for her close-up, and her fans erupted as they always do.
All party conference speeches are performances but Nicola Sturgeon must put on the slickest show of all. Every year, it falls to the SNP leader to explain in the same speech why independence is essential — just not yet.
‘I can hardly walk in these shoes, let alone dance in them,’ she simpered. It was a quip about dancing, you see. Because Theresa May danced at her conference. And no one else has made a joke about that until now.
All in all, she spent more time on gags than she did on education, where, four years into her premiership, the joke’s on everyone else.
The Nationalists’ leading lady mugged her way through all the classics. The Tories are mean. It’s grim down south. Aren’t we all lucky to have her in Bute House?
Doctors were good and nurses too. Westminster was full of rotters. ‘A political system that throws up Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson as contenders for Prime Minister has clearly gone very badly wrong,’ she snarked. It’s a much better system when you just inherit the job from your mentor.
There was a brief interlude during which the First Minister of Scotland appeared to transform into a Sister Sledge tribute act:
’I don’t really think of Scotland as a small country. I think of it as a big family. And, yes, that does mean the occasional disagreement, but throughout it all we care for one another. We’ve got each other’s corner. We’ve got big hearts. We’re not afraid to show love.’
I’ve no idea what that means but I felt a sudden urge to buy whatever deodorant/life insurance/brand of oven chips she was selling. Whomever is advising her on this Mother Scotland schtick needs to dial it down. Sturgeon is a ruthless political operator, not the Oprah Winfrey of Glasgow Southside. The voters are fine with that. They want her to run the country, not a self-help book group.
In other news, the First Minister still doesn’t understand how parliamentary democracy works, lambasting the ‘miserable doom-mongers in the opposition parties’. She thinks opponents are meant to spend their days issuing pronouncements of her glory. It’s the Scottish Parliament, not the newsroom of The National.
The cheap seats had bought their tickets for her soliloquy on independence. It was scarcely worth the admission price. The SNP would now support a People’s Vote on Brexit, though she stressed that independence was ‘the very opposite of Brexit’. Well, quite. Brexit is actually going to happen.
Independence was about ‘partnership’. Everyone remembers the episode of Cagney & Lacey where they decided the best way to be partners was to erect a border and adopt different currencies.
When the time came for her big scene, she looked straight down the camera: ‘I am more confident than ever that Scotland will be independent. Our task now is to step up our work to update and strengthen the case.’
You might remember that dialogue from some of her earlier work. Such as conference 2017: ‘We can, we must, and we will always make the case for independence… So let us make our case with conviction.’ Or conference 2016: ‘The time is coming to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. Let’s get on with making that case.’ Or conference 2015: ‘If we want Scotland to be independent – and we most certainly do – then we’ve got work to do. There are no shortcuts. We must build the case and make it stronger.’
Those horrid Unionists might think they could tell Scotland when it could have another independence referendum but Sturgeon had news for them. She stood tall, thrust her shoulders back and boldly declared her intention to wait until some undetermined point in the future and decide then what to do.
Now was the time for ‘pragmatism, perseverance and patience’. The ‘context’ of independence would have to wait ‘for the fog of Brexit to clear’. Safe to say the UN won’t be ordering an extra seat from IKEA any time soon.
Sturgeon had marched her men to the foot of the hill and said, ‘Look, still there’.
They had seen this turn before and yet still the crowd applauded. To think the Academy keeps giving Oscars to Meryl Streep and leaving acting talent like this unrecognised.
As she departed the stage in a glister of flashbulbs, the director of this big-budget, low-value production put in an appearance. Out of nowhere, party chief executive Peter Murrell popped up and within seconds he was gone again, like an Alfred Hitchcock cameo. No wonder he looked so pleased with himself. Like Hitch, he had tricked his audience with a MacGuffin: while they chewed over the idea of People’s Vote, they failed to notice that — once again — Indyref 2 had been cut from the screenplay.
At some point, when the cameras stop rolling, when the lights go up, the audience is going to realise it’s been watching the same old reel on loop.
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