Evidence continues to mount for my theory that Nicola Sturgeon has entered the Late Maggies, the final stretch of a political career where hubris has eclipsed perspective.
It was First Minister’s Questions last Thursday and the First Minister became irritable when Labour’s James Kelly asked her a question. She’s almost got the hang of it.
Sturgeon advised Kelly and his comrades to show ‘a little bit of self-reflection and humility’. The spasm of cackling from the opposition benches was met with flinty bewilderment: Sturgeon lacks the self-reflection to know humility is not generally regarded as one of her virtues.
This is, after all, the woman who declared a ‘climate emergency’ before opening a new terminal at Edinburgh Airport five weeks later.
Another case in point was her assessment of the final two contenders for the Conservative Party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. The First Minister told BBC Scotland: ‘I think most people in Scotland will be looking at the Tory leadership election and wondering how it’s possible for a political establishment at Westminster to be so out of touch with mainstream opinion in Scotland.’
The Conservative Party has made its choice: for Brexit and, in all likelihood, for Boris. It has done so in the knowledge that either eventuality could give independence a final nudge over the line.
Even so, Sturgeon’s comments are sheer humbug. They are a subtle form of ‘othering’, framing UK politicians as foreign and unwelcome north of the Border. They are also lacking in the very self-reflection and humility Sturgeon counsels in others. Physician, heal thy policy agenda.
If the First Minister wants a glimpse of a political establishment out of touch with mainstream opinion in Scotland, she need look no further than the small, remote echo chamber she heads at Holyrood. It is from this rarefied position that she confuses her personal preferences with the national will. This has led to a Scottish Government more at variance with the priorities of the average voter than at any time since 1999.
Whatever one might say about her predecessor, he had a knack for thinking like ordinary Scots and understood what they would tolerate and what they wouldn’t. Sturgeon’s policies read more like the demands of a student sit-in at a 1970s polytechnic than the legislative agenda of a First Minister.
High on her list of priorities — none of which is education — is the introduction of a workplace parking levy. The concept is arrestingly simple: penalise people for going to work every day by allowing local authorities to slap a parking tax on their employer, who will in turn be free to pass the cost on to their employees. Based on a pilot of a similar scheme in Nottingham, motorists face parting with up to £500 a year and there will be no exemptions for police officers or fire-fighters. After all, SNP MSP John Mason reassures sceptics the levy is merely a ‘tax on the elite’.
Sturgeon’s next objective is a ban on smacking. The proposal to remove the justification of reasonable chastisement from the offence of assault is actually the brainchild of radical Green MSP John Finnie but the First Minister could not let a right-on bandwagon pass without commandeering it.
Proponents dishonestly assert that a ban will not criminalise parents, but rather encourage behavioural changes, all the while knowing that police officers do not factor legal mitigations into their decision to arrest a suspect. Parents who so much as raise a hand to their naughty child — without even making contact — will be at risk of arrest, with all the consequences that will bring for their reputation, employment and children’s wellbeing.
Only 30 per cent of Scots back a ban but Sturgeon intends to press ahead regardless, like a truly ‘in touch’ government.
Another hobby horse that bewilders most voters is reforming the Gender Recognition Act (2004) to shift from a medically-assessed transgender process to one of self-identification. They speak of little else down the Dog and Duck. Sturgeon is attracted to causes like these for their virtuous elan and their appeal is reinforced by an echo chamber of advisers whose shallow thinking is rivalled only by their shallow politics.
Even on meatier matters, the First Minister is far outside the mainstream of Scottish public opinion. Consider her efforts to scrap custodial sentences of less than 12 months. It’s the sort of policy that appeals to a sap-headed liberal like me but I do not deceive myself that I am representative of the average Scot on matters penological. The First Minister and her justice secretary may tell themselves that they are simply ‘ahead of the voters’ and ‘leading progressive change’ and other such self-justifying word jumbles, but on crime and punishment they are at least as out of step with Scottish voters as Boris Johnson is on Brexit.
Sturgeon’s mission to make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is of a piece with this. Squeezing more money out of already hard-pressed families is the instinctive and ideological approach of the soft-Left, anti-aspiration wavelength on which Sturgeon and those around her operate. It is only because she and they so rarely leave that wavelength to listen to how ordinary Scots feel about being milked like cash cows that their confiscatory envy seems reasonable.
Perhaps the most harmful example of the First Minister’s imaginary mainstream is her fixation with holding another referendum on independence, just five years after the last ‘once in a generation’ vote. She so seldom listens to the Unionist perspective that she fails to grasp that hers is the fringe opinion — independence, now, always, whatever the circumstances and whatever the costs.
Those of us who used to urge Sturgeon to ‘get on with the day job’ failed to spell out exactly what the day job was. It is not spurning the slog of cutting waiting times and raising educational standards in favour of fashionable causes. It is not punishing workers or arresting parents; it is delivering the services they and others like them pay for and expect. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt may not have their fingers on the pulse of Scottish opinion but, then, they are based 300 miles south in a different parliament and a UK-wide government. What’s Nicola Sturgeon’s excuse?
Kezia Dugdale has held her final surgery as an MSP in preparation for leaving Holyrood next month. The Labour politician is stepping down to take up a role running a think-tank at Glasgow University.
First elected age 29, Dugdale was leading her party just four years later, after the independence referendum upturned almost everything about Scottish politics. It was too soon, she was too young and her leadership was doomed from the start. It ended ignominiously two years later.
But she stepped up when no one else would, showing a mettle first glimpsed in testing referendum debates. That steel came in handy again when her failure to toe the new far-Left line made her a target for the Corbynista bully boys.
Dugdale has given her all to public service and has even gone through a very public estrangement from her hardline Nationalist father, an intolerable price to pay. What does it say about Holyrood that a young, talented woman sees no future within its walls?
Video has emerged of Nicola Sturgeon singing Nationalist anthem ‘Caledonia’. Ruth Davidson also enjoys a bit of karaoke — you’ve never heard P!nk’s ‘Get the Party Started’ till you’ve heard it with a Fife twang — and should respond in kind. I’d suggest ‘Obsessed’ by Mariah Carey, ‘Better Together’ by Jack Johnson and ‘Get Over It’ by the Eagles.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.