In the court of Queen Nicola

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Someone on the BBC got a bit overexcited and teed it up as ‘the Queen’s Speech of Scotland’.

Nicola Sturgeon’s annual Programme for Government doesn’t boast quite the same pomp and glitz, though she does wear her customary crown of virtue.

Addressing her court, the Nat regnant declared that this was ‘not a normal, business-as-usual Programme for Government’ because of coronavirus. This was her way of foreshadowing the paucity of new Bills in her announcement.

That’s a double-edged sword with the Nationalists. They go through alternating stretches of legislative torpor and hyperactivity. One minute they won’t lift a finger, the next they’re banging people up for singing the wrong songs at the football.

In place of substantive legislation, we got a lot of high-minded talk about climate change and technology, with more action on emissions and free electronic devices for the worst off. Let’s hope these laptops aren’t manufactured in China, the planet’s leading emissions polluter. That’s the kind of thing the First Minister might call hypocrisy in other circumstances.

Bringing digital access to 50,000 deprived families is grand, as is supplying retraining to 10,000 job seekers, but as mission statements for government go, it was all a bit Traffic Cones Hotline. Well-meaning, but hardly transformational.

There was one piece of legislation, however, that did get a look in.

Go on. Guess.

Sturgeon told MSPs: ‘We will publish, before the end of this session of parliament, a draft Bill setting out the proposed terms and timing of an independence referendum as well as the proposed question that people will be asked in that referendum.’

If you guessed something on education, go to the back of the class.

Another referendum Bill, that’s what Scotland needed. ‘Brexit and the way in which it is being implemented,’ she explained, ‘immeasurably strengthen the case for Scotland becoming an independent country.’

The First Minister forgetting her wi-fi password immeasurably strengthens the case for Scotland becoming an independent country. At least if we did vote for Scexit it would bring a merciful end to the regular updates on things Nicola Sturgeon deems an Indyref 2 trigger.

She’s clever, mind. She concluded with a canny pitch to older, conservative-minded voters, in the form of a tribute to the wartime generation and how, ‘even in desperate times, they resolved to build a better world’. This is the electoral group most sceptical of Scexit and yet, to the horror of Tory strategists, they have been expressing to pollsters confidence in Sturgeon’s handling of coronavirus.

It wasn’t long ago that rank-and-file Nationalists were piling steaming heaps of contempt on older voters. Now she intends to court them. Not to worry. The pro-Union movement is famously a well-oiled political machine. They’ll launch a counter-offensive sooner or later, and maybe even before Scotland becomes independent.

For a programme so marked by legislative inertia, the First Minister dedicated a fair whack of her remarks to productivity. To help those who wish to continue working from home, she unveiled a new Centre for Workplace Transformation. Maybe they should set it up at St Andrew’s House and transform that into a workplace.

She warned of ‘a tsunami of redundancies’ if the job retention scheme wasn’t extended by the UK Government, Scotland’s cruellest oppressor and largest employer.

The most promising pledge was to commission a review into setting up a National Care Service, a fine policy and just as fine when it appeared in Labour’s manifestos for the 2011, 2017 and 2019 elections. No doubt this brazen theft was why the First Minister felt the need to announce more investment in policing.

Independence, though, was what it was all about. Sturgeon sighed: ‘If this was a Programme for Government in an independent Scotland, it would not have to contemplate the damage of Brexit at all. Instead, it could set out even more far-reaching plans.’

They certainly would be more far-reaching, First Minister. Just not in the way you think.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters:


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