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Analysis: Fall of Nicola Sturgeon

By Nikola Bryce (Workers GB Writers Group)

Political leaders across the collective west are dropping like ninepins since the start of the Ukraine war, now it is the turn of Nicola Sturgeon.

In an interview a few weeks before with BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, when discussing Jacinda Adhern’s shock resignation, Sturgeon stated: “… for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t feel anywhere near that right now.” But after eight years in office, dominating the Scottish political landscape, was Sturgeon pushed, or did she go of her own volition?

Born in 1970 she studied law at the University of Glasgow before entering the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Sturgeon, currently MSP for Glasgow Southside, had been in government from 2007. Also serving as Deputy First Minister, she became First Minister in 2014 presiding over what has been likened to a one party hegemony.

Protégée and friend of the then First Minister, Alex Salmond and SNP leader for 30 years, the two appeared to be an unstoppable force, dominating Scottish politics for a decade. Around 2017 the two started growing apart.

In 2018 allegations were made of sexual harassment by two female civil servants against Mr Salmond. Denying the allegations, Mr Salmond initiated legal proceedings against the Scottish government for their handling of the investigation. The Scottish government conceded defeat, paying his legal fees of more than £500,000. Following his vindication, Mr Salmond accused officials close to Ms Sturgeon, including her husband Peter Murrell of plotting against him. They denied the claims.

Following his acquittal, Mr Salmond was arrested and subsequently again, in 2019 on multiple counts of sexual assault and attempted rape when he was First Minister. If he had been convicted the charges would have carried a lengthy prison term. He claimed there had been a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” from some in the Scottish government and leading SNP figures to damage him and send him to prison. Ms Sturgeon accused him of peddling false conspiracy theories.

Following the trial, Holyrood held two separate inquiries. It was found the Scottish government’s actions had been “seriously flawed” and that Ms Sturgeon had misled their inquiry when giving evidence. However, short of ruling she had ‘knowingly’ misled MSPs, in which case she would have been forced to resign for breaching the ministerial code.

Nicola Sturgeon took over the reins from Salmond, following the SNP’s 2014 defeat of 55% to 45% in the Scottish independence referendum. However the Brexit result of 2016 for the SNP had turned a seeping sore into a gaping wound, as the majority of Scots voted remain. A new determination was injected into their quest for independence.

Seizing on Scotland’s majority pro EU vote, the SNP called for a second referendum, after which Sturgeon promised to apply to rejoin the EU. However such a move would go against the idea of independence, handing Scotland’s sovereignty to a bureaucratic state of unelected commissioners, a pseudo parliament, an unelected president and council of ministers, all vying for their own country’s interests. Scotland would have no control over their laws and borders, with sanctions and billions withheld in cohesion funds, as recently happened to Hungary, if they don’t tow the line.

Whilst the middle class would flourish under the EU with cheap Eastern European au pairs, a second home in the Dordogne, cheap labour boosting the profits for their businesses and the EU buying off the middle class with grants for the arts and academia, it would be a disaster for the working class. Their wages, terms and conditions driven down by that same cheap labour in the service and construction sector, a lack of training and apprenticeships because of the ready pool of skilled EU labour would see the life chances of many working class Scotts diminish. 

A further blow was delivered to Sturgeon and the SNP’s monomaniac pursuit of a second referendum. Following a Supreme Court ruling, it was found the SNP did not have the power to hold a referendum without the UK’s government consent. Nicola Sturgeon, undeterred, decided she would turn the 2019 general election into a “de facto” referendum, a deeply divisive move, essentially hijacking the election in the interests of under half the people of Scotland. The proposal was that the SNP would hold a special conference to thrash out the details. With an aim of winning more than 50 percent of the vote, buoyed by a strong enough mandate, Sturgeon would then negotiate with the UK government, something the UK government is under no obligation to do, legally or otherwise.

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, is struggling with the worst financial crisis since the Second World War. Still recovering from the Covid pandemic the country as a whole has been dealt the double blow of unprecedented energy costs as well as price hikes in the cost of living due in part to the boomerang effects of the collective west’s sanctions against Russia.

However in this economic maelstrom, Scotland has been hit harder than the rest of the UK. As The Scotsman points out: “On a number of measures, Scotland appears to be faring worse than England. While around 15% of English households are in serious financial difficulties, in Scotland that figure is 21% – that’s proportionately 40% higher than England. By serious financial difficulties we mean things like struggling to pay for essentials such as food and bills, having no savings, and/or being behind in bills.”

Scotland’s health service is on the brink, with an estimated forty deaths a week in Scotland’s A&E attributed to lengthy waiting times of eight hours and over. The meltdown of GP services has been described as a “catastrophe.” In a Channel 4 interview Dr Annie Lomas GP expressed her concerns about “safe” workloads: “The BMA recommends twenty five patient contacts a day, that’s their safe working limit… a duty doc can work with fifty in a morning.”

In 2017 SNP health secretary Shawna Robinson promised to “increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over ten years.” However by 2022 the GP workforce had shrunk from 3,575 in 2017 to 3,494 in 2022, a loss of 81 GPs. With GPs leaving the NHS faster than they can be replaced due to retirement or other factors, Scottish Health Secretary Hamza Yousaf’s doubling down on his predecessor’s promise does not instil confidence.

Many inveigh against the state of Scottish education, once lauded and recognised internationally for its superb standards. In a comprehensive interview in the Herald, with the headline: “SNP nationalism is destroying education,” the distinguished Scottish educationalist Neil McLennon said: “Government mismanagement, has led to ‘a toxic culture in education which hinders improvement. Those in power want to protect their positions of privilege. People who speak out get knocked down. A new elite has emerged – and that means tribalism and ‘who’s in and who’s out’ of the new group?’ This shouldn’t be how education operates, he says.”

It was Sturgeon’s Neroesque attitude in her support of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which many attribute to her downfall. The Bill allowed anyone, including children over the age of 16 to change their sex without consulting a doctor. Critics of the Bill had concerns about the protection of female only spaces. The row came to a head when it came to light that a self-identified trans woman Isla Bryson, convicted of two rapes, was being held in a women’s prison. Sturgeon was embarrassingly forced to acknowledge the problem as the rapist was moved to a men’s prison.

Sturgeon fulminated against the UK government’s blocking of the legislation describing it as, “a full frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters,” whilst ignoring Scottish voters’ fury, 42 percent of whom, according to a Sunday Times survey, thought she should resign immediately. Nicola Sturgeon after fifteen years in government and 8 years as First Minister was succumbing to the same terminal condition as many of her politician predecessors: hubris.

Scandals have also hung over Ms Sturgeon’s time in office. There is the ferry fiasco. Ferguson Marine shipyard was contracted to build two cutting edge, environmentally friendly ferries for the west coastal isles route, a lifeline for the islanders. Delivery of the ferries have so far been delayed by five years due to spiralling costs. With a bill to the taxpayer of £450m, an independent public enquiry is being called for.

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, Chief executive officer of the SNP since 1999, has been facing calls to resign after personally lending £107,000 to the SNP. He is accused of breaking numerous electoral reporting rules, like for instance, declaring loans of over £7500 or more within 30 days of the loan been been made, something he and the SNP allegedly failed to do. Nicola Sturgeon said she “could not recall” when her husband made this loan to the party. Scottish police are also investigating alleged SNP mishandling of nearly £600,000 raised in an online independence campaign crowdfunded in 2017.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, many believe is an attack on freedom of speech in the privacy of people’s homes, another legacy of Sturgeon’s time in office. As illustrated by a report in the Herald, Tory MSP Liam Kerr attempted to table an amendment to the Bill: “… it would not be a crime to stir up hatred if ‘words or behaviour are used by a person inside a private dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling.” The amendment was defeated.

According to National Records of Scotland: “Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in all western European countries.” Whilst countries like Ireland have continued to see a steady increase in life expectancy, Scotland stalled from about 2012 – this is surely one of the most damning legacies of Nicola Sturgeon’s time in office.

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