I have a strong feeling that history will not look back on Nicola Sturgeon’s time as First Minister as a success. In the immediate aftermath of her resignation many of her supporters were quick to jump to social media to express their disappointment at her resignation and congratulate her for the apparent success of her reign.
From what I can see, the length of her time as First Minister and the list of successes don’t quite match up, especially when you examine her predecessors time as First Minister. Whether that be in day-to-day policy or the raison d’etre of the SNP, Scottish Independence. The two most obvious policy successes of her government have been the Baby Box and the Scottish Child Payment. Both laudable policies that help to alleviate some of the inequalities that plague Scottish society however are the equivalent of trying to gaffer tape a hole on the side of the sinking Titanic. The bit part measures at mitigating UK government policies should never be the hallmark of a strikingly successful Scottish Nationalist Government. To really address these issues, fundamentally you must seek to solve the root cause.
If you believe in Scottish Independence that root cause is unquestionably the fact that Scotland does not have control of our own resources and potential. There has been a disgraceful lack of any attempt by her government to link the most pressing issue of the day, the soaring price of energy, with the case for Scottish Independence. The rather bizarre publication of Scottish government papers that attempted to demonstrate the case for Scottish Independence never really got going. There has been no update from the government as to what happened to the publication of further papers on Europe, Pensions etc. Perhaps after the reception their depressingly unimaginative paper on currency they thought it was best to take a break.
For those that believe there is some sort of secret plan, I have news for you. There isn’t. It really pains me to say this, but it is abundantly clear that for the last 6 years the SNP and Scottish Government have sat on their hands and hoped that overnight support for independence would skyrocket without them having to do anything. We’ve seen any short-term increase of support for Independence after the EU referendum wane and the same for the support created during the pandemic. Real movement in the polls can only come about via a sustained campaign highlighting the reasons why we should be independent. I don’t think even the most ardent fans of Nicola Sturgeon would being to pretend that has happened under her watch. Ultimately being an effective communicator, at which there is no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon is, can only get you so far if it is not backed up with a determined strategy.
So, onto the future. Angus Robertson is clearly the front runner with perhaps Kate Forbes as second in the running order, but I think that it would be foolish to believe this is a two-horse race. This leadership election provides every member (as of the 15th of February) with one vote. The real SNP memberships numbers are still unclear but nevertheless it is still in the tens of thousands. There is a lot to play for and if a candidate can come forward and put forward a positive vision for the future, one clear on how we get there and how we convince people then I think they stand as good a chance as anyone. I sense there is a growing tiredness of empty rhetoric amongst SNP members, they want to see the rhetoric backed up with positive action on independence.
The resignation of Nicola Sturgeon should be a point where we draw line in the sand and forget all that has gone on before. The new leader’s priority, whoever they are, must be to heal the wounds of division that have unfortunately damaged the movement in recent years. The first most obvious step would be to call a constitutional convention to set out their vision and see what the movement thinks of it. From then we can all rally behind an agreed strategy and get out and change people’s minds. The case is obvious, it just needs to be made. The road to independence may be long and difficult, but by working together, we can overcome any obstacle. Let’s come together as a movement and fight for our future.
Robert joins us as a guest blogger for the first time, in a strictly personal capacity.