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by Liam Kirkaldy
14 August 2020
Sketch: Nicola Sturgeon protests against Nicola Sturgeon

eflon via Flickr

Sketch: Nicola Sturgeon protests against Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon is very, very angry with Nicola Sturgeon.

In fact SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is so angry with the First Minister, who is also Nicola Sturgeon, that if she was younger, she would “very possibly” be protesting against herself.

If you are confused by this – and you probably should be – the FM was angry because pupils around Scotland were banned from sitting exams because of COVID, then had their predicted grades lowered by the SQA, sometimes drastically, with those in poorer areas hit hardest.

So it was really a classic good news, bad news situation. The young people in question didn’t have to sit exams, which is good, but then they failed the exams they didn’t have to sit, which is bad.

Some thought that was unfair, while others were SNP backbenchers. It was probably a bit of a shock for the pupils themselves, given that, by the Scottish Government’s logic, this could happen at any time. If you don’t need to sit an exam to fail it, you could be not sitting an exam at this very moment, only to find out later when a letter arrives that you had in fact done very badly.

And so young people were, understandably, pretty angry about all of this, which brings us to the protests and the FM’s suggestion she would be keen to get involved. So, if she had been younger, would she have joined in the protests, organised by pupils around Scotland? “Very possibly,” she admitted. “None of this takes away from the fact I absolutely understand the way young people who feel they’ve been unfairly treated will feel.

“If you’re a young person whose teacher has estimated one grade and you’ve got a lower grade, you are going to feel very aggrieved about that. I absolutely understand that, and if I had been in that position I would feel aggrieved about that.”

Well, there you have it. People say politicians don’t like criticism, but here was Sturgeon protesting herself. It doesn’t get much more critical than that.

But then it’s hard not to sympathise with the FM. We’ve all regretted the decisions of our past self, after all. Who hasn’t woken up tired and cursed their decision to stay up too late the night before? Or regretted a hangover? Or arrived as First Minister, announcing education as your key priority, before realising you have blocked thousands of children from the most deprived communities from getting into college or university?

It could happen to anyone. No wonder time travel appears tempting.

But how would teenage Nicola Sturgeon’s protest against adult Nicola Sturgeon work? And would the young people protesting the decision definitely want the FM there, given she was the one responsible for it? Some might question the wisdom of a political strategy based in bending the laws of time and space, but then the SNP’s opponents have always been guilty of talking reality down.

But at least they reacted. The Scottish Tories called for exam scripts to be returned – though no exams had taken place – while the Scottish Labour party responded with all the speed and focus we have come to expect, by announcing it would launch a petition in an attempt to gather support for its call to hold a review into what went wrong.

A petition for a call for a review into events. It was radical stuff. As Iain Gray put it: “Scottish Labour is calling on the people of Scotland to sign our petition to ensure that John Swinney is held to account for his actions.”

Well, fair enough. After that the party just went with the simpler option of, alongside the Tories, calling for Swinney to resign.

Meanwhile, as the SNP leader blasted the decisions of the First Minister, SNP backbenchers bravely said nothing at all. For more than a week.

At least they eventually emerged, but only after Nicola Sturgeon apologised, John Swinney U-turned and the Scottish Government announced all downgraded marks would be reversed.

The Scottish Greens, meanwhile, faced criticism for backing the government in the ensuing no-confidence vote, after it agreed to the party’s list of demands. For some Labour MSPs that was too much, though in fairness, taking advice from Scottish Labour on opposition strategy makes about as much sense as taking advice from Wile E Coyote on how to stop Road Runner.

Which really leaves us in a tricky place. Labour wanted a petition. The Tories wanted non-existent exam papers returned. SNP backbenchers did nothing and the Lib Dems were the Lib Dems. So how did this happen?

Well, there’s really only one working explanation – Scotland’s young people have proven themselves a more effective political force than any of the opposition.

It does feel like a real opportunity for electoral reform. They could get a spot at FMQs, for example. Ruth Davidson could have a go, then any randomly chosen 14-year-old, then Richard Leonard.

But at least for now young people can take heart from the fact the SNP leader evidently supported their criticisms of the FM. We can only hope Nicola Sturgeon listens.

Read the most recent article written by Liam Kirkaldy - Sketch: If the Queen won’t do it, it’ll just have to be Matt Hancock



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