The snap election showed Nicola Sturgeon was outmanoeuvred and out of touch with parts of Scotland
Never has it been more true that a week is a long time in politics. As I write, it is just seven days since we went to the polls and were sucked into a political vortex from which there appears to be no end.
We went in on the premise of looking for some certainty and came out with anything but.
And it is, ironically, Theresa May, who in her hubris taunted the opposition for being a collective of inepts, who has imposed her own version of a ‘coalition of chaos’ with a hung parliament and the spectre of another election anytime soon.
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And, as ever, there is a Scottish context. When once dogged supporters of the Labour Party were the cannon fodder for a Westminster system that inevitably delivered a government we did not vote for, we now have Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories providing succour to a right-wing, hard Brexit, minority government led by a lame-duck premier.
An enfeebled prime minister diminished by her own vanities who previously pledged to “fight against the burning injustices” of poverty, race and class has now been forced into a humiliating deal with the DUP whose archaic attitudes drag us into the past and not to the future. And while the Tories may wish to colour this unsavoury coupling as some marriage of convenience, the fact is that the DUP stands as an anathema to the progressive, forward-looking nation that most of us hoped we had become.
The anger is palpable. And rightly so.
My take on the DUP is coloured. No doubt. I once sat next to the incomparable Rev Ian Paisley on a plane flying back from New York. The Protestant evangelical minister, and then leader of the DUP, was an enormous bulk of a man whose inevitable invasion of my personal space I only endured because in breastfeeding my baby son, it must have been such an anathema to his senses, trapped as he was between his own questionable convictions and my right to use my breasts for what his god intended, that I took some twisted pleasure in the situation. He asked to be moved but the plane was full so there he sat, consumed by an obvious discomfort of his own making. And while, clearly, I can’t judge the DUP on this one unwelcome encounter, I can say with conviction that I despise much of what they stand for in terms of equalities, abortion and the right to love who your heart most desires. I certainly didn’t vote expecting them to share in my country’s governance. And neither, I suspect, did you.
Ordinarily, this bizarre and frankly unjust set of political circumstances would be ripe for the SNP to brazen their way into another referendum, but that has been stymied on a number of fronts. Not least by Ruth Davidson, who ran a fantastic election campaign based on a single cause of ‘no to another referendum’.
Nicola Sturgeon is taking time to reflect. And for the first time is feeling the real pressure of being both the leader of an independence party and the First Minister of Scotland. She is being pulled in different directions and this will be a test of her mettle.
The SNP had never really felt the negative aftershocks of 2014. Far from it. Their ranks were swollen by those that remained impatient for change. There was no real raking over the coals. No in-depth analysis of what went wrong. No prospectus for how to win next time around. After all, having won another election in 2015, why look to change? And then there was Brexit.
Sturgeon was right then to put independence back on the table. Scotland had voted to remain and she needed to reflect that both as a leader who had promised it in her manifesto but also as a first minister who could defend the right of a majority of Scots to remain within the EU.
But things changed. A snap election. One that the PM said would not be called. Sturgeon dithered and a lacklustre, defensive and confused campaign exposed the schism within – those who want independence now, and those who are willing to hang on. More damagingly, it revealed a first minister out of touch with parts of Scotland and she hadn’t seen that going on.
Davidson outmanoeuvred Sturgeon and capitalised on what was easily portrayed as an obsession with independence to the exclusion of redressing falling standards in education, improving hospitals, growing the economy, and no longer can anyone argue that Scotland doesn’t vote Tory. It does now.
Sturgeon remains the most formidable and popular leader – despite the way the polls have been spun – and none of her opponents yet looks like a government in waiting. But there is time.
This week she will move the debate on from a referendum to a need to pull together on Brexit. But she needs to do more. A radical ministerial reshuffle that brings in some of the youth team – Kate Forbes for one – and revisits some of the old – a wise leader keeps the greybeards on side – would be a savvy move.
Sturgeon shouldn’t be paralysed by the argument for independence but should move it on from when to have a referendum to building a Scotland that means you hold it when you would win it.
Theresa May told Nicola Sturgeon that “politics is not a game” but as we sit in what very much feels like a political waiting room, with nothing more substantial to read than dog-eared articles about Brexit DIY and political window dressing, it does feel like we are just waiting for someone, anyone, to make the next move.