Are the faithful having doubts? The key figure in the push for Scottish independence since 2014 has been Nicola Sturgeon, the current First Minister of Scotland and the Scottish National Party leader. While her position on fossil fuels, feminism, and Europe has changed with the wind over the decades, Sturgeon has always been a vocal advocate for Scottish independence and has been the driving force behind the movement in recent years. However, there are grumblings of disquiet in the ranks as not everyone who supports Scottish independence likes or even trusts Nicola Sturgeon: some now see her as a roadblock who has prioritised her position and personal reputation over the cause.
Nationalism is a spectrum.
The YES campaign has always known that Scottish nationalism is a spectrum: indeed, their key demographic tool since 2014 has been to rank all Scots on a scale from 1-10 on how strongly they support or oppose independence and target their propaganda appropriately.
For the minority of hardcore Nationalists, the idea of independence from the rest of the United Kingdom is a deeply held belief, one fueled by an unearned sense of national pride and suppressed or overt Anglophobia. It defines their worldview and often stands in as a replacement for a personality. The SNP felt they could safely ignore appeasing extreme nationalists like supporters of Wings over Scotland or Siol nan Gaidheal because if it ever came to a referendum vote, they would be considered in the bag.
But many more nationalists are ‘Soft-yes’ voters who may hypothetically agree with it in principle, at some point, but not in practice and not something to embrace in the immediate future when faced with the reality. They may vote SNP at elections but may be happier to support independence in the polls than the polling place. While Nicola Sturgeon’s approval polling remains relatively high compared to the split opinions of unionist leaders, it isn’t stable or bulletproof.
Many once ardent supporters of Scottish independence have clearly lost faith in her.
Why are the faithful forsaking her?
Disagreements on strategy and tactics:
There is no denying that Sturgeon and the SNP have been successful in keeping the issue at the forefront of political discourse. However, not everyone agrees with the tactics and strategies that the SNP has employed in pursuit of independence. As hard as it might be for Scots who don’t support independence to understand – Some people may feel that the SNP has been too conciliatory or compromising in its approach. Nicola has been talking about a second independence referendum since the last one was over. Nicola has successfully used that to gain and retain her own pounds, power and pensions.
There is a suggestion that the latest change in the leadership of the SNP Westminster group, while stage-managed, has been a blow with loyal Ian Blackford’ resigning’ and the Sturgeon continuation candidate failing to secure support from the majority of MPs. New leader Stephen Flynn and deputy Mhairi Black are reportedly looking to break with orders just being phoned-in from Edinburgh. Some of the anger may be in Sturgeon’s strategy of using the next Westminster general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum. After all, she personally risks nothing in a Westminster election, but her MPs forced to campaign on a one-line manifesto could lose their £80k a year salaried positions.
Others may think that the party has been too aggressive or divisive; independence isn’t the top priority for most Scots and even for most Scots who nominally support independence. They might in theory, like independence in principle. Still, they want healthcare, education, justice and transport working now- and they can see how Nicola uses nationalism as a shield to avoid talking about these failing areas on her watch.
Previous Green MSP Andy Wightman previously upset the nationalist apple cart by not voting along constitutional lines when on a committee investigating Sturgeon. He had higher principles than to fall into line for the greater nationalist good. Similarly, he doesn’t support Nicola Sturgeon’s unpopular push for a referendum being used to stamp down on domestic issues.
Some unionists I know have been a little disturbed to find they agree with Commonweal director Robin McAlpine who has gone so far as to say there are only six months to save Scotland from the SNP under Nicola. His argument is he has had an epiphany that while they could always promise independence around the next corner, they could ask people to wheesht for indy – so ignoring the Scottish government’s mishandling of everything from the NHS, to education, to ferries. He says:
“The illusion that we can accept Scottish Government failure because a referendum was round the corner must now come to an end” – Robin McAlpine
Concerns about transparency and accountability:
The SNP leadership is not as immune to criticism or scrutiny as it likes to think. While opponents have long had concerns about the transparency and accountability of the SNP and its leadership, these concerns have spread to the membership and other SNP politicians – particularly regarding issues like funding and campaign finance. There are concerns about the influence of special interest groups, the conflict of interest between Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, and the use of public funds for party political purposes. Her credibility has not recovered from the missing £600k. Her bouts of selective amnesia in committees, her refusal to release information, her use of handwritten notes to avoid leaving an electronic trail, her use of party email to avoid oversight and famously, her reluctance to have meetings minuted, witnessed or recorded.
Concerns over Nicola’s behaviour even led to an open letter from, at that time, SNP councillor Christopher McEleny saying:
“in truth, whether it be the dreadful mismanagement of gender reform, or the Hate Crime Bill, or the OECD’s report into education in Scotland, these are all part of the wider problem of your expensive army of special advisers not doing their job of supporting the formation of good legislation, good governance, and good government.”
Concerns about Gender Reform:
When Alex Salmond was the leader of the SNP, it was an openly discussed problem that he was unpopular with women voters. Given what later came out about his behaviour, which was at best unacceptable if not illegal, this perhaps isn’t a surprise. At the start of her premiership, Nicola was supposed to be the answer, and she was more popular with female voters. Some moves have also been made in terms of gender balance and representation, which are to be welcomed.
However, while Nicola claims to be a ‘feminist to her fingertips’ she has come under severe criticism from ‘gender critical’ feminists over her gender legislation. Let’s be clear – Trans rights are human rights, and this poorly written legislation is open to abuse. These statements are not in conflict, but the legislation has created conflict between Nicola and many women, including, allegedly, the threat of resignation from her own finance minister and potential successor Kate Forbes.
The Scottish Gender Recognition Act has been the subject of controversy and debate in recent years. The act will allow individuals to legally change their gender without the need for medical intervention. This has sparked a heated debate about the rights of transgender individuals, with some claiming that the act is a step forward for transgender rights, while others argue that it threatens women’s rights and undermines the concept of biological sex.
One of the main criticisms of the gender recognition act is that it allows individuals to self-identify as the gender of their choice without needing medical or psychological evaluation. This has led to concerns that the act could be exploited by individuals who wish to gain access to single-sex spaces, such as bathrooms or changing rooms, for nefarious purposes. Critics argue that this puts women and girls at risk and undermines the privacy and safety of these spaces.
Another concern raised about the act is that it could have a negative impact on women’s sports. Some argue that allowing transgender individuals to compete in women’s sports could give them an unfair advantage, as they may have physical characteristics typically associated with men. This could lead to transgender athletes dominating women’s sports and potentially undermining the achievements of cisgender women.
Nicola is facing criticism that the act will be used to silence women who express concerns about transgender rights. In particular, some argue that the act’s provisions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity could be used to punish women who express dissenting opinions on transgender issues. This has led to fears that the act will be used to stifle free speech and debate on a contentious and complex issue.
Despite these criticisms, proponents of the gender recognition act argue that it is an important step forward for transgender rights in Scotland. They say that the act allows transgender individuals to have their gender identity legally recognised, which is crucial for their ability to access services and opportunities. Supporters also point out that the act includes provisions to protect single-sex spaces and that there are strict penalties for those who attempt to exploit the act for nefarious purposes.
Overall, the controversy around the Scottish Gender Recognition Act highlights the complex and contentious nature of transgender rights. While some view the act as a positive step forward, others have raised concerns about its potential impact on women’s rights and safety. Ultimately, the success or failure of the act will depend on its implementation and the willingness of all stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue and debate.
There seems little doubt that it has harmed Nicola’s authority within the SNP: leading to the largest backbench rebellion in 15 years.
Disillusionment with her record in government
Many who support Scottish independence in principle have stopped supporting Nicola Sturgeon because they have become disillusioned with her performance in government. In part, this may have been by design, but if so it’s a hand she’s overplayed.
Nicola is voted in with a responsibility to deliver devolved services while strategically wanting devolution to fail. She knows that if a devolved government delivers what most Scots want – which in most areas it should be capable of doing- the desire to risk change must drop. She could only increase support for independence by making us unhappier now with devolution and hoping we didn’t notice that she’s responsible for the failure of devolved services.
There comes a time when people say –
“yes, independence, but your promises on the attainment gap have been meaningless, we’ve the worst A&E waiting times on record, Often the trains aren’t running at all, never mind running on time, Scotland has Europe’s highest drug deaths, support has dropped for victim support services right when we have stopped jailing people under 25, the promised farming subsidies have not been paid, the ferry you ‘launched’ in 2017 will be millions over budget, much of the spend unaccounted for, but may never be in service…”
the list goes on, but surely there’s only so much most Scots will put up with today with the promise of independence tomorrow: especially with a a lack of progress or momentum seen there.
A lot of the independence movement has been, essentially, taking on trust that ‘Nicola has a plan’. Playing her up as some sort of tactical genius that would be revealed to the faithful shortly.
It’s possible that Nicola is a cunning strategist, but as this game theory based analysis shows her actions make more sense as an exit strategy for protecting her career rather than furthering the cause that supposedly binds nationalist voters to her.
All Political Careers End in Failure
Nicola has been in the Scottish government since 2007: 15 years in power is commendable longevity, but it is becoming clear that she is losing the trust of many independence campaigners and nationalist politicians both within and without her party.
The decapitation of her loyal, humble crofter Ian Blackford may be the beginning of a move to oust her from power, but it would not be an easy job for the factions within the party to move against her on her home turf. She was coronated SNP leader without a contest in 2014 when Alex Salmond resigned ( to move to his natural home in Westminster, where he thought he would be kingmaker to Ed Milliband.)
The SNP has grown by aiming to be a broad church that welcomes both the left wing middle class and right-wing natural conservatives – Sound unlikley? Consider these two examples: Michael Russell, the current SNP president who Nicola Sturgeon has put in charge of making the case for independence proposed scrapping the NHS for a privatised insurance-based healthcare system in an independent Scotland. Now consider that the only tax policy the SNP proposed in 2014, in a whitepaper launched by Nicola for an independent Scotland was a cut in corporation tax to benefit businesses. Not for nothing did the SNP used to be called ‘tartan tories.
The secret of SNP appeal is that they can present independence as the single answer, whether you want a green revolution or an oil boom. Whether you want a worker’s paradise or an off-shore tax haven. Whether you want NATO Membership or to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons. Whether you want Scottish sovereignty or European integration. Whether you want to keep the pound, or join the Euro – Independence is the answer.
- So dissent has been stifled.
- MPs gagged from disagreeing.
- Strict discipline has focussed on ‘wheesht for indy’.
Incredibly the SNP has not had a leadership contest since 2004. One is long overdue. Most SNP members and politicians have never experienced an SNP leadership contest: the SNP grew into it’s current shape under Nicola and her husband, Peter Murrell, and they have shaped it to prop up her power.
The National Executive Council of the SNP was making critical moves against them: looking to suspend Peter for his mishandling of party finances. However, in a purge, the ‘Top Brass’ of the party- Nicola and her closest cabal, cut the NEC down from 42 to 32 members. They removed around half of the regional members who represented the branches of the party.
The majority of Scots have not voted for Nicola Sturgeon, or even for Nationalists. For is, this leaves us with a democratic deficit while she remains the First Minister.
But now, with prominent nationalists openly briefing against her, with SNP branches and members being cut out of power, with a Westminster group that she was willing to use as pawns, but who are not as willing to sacrifice themselves, she has an over-extended party where the pressure of conformity have been building and papering over the cracks won’t hold it together forever … she will hold on for a fair time yet, but when the end comes it may come quickly.
For nationalists: suddenly being critical of Nicola is no longer considered heretical and may soon even be the orthodox position.