As I write, it looks very much as if Nicola Sturgeon’s reign will continue. Lesley Riddoch’s verdict on the First Minister’s appearance before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints is probably about right – “she survived”, As Lesley notes, that’s “not a particularly glowing review”, but it’s enough for an explosion of triumphalism among Sturgeon’s famously fervent devotees. They’re an unquestioning and undemanding lot. Sturgeon didn’t have to break sweat to keep them sprawled adoringly at her feet. All she had to do was turn up and remember to bring her technique with her. Those of us who thought she must surely be fatally bowed by the taint of suspicion even if not crushed by the weight of evidence were perhaps not reckoning with that technique. It’s impressive. Until you see through it. And then it creates only unease and annoyance. It’s all just too polished. Too practiced. Too natural to be real.
Sturgeon’s technique is like a magic trick. It fascinates only so long as you can’t figure out how it’s done. Once the mechanics of it become apparent, all you see is the machinery. You may still admire the slickly oiled machinery with all its smoothly meshing gears and silently spinning flywheels and perfectly tensioned springs. But the magic is gone. There is a sense of loss at its vanishing. But there is also a feeling of release.
I didn’t watch the whole session. I dipped in and out when I wasn’t otherwise occupied with the battle against carpet moths. I struggle to resist drawing analogies between fumigating a house to rid it of pests and need for something similar within the SNP. I am tempted to draw parallels between the precautionary spraying and powdering and the measures required to restore check and balances to what I once was able to boast of as the most democratic of political parties. The damage done by these household pests is all to reminiscent of the harm being wrought on the SNP by a different form of infestation.
While Sturgeon’s sycophants search for new superlatives to apply to her performance before the Fabiani committee others are as concerned as ever about the the condition of Scotland’s governance and the state of Scotland’s cause. Whatever one thinks of that performance it cannot sensibly be claimed to have healed any divisions in either the party or the independence movement. A widening gulf remains between the believers and the doubters. Between those who hold Sturgeon to be a worker of wonders and those who wonder what work this is. The believers will assert that Sturgeon’s performance has ‘proved’ their case. The doubters were given nothing to allay their concerns. Believers remain believers because faith precludes and/or prohibits doubt. Doubters remain doubters because questioning is the antidote to the intellect-crippling affliction of faith.
The blindness of the faithful is as incomprehensible to doubters as the causes for concern are to the blindly faithful. The faithful are baffled by the doubters’ refusal to focus solely on the positives. The doubters are perplexed by the faithful’s insistence on focusing solely on the positives. The mindset of the faithful is alien to the doubter. The mindset of the doubter is anathema to the faithful. There can be no meeting of these minds. The divisions remain.
Nothing was solved or resolved by Nicola Sturgeon’s testimony. Nonetheless, the faithful will insist that everything was. They will continue to demand that the doubters recant their expressed concerns and embrace the faith for that is the one true path to the glory of independence. The doubters on the other hand will want to see that path before they stop asking to be shown it. One of the principle tenets of faith in Sturgeon is that she is going to head a government which will deliver a free and fair referendum and thereby the restoration of Scotland’s independence. The doubters need to be given a reason to believe this. The faithful point to various statements made by Sturgeon and her team which they believe to be solid commitments to take the necessary action. The doubters look at the same statements and see only vagueness and ambiguity and prevarication and obfuscation.There can be no meeting of these minds. The divisions remain.
The faithful point to the polls and hail them as harbingers of a brighter day. Doubters see the weakness. They see small fluctuations in polling prompted by factors that are transient and with no direct or necessary connection to the constitutional issue. The faithful say isn’t it wonderful that Yes is consistently polling over 50%. Doubters wonder why the polls aren’t five to ten points higher given circumstances that so favour the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Doubters wonder what happens when the factors keeping the polls above 50% pass into history. Believers see this as heresy. Doubters are proud to be heretics. There can be no meeting of these minds. The divisions remain.
Doubters give voice to their worries about the SNP’s internal strife. The faithful either deny that there is any strife or insist that it must not be spoken of. The faithful maintain that all issues can be dealt with after independence. Doubters see how the issues make it unlikely that independence will be restored by the people who provoked the issues.
The faithful look at each of the three things at the centre of doubters’ concerns in isolation the better to minimise them. The doubters see a disturbing pattern. Doubters see links between the matters being addressed by the two current inquiries investigating the behaviour of Nicola Sturgeon and her administration; the takeover of the party by a relatively tiny clique of crazies and stripping away of the membership’s authority; and the abysmal failure to provide leadership in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Doubters see the common factor – Nicola Sturgeon. The faithful say never mind all that look at how well she has handled the public health crisis. As if that obviates all other concerns.
The faithful talk of unity when they mean unquestioning conformity. Doubters recognise that unity can only be possibly if the causes of disunity are addressed. Believers insist disunity is caused by doubters’ insistence on addressing the causes of disunity. There can be no meeting of these minds. The divisions remain.
The faithful insist there would be no problems if only the doubters would stop examining the problems and trying to understand them and pointing out their implications. Doubters doubt that. Problems evaporating through being ignored or denied is not a phenomenon much noted in human experience. There can be no meeting of these minds. The divisions remain.
Nicola Sturgeon has survived her appearance before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints. It seems likely that she will survive that inquiry. But she will not survive unscathed. Her reputation has been damaged. Challenges remain that she may not survive with quite such evident ease. Her technique will not be as effective in the other inquiry. The rumblings within that party grow by the day while the party’s leaders and managers respond with more of the things that are giving rise to the rumblings. They deal with dissent by shutting down any means by which the dissent can have a voice within the party. Members are now totally excluded from all decision-making and allowed only insultingly token participation in the deliberation process. Members have been rendered powerless. The broad division here is between those who object to being disempowered and those who are content so long as it is done in Nicola Sturgeon’s name and with the carrot of a referendum dangled before them.
The tremors and aftershocks of the botched effort to ‘get’ Alex Salmond will continue and will weaken both the party and the independence movement. This will happen even if Wheeshtmaster General Paul Kavanagh were to get his way and doubters be completely silenced. The whole affair is grist to the mill churning out British Nationalist propaganda. The feeling that there is something not right about the way both Alex Salmond and those who made complaints against hive have been treated. For all the talk of #MeToo and the unarguable need to treat complainers with respect, the sense remains that there was another agenda in play. The anti-independence campaign has proved adept at amplifying such suspicions. Damage has been done. Nicola Sturgeon is responsible. She will not be held accountable.
The biggest test of all may be the coming election. It is clear what the ideal outcome is for Scotland’s cause. A crucial element is a massive win for the SNP. It has to be something quite extraordinary to serve the independence cause. By here behaviour, Nicola Sturgeon has decreased the likelihood of this. There is no way of knowing by how much. But damage has been done.
Besides, we’ve had exceptional opportunities before during Sturgeon’s incumbency as First Minister and party leader. All have been squandered. As a doubter, I am looking for some reason to believe that it would be any different should that massive win for the SNP be achieved.
The so-called list parties – self-styled alternative pro-independence parties – are a further complication and another product of Nicola Sturgeon’s inability to lead the independence movement or keep it united. If Sturgeon was doing the bang-up job the faithful claim she’s doing then there would be no list parties. There would be no erroneously perceived need for them. There would be no electoral space for them.
Nicola Sturgeon has survived. But at what cost?