Nicola Sturgeon does good speeches. She is renowned for her communication skills. Skills which have stood her – and the nation – in good stead during a public health crisis which demanded the best of Scotland’s First Minister. Her opponents-for-the-sake-of-it scoff and sneer and dismiss her role as mere presentation. Such people are stupid, of course. Doubly so as I’m pretty sure many of them are perfectly well aware of the stupidity of what they are saying. As politicians themselves or as commentators claiming the knowledge and experience that qualifies them to speak with authority on matters of public policy, they must be aware of the importance of public perception. What is sometimes referred to in the ever-changing jargon of modern politics as the ‘optics’. If perception is important then it inevitably follows that appearances matter. Which means that presentation must be key.
Nicola Sturgeon does good speeches. her briefings during the early months of the pandemic won the trust of the people. This was vital because the cooperation of the public was vital. And they were being asked to do some rather difficult or extraordinary things. Their opinion of the person asking them to give their cooperation had to be positive. They had to trust that person. Nicola Sturgeon performed like a star. Let us never forget that as we comment perhaps in less complimentary fashion about other aspects of her conduct.
Nicola Sturgeon is particularly adept at the conference address. As Ruth Wishart observes,
Nicola Sturgeon is no amateur at dramatics; she’s well aware of which buttons her troops most wanted pressed.Ruth Wishart gives her take on Nicola Sturgeon’s keynote conference speech
I’ve been in the auditorium often enough as a conference delegate to know how effective Sturgeon’s button pressing can be. Often, I’ve reacted emotionally to her words despite myself. Despite my natural cynicism, I have been roused to pride or anger or sadness perfectly on cue. She’s bloody good!
Which is why I prefer to read a transcript of her conference address rather than listen to her giving it. I don’t want Sturgeon’s presentational skills interfering with my understanding and analysis of what she says. I also focus almost to the total exclusion of all else on those parts of her speech which relate directly to the constitutional issue. The self-congratulatory list of achievements and catalogue of goodies yet to be delivered is all customary and almost pro forma. It’s always the same. Sometimes literally, as the same goodies are announced for something other than the first time. The items on the list and the content of the catalogue may change, but formula is so well-worn as to be almost cliché.
For me, and I suspect for many in Scotland’s Yes movement, the meat of the speech is the stuff about independence. At every conference I’ve attended that is the bit that is the subject of most speculation beforehand and most discussion afterwards. Every time, the anticipation is strong. Every time, the actuality is appreciated according to the prejudices of the listener. Some hail it as tantamount to a bold declaration of independence. Others hear hesitancy, prevarication and obfuscation. And contradiction.
I surely cannot be the only one to notice a jarring disjunction between Sturgeon’s depiction of the British government and her expectation of it. |She paint a vivid portrait of a government that is as hapless as it is dogmatic; and as uncaring as it is careless. She characterises the British Prime Minister as an untrustworthy bigot. Having thus accurately described the British political elite as a vile mob whose ideology runs counter to everything Scotland stands for and all we aspire to be as a nation, she then proceeds to speak of her hopes for cooperation from the this unprincipled rabble as well as her determination to avoid confrontation with a regime that is openly attacking Scotland’; destroying our economy; inflicting harm on are people; undermining and dismantling our democracy. Does that sound to you like a government that might cooperate willingly and honestly with a process intended to end the Union which they cling to as ‘precious’?
Sturgeon says she intends to be honest about the difficulties that will surely face us as we restore Scotland’s independence. She is at least making some effort to be frank about how deleterious the Union is to Scotland. Should she not also be honest and forthright about the process by which the Union is dissolved and constitutional normality restored? Why is she talking about consensus and cooperation from a regime she herself implies is incapable of either? Why does she not acknowledge the reality that there is no route to independence which doesn’t involve confrontation with the British state?
More and more people in Scotland are recognising the reality that the fight to restore Scotland’s independence will necessarily be a fight in a very real sense. We are anxious to hear how Nicola Sturgeon reconciles her dedication to cooperation with the evident impossibility of getting this from the British government.
We’d like her to explain why the hell she’s still talking about begging the British Prime Minister’s permission for us to do something we have an innate and inalienable right to do.
We want to be assured that the First Minister is ready for the coming fight. We would like to be confident that she is fully aware of the nature of what she’s going up against. We want to know that she has a strategy to deal with whatever the British state throws at us.
We want to be sure she has the determination and tenacity to cope with a situation where to flinch is to fail.
We want her to tell us what she hopes for from us as she confronts the British state. We’d be pleased to hear her acknowledge that the Yes movement has a vital role to play and that this is not something that must be left to the politicians.
We would like her to lead.
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