The National’s headline over its report of some positive press for Nicola Sturgeon in an American newspaper (Washington Post hails Nicola Sturgeon making a role for herself at COP26) seems designed to prompt shrill allegations of a ‘personality cult’ from the dunces’ corner of the Yes movement and mindless British Nationalist fanatics alike. So let’s knock that on the head right away. While the behaviour of Sturgeon/SNP loyalists at times bears comparison with the kind of mindless devotion associated with the cult of personality, it does not qualify as such… quite. While the devotion to an unquestionably charismatic leader is exaggerated, it is not sufficiently so to warrant being labelled a personality cult. The Sturgeon/SNP loyalists’ adoration of their leader exhibits some of the characteristics of a personality cult to some extent. But important characteristics are absent.
The hype around Nicola Sturgeon lacks the control and purpose of a true cult of the leader. She is not deemed infallible other than perhaps by a very small number of particularly weak-minded individuals. There is not the centralised management of media that is typical of a true personality cult. There’s not the constant and tightly managed spectacle or ubiquitousness that is found with a real leadership cult. Sturgeon’s portrait isn’t plastered over every surface that can take an image. She’s not celebrated as a significant figure in every field of human endeavour – art, science, sport etc. She is not idealised to anything like the extent that the subject of a true personality cult would be.
Most importantly, she is not used as a device of state control. There is no government urging this and that in the name of the ‘great leader’. Whatever manipulation of perception is happening it is on a far smaller scale than would be required for a cult of personality to exist. There is no regime using propaganda and social engineering to create and maintain a central figure from whom all rightful political authority derives. If there’s a cult of personality around Nicola Sturgeon its a very Scottish one. Half-arsed and barely half serious. As a nation we tend to be more inclined to knock people off pedestals than to raise them up. Unconditional devotion just isn’t something we do. To be a hero in Scotland you have to be either a brilliant footballer or a lang deid fechter. Only one of which is other than very temporary.
There is no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon is very popular and very widely admired. Deservedly so, in many respects. She has the air of a stateswoman. Her communication and interpersonal skills are honed to near-perfection. She looks good even when she’s not standing next to Boris Johnson. She is bloody good at what she does. COP26 was her kind of gig. It was an opportunity to take the skills which won her praise in relation to her handling of the crucially important communication aspects of Scotland’s pandemic response and use them to make a positive impression on the global stage. Which she did with apparently consummate ease and despite the efforts of the British state to side-line her. It was a great performance.
None of which translates into good news for Scotland’s cause. Charlie Wilson, who in 1953 was President of General Motors in America, is reputed to have said that what was good for his company was good for the nation. In similar vein, some of Ms Sturgeon’s more ardent admirers are wont to assume that what it good for her is good for Scotland’s cause. There is a tendency to suppose that her personal popularity is linked to support for restoring Scotland’s independence. When her ratings go up, the polls tip sharply to Yes. Superficially, this would seem to imply just the kind of mechanistic linkage her fans imagine. But this is illusion. The linkage is an artefact.
We saw this clearly last year when the Yes movement was celebrating a series of polls showing Yes on the sunny side of fifty per cent. Nobody wanted to hear that this was a temporary blip occasioned by general admiration for the way Nicola Sturgeon was then handling Scotland’s response to Covid-19. They certainly didn’t want to hear that the poll lead for Yes would evaporate as soon as that admiration waned and/or people lost interest. Which is precisely what happened. When the post-COP26 polls start to appear we can expect the same rigmarole. Sturgeon’s personal rating will rise and so will support for Yes. The hopeful assumption will be made by all too many that this boost for Scotland’s cause is permanent. They will be proved wrong.
Were there a true cult of personality around Nicola Sturgeon we might reasonably expect that the boost to her image would bring a similar boost the the independence cause that was permanent. Or at least a boost that would last as long as the cult of personality was maintained. The reality is that as COP26 slips from the front pages and lead items of the media any increase in support for independence associated with Nicola Sturgeon’s performance there will slip right along with them. Without the coordinated activities of a leadership cult to buoy them up, the poll figures will sink back to somewhere near their previous level.
This highlights a serious problem for Scotland’s cause. For seven years Nicola Sturgeon has relied almost entirely on unrelated or only tangentially related factors to provide impetus for the independence campaign. She has been content to sit back and let the cause be driven by the combination of her own popularity and Boris Johnson’s unpopularity. That may be putting it crudely. Nonetheless, it’s a fair representation of what has been happening. Yes activists have been assured that admiration for Sturgeon – at home and abroad – and general satisfaction with the performance of the Scottish Government (I said general! Not universal!) combined with the antics of Boris Johnson and the British government’s treatment of Scotland, were all helping pull or push people towards the independence option. Her supporters (and her apologists) make much of any favourable swing in the polls – however temporary – as well as the kind of positive overseas media coverage reported by The National claiming this as ‘evidence’ that the ‘strategy’ is working. The fact remains, however, that there has been no sustained improvement in Yes polling since Nicola Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond in early 2015. Nearly seven years since then and more than seven years since the first independence referendum the most recent polls are no different from those in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 vote or Sturgeon’s elevation.
The ‘strategy’ has been a clanging, clattering failure. Yet still we see Sturgeon and the SNP pursuing the same strategy. Still we see Nicola Sturgeon seeking praise and plaudits from the international community which, while excellent in themselves, simply do not adhere to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. They do not translate to sustained support for Yes.
We won’t achieve that sustained support for the restoration of Scotland’s independence unless and until we are prepared to address the constitutional issue directly, specifically and emphatically. Under Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘leadership’ the constitutional issue has become something in parentheses beside some other matter. Not quite an afterthought. But certainly an add-on. Something tacked onto a policy or action prefaced by ‘and incidentally’. There has been a paralysing reluctance to go in hard and heavy on the dire constitutional implications of the Union. The preference has been to take the less confrontational approach of allowing the British political elite to demonstrate how badly Scotland fares under British rule.
Making people feel good about Scotland is all well and good. Nicola Sturgeon is brilliant in that regard. Explaining the potential of independence is fine. There are countless individuals, groups and organisations which have been doing just that the whole while the polls have remained static. People already have Scotland. Making them feel good about what they have is not the way to persuade them to change. Even if you can make that vision of a future independent Scotland something folk are drawn to, the people whose votes we need are not going to move towards Yes without being given a reason to move away from the Union.
The votes we need won’t come from people who swell with pride when they see Nicola Sturgeon photographed with Joe Biden. Or those who get a rosy glow when the see that Washington Post headline. We’ve already got those votes. The votes we need will come from people who are brought to a realisation of just how bad the Union is for Scotland. They have to be made aware. They have to be made angry. Then they will act.
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15 thoughts on “A very Scottish personality cult”
It’s a crucially important observation that support for Yes is linked to Sturgeon’s popularity.
Stuart Campbell has showed in polls that support for independence won’t change until the campaign starts. People are simply too busy making ends meets to deal with anything abstract orv listen to politicians rattling on. It’s all just background noise. The swings in the polls are just ripples on a pond and not signs of the tide rising or falling.
The SNP probably already know this (if they don’t then heads must roll). However it’s the daily bread for the Independence Industrial Complex where the likes of the National and all the pundits can generate oceans of words on how independence has never been closer. The only saving grace is that not too many trees die to bring us this drivel.
Also, I disagree with dismissal of the personality cult. Certainly it’s not on the same scale or competence as North Korean or China. The media is carefully managed, but it’s more in the style of New Labour. As for ingratiating oneself with the Davos set? All those selfies where you’re on centre stage. That makes you a toady not a leader. Sadly Greta was too polite to give her an earful.
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She is not a campaign politician. Without a campaign independence support will stagnate and potentially go backwards. Indeed as you have reflected Peter, it already has fallen back.
I am not really sure what Nicola actually believes in these days. What I do know for absolute fact. Is that there has not been one day of the last 7 years actually spent setting out an independence plan, strategy or campaign.
She tells us she wants a referendum in 2023. We are almost in 2022, and there is still no plan. So it doesn’t take Einstein to work out there will be no referendum in 2023.
I would bet my house on it.
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I agree – in a recent interview she said it was her plan to have a referendum. If she was hellbent on it she would not answer with wimpy words like It’s my plan to have a Referendum. She’d answer you bet we are or something way more forthright. I agree – there will be no Referendum in 2023. Once again Sturgeon will march us up the hill only to have us come back down the hill. She’s not got the bottle for the fight. She’s being duplicit in her approach again. She makes statements like “everyone knows my view on Scotland’s Independence. I reject that. I don’t think anybody knows where she’s at with Independence.
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“positive overseas media”
I think mostly the reason this is a good thing. is where it can help to bring pressure on the UK Government to firstly, not stand in the way of an Indy Ref 2 for which the ScotGov has a mandate, and secondly, after a YES vote, to bring about a successful and fairly swift end to negotiations for our Independence, even if some details drag on afterwards.
Third, of course, is that potential for international pressure if the ScotParl has to go its own way on Indy Ref 2 – or some other method of which we won’t talk, I said, we won’t talk about that. Yet.
If the UK Government is not standing in the way of a referendum and even more so if they’re actually cooperating with a process that might end the Union I will be extremely worried. Hoping for their seeking a successful and swift conclusion to negotiations following a Yes vote is a bit more realistic. Depending on one’s definition of “successful” and “swift”, of course.
When (if?) the British political elite finally concedes that the Union cannot be saved then they are going to be looking for the best deal they can get. Which in their terms means a deal which preserves as much as possible of the dominance over Scotland afforded by the Union. Which why the Scottish Government must be resolute and tenacious in its approach to such negotiations. Their watchword should be ‘Give the bastards fuck all unless not giving them it harms Scotland’s interests!’.
It is inevitable that the Scottish Parliament must “go its own way on Indy Ref 2”. Otherwise, the outcome cannot be ‘proper’ independence. The resultant settlement will be no more satisfactory than devolution. And will last only a fraction as long. And when Holyrood does assert its primacy it must do so regardless of what the international community thinks of it. You don’t seem to realise the crucial importance of us doing this for ourselves. ENTIRELY for ourselves! Nothing else will do.
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Peter: Nicola Sturgeon will go down in history much as Margaret Thatcher has: a leader who changed the society in which she lived to the huge detriment of the majority of the population. Thatcher believed that you could run a country in the ways in which a suburban housewife ran her household budget – and, even then, a very particular, Tory, middle-class kind of housewife and household at that – and her legacy has left the country in a state of decline and most of the country’s assets in the hands of the very few, beholden to global corporations and little more than a service industry country, investment seeping out abroad and no confidence in the long-term.
Nicola Sturgeon’s ideology is of a different kind, but oddly, the effects will almost certainly be the same. She, too, is in thrall to corporate America, she, too, will, with her trans ideology, ultimately destroy the Scottish NHS, bring local authorities to their knees concentrate public funding in areas where the vast majority of the population will never tread. Eventually, there will be no money for cancer treatment or other major killers, but people who demand unnecessary, dangerous and life-debilitating surgery and drugs for the rest of their natural will be accommodated.
Children living in poverty rose under Thatcher and her successors until we now have families working and still requiring benefits because they cannot manage to feed and clothe their children, heat their homes and pay their rent on the money they earn. She, too, panders to well-heeled middle-class demands across the board to the detriment of the wider society. Thatcher destroyed working-class communities without a second thought, ripping the heart out of them without as much as an alternative means of support. Anyone who really, actually believes that the UK is a better Union than it was needs serious mental health support. Likewise, Nicola Sturgeon’s trans warriors are so blatantly off the wall that it is hard to understand how she can even contemplate supporting their quite insane demands, yet she does.
First, we had the trans identified men – almost entirely sexual paraphilac/fetishist – then we had to have them invade women’s spaces and rights because only by actually declaring themselves female in every sense, could they indulge their paraphilia/fetishes fully, then children had to enter the equation because of the “born in the wrong body” narrative, so children had to be mutilated and fed drugs that even a drug baron would consider immoral. Finally, young females had to be captured by this stuff because you cannot have trans identified men without having trans identified women, or the whole shebang would collapse under its own hubris, and because female bodies are very different from male bodies, the effects of the surgeries and drugs on young females was always going to be much worse, but, hey, so long as the boys get the sexual kicks, who cares about stupid girlies? Not Nicola Sturgeon or Lorna Slater, those paragons of feminism and female empowerment.
It was deliberate not to even try to go for independence, Peter. Absolutely deliberate and cold-blooded. No way would an independent Scotland have entertained this nonsense: we would have been far too preoccupied with setting up our new state and country. Even the ennui-filled middle-class youth, handed every advantage from birth, to education and beyond, would not have had time for this c**p. That is what so many don’t understand: the narcisstic c**p is all; the narcissistic c**p is all there is; the narcisstic c**p has taken the place of independence in Scotland, just as greed and psychopathy took the place of decency and humanity in Thatcher’s Britain.
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Although I don’t take quite such a jaundiced view as yourself, Lorna, I’m not sure I’d want to be the one having to defend Sturgeon against your condemnation.
Peter: “You don’t seem to realise the crucial importance of us doing this for ourselves. ENTIRELY for ourselves! Nothing else will do.”
So true Peter. Why are Scots so obsessed with what others think of them. This is about us and it’s about our democracy. Do you think Michael Collins gave a damn how the world reported on Ireland’s fight for independence. He simply carried out his duties as an Irish citizen.
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A fluffy piece in an American newspaper about Sturgeon. Bring me the smelling salts! American politicians don’t give a crap about Scotland (or England). If Scotland’s cause was related to their Irish concerns then things might be different.
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Alan correct – Didn’t Obama think that Scotland was the Emerald Isle and our Bard was William Shakespeare. That tells you all you need to know about the US view of Scotland. We don’t exist!
Ultimately it IS important that other countries both understand Scotland’s true constitutional situation, and would be inclined to recognise an independent Scotland. But none of that is relevant UNTIL AFTER we are independent. By all means do the groundwork to ensure international acceptance, but fo that to be relevant – now is the time to get Independence Done.
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Excellent article with some really good responses, geoff’s in particular.
It’s good to see different views. There’s too many echo chambers around where you can’t say diddly-squit if it’s not the accepted script, without being called a troll. Which gets a bit tiring, and very silly.
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“The Scottish government is planning to put tampons and sanitary towels in male toilets in case they are required by transgender civil servants”… With the greatest of respect, please consider what the elected Scottish government is saying to Scotland’s electorate?
Perhaps, this behaviour suits some of us? It doesn’t suit everyone and it is NOT honourable politics – in fact, it’s more like a dictatorship and will not be acceptable! I’m an ex-SNP member and like many others, I will only vote for politicians who really and truly deserve my/our votes!
Ewen A. Morrison 🏴
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