Two stories in The National today got me thinking about attitudes to Nicola Sturgeon ─ how she is perceived and presented and how people feel about her. One is the report that Unionists are fuming. How come that gets to be news, I hear you ask. Well, more specifically the more or less constant state of fuming that characterises the British parties squatting in Scotland’s Parliament is currently directed at the First Minister doing something and not something else. More specifically still, Unionists are fuming that the FM went to Copenhagen to open the Scottish Government’s new Nordic Office there ─ the latest in a network of such overseas offices. Apparently, it’s outrageous that Scotland’s First Minister is representing the nation abroad instead of emptying bins in Edinburgh. This despite the fact that representing Scotland in furrin pairts is very much part of the FM’s job description while emptying bins in Edinburgh, if it appears at all, is buried so deeply in the catalogue of First Minister’s duties that nobody has actually read that far.
While the British parties as a lumpen mass fume in concert, individual Unionists make complete fools of themselves as if doing so was part of their job description. The named numpty in this instance is one Sharon Dowey, a British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) list MSP. (No, I’ve never heard of her either. After today, I fully intend to go back to never having heard of her.) Abasing herself in the name of her ‘precious’ Union, designated dimwit Dowey demands to know why the FM “has chosen this moment to go gallivanting around northern Europe.”. Those of us not blinded by British Nationalist bigotry will immediately spot the stupidity here. We realise that the FM didn’t choose this moment. She didn’t choose at all. She had no choice in the matter. The visit to Copenhagen was arranged by officials and may have been in the FM’s diary for months and quite possibly years ─ the pandemic having occasioned the postponement of many such event.
Abandoning any pretence of intellectual competence, Dowey goes on to indignantly insist that “foreign mini-breaks and after-dinner speaking aren’t in the job description”. Yes, they are, you utter bollard! Although characterising the First Minister’s overseas duties as “foreign mini-breaks” is puerile nonsense, because they are duties. They are very much part of the First Minister’s job. As is addressing gatherings of various kinds ─ childishly presented by daft Dowey as “after-dinner speaking”. These are essential parts of the First Minister’s role as Scotland’s head of government. If this at times seems a bit ‘presidential’ then that is only to be expected. Scotland has no head of state to perform ceremonial duties. So, to a considerable extent the FM has to fill that role as well. That’s just the nature of things under the present constitutional arrangements. The constitutional arrangement that Unionists like Dowey are determined to preserve.
Not to be outdone more than massively by their fellow Unionists in BCUPS, British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) appointed Neil Bibby MSP as their spokesbladder. He is reported as having said something.
Unionist sniping at Nicola Sturgeon may be ridiculous, but the intent is not to make serious points about Nicola Sturgeon’s performance as First Minister. It’s all about undermining and delegitimising Scotland’s democratic institutions. When they attack the First Minister of Scotland as they do, British politicians are in a very real sense attacking Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon is their principal target because she is representative of the democratically elected Scottish Parliament and Government. That’s our Parliament and our government. British Nationalists such as Sharon Dowey absolutely abhor the fact that there is a Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government and a First Minister of Scotland. The very existence of these democratic institutions is an affront to their British Nationalist ideology. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they put so much effort into denigrating the individual who stands for all of Scotland’s distinctiveness by virtue of holding the office of First Minister.
The office of First Minister must be defended. It belongs to us, the people of Scotland. It is ours. When Unionists seek to diminish the incumbent, they seek to diminish the office and the people who own that office. Which is all the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland must respond appropriately to such attacks. We have to fight off assaults on the First Minister just as we must fight off attempts to ‘neutralise’ the Scottish Parliament. Because these things matter. They are important. They are crucial.
Unionist sniping at Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister doesn’t have to be any more sensible than as exemplified by Sharon Dowey. It really doesn’t matter that it is all nonsense spouted by numpties. It’s all grist to the mills of the British propaganda machine which takes the likes of Dowey’s drivel and turns it into massages which plant seeds in minds, chipping away at the credibility of the First Minister and thereby eroding the foundations of Scotland’s democracy.
It works! As evidenced by the other piece in The National which prompted this commentary ─ UK media image of Nicola Sturgeon ‘opposite’ to abroad, CNN N1 anchor says. For media image read public image. The media are used to manipulate perceptions on a populations scale. How the British mass media portray Nicola Sturgeon is how she is perceived by the public. Or that part of the public which is susceptible to manipulation. Which is all of us! We are all susceptible to media manipulation to some degree. It is impossible not to be influenced by the media. We swim in a sea of mediated messages. We are all affected in some way and to some extent by those messages. Even those of us who are aware of the manipulation and informed about the methods used can’t avoid the propaganda. It impinges on our consciousness; therefore, it affects us even if at a subconscious level.
The difference between the way Nicola Sturgeon is portrayed/perceived abroad as opposed to in the UK is explained by the fact that the foreign media have no interest in portraying her in a negative way. They are pretty much neutral in this regard. The difference only serves to highlight just how far from neutral the British media are. The British media has motive. The foreign media doesn’t. The British media is motivated by the British state’s imperative to preserve the Union. The foreign media isn’t. The British media wants Nicola Sturgeon to be seen as a failure or a slacker or a martinet or a self-regarding careerist or any of a catalogue of negative associations because she is the First Minister of Scotland and so represents a force which threatens the Union and thereby the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. She is ‘the enemy’ because she represents Scotland. Scotland is, and always has been, a problem for the British ruling elites because Scotland declines to conform. They are in the process of ‘dealing with’ that problem. The likes of Sharon Dowey just make the pellets of faeces for the British media monkeys to throw at us.
All of this creates a difficulty for the independence movement. Especially those of us who are critical of Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. It’s all too easy for Sturgeon/SNP loyalists to lump well-meaning critics in with malicious numpties like Dowey so as to avoid addressing the criticism. Which is its own form of numptyism. It is stupid because it misrepresents those who express concern about Sturgeon’s role as the de facto head of the independence movement by confusing and conflating the criticism with her role as First Minister. I have yet to encounter a Sturgeon/SNP loyalist who is capable of grasping the fact that it is perfectly possible to be entirely satisfied with Sturgeon’s overall performance in the role of First Minister while being extremely dubious about her leadership of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.
The corollary to this is the difficulty many of those who would criticise Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue have in resisting the urge to pick up on the British propaganda ─ echoing and amplifying the vacuous hate-speak spewing from the likes of Dowey. Which in turn justifies the Sturgeon/SNP loyalists who simplistically lump those critics in with the Unionist numpties. You may be beginning to sense a very unfortunate downward spiral here.
The corollary to the corollary is that it becomes difficult for people like myself to defend Nicola Sturgeon in her role as First Minister even as I am quite harshly ─ but always, I hope, fairly ─ critical of her whole approach to the constitutional issue without being denounced by sundry numpties as a Sturgeon/SNP loyalist and/or apologist. Is this the same unfortunate downward spiral, or a separate one? I’m not sure.
Where the downward spiral(s) leads us is to a level of discourse such as is illustrated by Sharon Dowey’s comments. If the downward spiralling isn’t resisted then eventually, we’ll all be talking like her. Like numpties. It would be better if this didn’t happen. It would be preferrable if the issue wasn’t dumbed down to numpty level. That, after all, is what the British want.
Some aspects of Nicola Sturgeon’s general performance as First Minister are good. Some are bad. Some are necessary regardless of whether you see them as good or bad because they come with the job. It would be gratifying if all Yes activists could remain mindful of these distinctions and nuances as they comment. Mindful in a way that is evidently beyond the wit of numpties such as Sharon Dowey.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.