The reset button beckons

One of the things that happens when a political leader steps down is that everybody (and it certainly seems like it is literally everybody) turns to poring over their resignation speech dissecting and examining it looking for clues as to the real reason the politician in question is quitting. The one thing most seem to agree on is that whatever reason has been stated, it is not the whole story. There must be more to it. And everybody thinks they are the ones to have uncovered the secret hidden in the text of the speech.

It is certainly true that a skilled communicator can use words to conceal as much as to reveal. It is also true that anyone stepping down after a long period in high office is likely to have much they will hope to conceal. So, there is some justification for all the sifting and sorting of the resignation speech. The problem is that if one takes a representative sample of all the conclusions reached, one is no further forward. Whatever hidden message there may be remains hidden as the ‘discovered’ meanings contradict and cancel one another.

The first question I ask myself is not what reason for resigning is being concealed, but how credible are the reasons given. Nicola Sturgeon’s main stated reason for stepping down is that she has been worn down by the pressures of the job to the point where she reckons she will soon be unable to perform satisfactorily in the role of First Minister. I find this explanation perfectly believable. Almost disarmingly honest. Surely nobody doubts that it is an extremely challenging job which she has been doing for a very long time. I think she’s seen off four British Prime Ministers. I’m not sure anybody has been able to keep count of the other party leaders she’s seen come and go. And, if we are being scrupulously fair, for most of her time in office Nicola Sturgeon was at least a competent First Minister. It is regrettable that, human nature being what it is, there is a tendency for people to see only the positives or only the negatives according to their prejudices. It is rare to find a balanced view.

Personally, I have always been happy to acknowledge Nicola Sturgeon’s fine qualities and considerable abilities. On the world stage in particular, she has been all Scotland might wish for in either a head of government or, to a not insignificant degree, a head of state. At home, her obvious affection for and ability to relate to children testifies to a basic goodness. I trust children’s instincts. Nicola Sturgeon did some good work. Let’s not leave that out of the equation when we turn to the areas where her performance has been less praiseworthy.

The main such area is, of course, the constitutional issue. On this, I maintain that Nicola Sturgeon got it all wrong from the outset. Instead of analysing and taking lessons from the first independence referendum campaign, she simply picked up the mantle that Alex Salmond left behind. Seemingly without reflection, she sought to continue in precisely the same vein. She committed to the Section 30 process without entertaining any debate about whether it was now appropriate. What stemmed from this was eight years of stasis and stagnation. Numerous bad decisions were made because this unshakeable commitment to the Section 30 process closed off other options. On the constitutional issue, everything stemmed from the mindset of independence being a prize that she had to win in a contest where the British state set the rules.

I don’t wish to dwell on this overmuch. To do so would be contrary to the purpose of this article ─ which I will get to in due course. I know from experience however, that there will be those who insist on examples of the bad choices to which I refer. So, I will specify what I consider to be the two worst decisions ─ second to welding herself to the British state’s ‘gold standard’ of ‘idiosyncratic’ British democracy. Firstly, there was the decision to fight for a reversal of the Brexit decision despite the fact that this was a fight that she was never going to win. The better choice would have been to use Brexit as a weapon in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.

Then there was the choice that still rankles with me to this day. Namely, the decision to shut down the independence campaign on account of the pandemic rather than use the opportunity to develop online campaigning and reach out to a newly housebound captive audience.

Enough of the negatives! The point I hope to make here is prompted by what I regard as arguably the most important excerpt from Sturgeon’s resignation speech.

By making my decision clear now I free the SNP to choose the path [to independence] it believes to be the right one without worrying about the perceived implications for my leadership…

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement in full

What Nicola Sturgeon appears to be saying here is that her resignation should serve as an opportunity to make a fresh start. A chance to rethink the way we approach the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. A moment at which we can break with the past and begin anew. I fervently hope others across the Yes movement might read a similar message in Nicola Sturgeon’s words.

But for any of this to happen we must all also take this as an opportunity to reset relationships within the independence movement. To draw a line under old disputes and call a truce on animosities. A time to set aside grievances that have arisen largely because of the mishandling of the constitutional issue. To accept that it has been mishandled, as the evidence testifies. To accept also that the period for blame has expired. There can be no fresh start while we cling to past grievances.

Regrettably, as I peruse reactions to Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation on social media, this looks like yet another opportunity that is set to be squandered. It’s not too late. There is still time to stop. Still time to hit that reset button.

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25 thoughts on “The reset button beckons

  1. Your comments are worthy … we do need campaigning focus, unity of purpose, common goal and single target.

    Whether than can be achieved or not will largely depend on the objectives of the successor. Will they align with the criteria laid out in article 2a of the SNP’s constitution?

    If the new leader genuinely prioritises the restoration of Scotland’s full self-government and return to nation-state status then there is a fair chance that splits can be fixed and wounds healed. After all, if Alex Salmond can be magnanimous in his remarks regarding Nicola Sturgeon stepping down and time as FM then the rest of us can surely move on with the sole aim of re-establishing Scotland’s independent statehood.

    Time will tell.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Evidence that non-SNP Independence parties and movements are joining up to pursue their common objective, with or without the SNP, might well influence”the objectives of the successor”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Peter, do you have time to create a document such as employers use for selecting candidates for interview and employment in order to make the most objective decisions? Use would be encouraged as far as possible to guide the decision for the new snp leader.


    1. I have been thinking along those lines. It’s not that easy, however, given the relative complexity of the different roles the successful candidate will be expected to fill. We have time to think.


      1. There’s only one role that matters to most of us activists, and many of the voters.

        And that’s their support and efforts for Independence. The rest are just normal functions of an FM.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “There can be no fresh start while we cling to past grievances”.

    I agree.

    Peter, you will no doubt be ‘in the loop’ and know the identities of all the many people in, or connected with people in, the SNP, who were involved in the prosecution of Alex Salmond, and the events leading to his judicial review of the flawed disciplinary procedure.

    There must be upwards of 30 people in influential positions in the SNP who would have to somehow overcome their views of Alex Salmond in order to abandon their past grievances and work with Alba. They have been continually encouraged to maintain their grievances. Nicola Sturgeon said she would not even go into the same room as Alex.

    On the other hand , there are many people who think that the persecution and prosecution of Alex Salmond was a travesty, and the re-writing of SNP history to remove all reference to him is another. Their sense of grievance matches that of the SNP contingent, although Alex himself seems more amenable to working with those who pursued him.

    With such deeply held views on both sides, in particular within the SNP side which is in the much stronger position, is it realistic to expect that these grievances will melt away?

    Of the people whose names have been suggested as a possible successor to Nicola Sturgeon, is there anyone that stands out as having the ability to persuade people to abandon past grievances? Or anyone who who would not have such ability?


    1. Arbitration? Mediation? I have often opined that the intractability of the tribalism afflicting both SNP and Alba makes it necessary to have some sort of neutral ground where they meet. An independent campaign organisation might be the answer. Somewhere all the different factions can be joined without actually touching one another. I’m not talking about another Yes Scotland. Or rather, I am, but not modeled on the previous one. A professional campaigning organisation drawing on all the talent and dedication within the Yes movement and mounting a coordinated national campaign. Only the head of this organisation would be in any way a political appointment. My feeling is that they would have to be an elected representative in order to have democratic legitimacy. This individual would be the face and voice of the Yes movement.

      It’s a thought.


      1. It would be a very powerful position. I am trying to imagine a face that would be acceptable to all sides. Have drawn a blank so far.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. By the looks of things, rather than do a reset, and take stock of how to go forward with haste to Independence , senior SNP politicians do not want to “reset” but rather go in reverse .
    MP Stephen Flynn at Westminster being amongst those wanting this “special conference” put back.
    Basically, the “do nothing” lot seem to want to do nothing even more now!

    For all the qualities of Nicola Sturgeon as both First Minister and SNP leader, and there were very many, she has also left both SNP and the Independence movement in a bit of chaos.
    Basically, she has simply abandoned everything, and everyone, which is regrettable.
    But had she pushed for Independence far more, we, and she, would not be in this situation.

    The only such resignation in recent years we can compare with, I’d say, was Benedict XVI exactly 10 years ago this month.
    He did indeed create a chaos in his decision to stand down, but not thru
    choice however, as the Cardinals replaced him with one who has caused much turmoil within the Church. Clearly Benedict was hoping the Sacred College would elect another in his mould, but they didn’t, and I think many of them now regret their decision to elect Bergolio in his place.

    How it goes from here remains to be seen, but if SNP choose the wrong person, it could have a severe impact on getting Independence and the electoral fortunes of SNP.
    But we never know. Those who pranced around Glasgow George Square last night, might well find themselves sorry before long, if we get a new First Minister / SNP leader who goes full on for Independence, telling London to go shove it!
    That of course, is our hope.
    But part of the problem being that any new leader would be better being at Holyrood, rather than being an MP only.
    It could be possible for a different First Minister while a leader is an MP in London, tho Alex Salmond managed it for a while, but wasn’t he both in Edinburgh and Westminster at same time?
    However, if it is to be an MP, then Stephen Flynn and those who share his do nothing approach, is definitely not the type of person we need.


    1. I’ve not seen the rationale for delaying the March conf, and I cant think of a compelling reason to delay. Of all the things that could have been usefully said, the suggestion to delay is not one of them


        1. Yes, but instead of taking up to 3 months to get a new leader / FM, they’re doing it in 5 weeks. And I daresay the de facto election refs will come up a lot, the main issue hopefully.

          I’m mixed reactions.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. As Alex Salmond says – ‘Bring it on!’

    However, actions will prove what the new leadership of the SNP/Green MSPs priority is, an whaur thair lealtie lies, i.e.:

    liberation of the Scots via Salmond’s strategy, or;
    anither twa year nor mair takkin the Breetish shillin tae rin a colonial administration an tak oor leeberty muivement up anither blindt close.

    A wunner whit a rael naitionalist wad dae? Are thay SNP rael naitionalists or aye a toosht o chancers? We’ll suin ken richt eneuch, tho A daur maist o us ken fine the noo – chancers aw, aye, nummer twa.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My criteria for the next SNP Leader is someone who will tell King Charlie that he can whistle for the Stone of Scone to be sent to London for his Coronation.
    If he wants to sit on it, he should come to Scotland to be crowned King of Scots and so subject to the needs and priorities of the people of Scotland

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It wouldn’t make a difference what any First Minister said regarding the supposed Stone of Destiny. They’d just be ignored!
      Apart from that, it isn’t the real thing, it never was the original to begin with, unless it might have been a mere part of what used to be there, it is the UK Govt, and “Crown”, who own it these days.
      I can’t see how anyone can stop the UK Govt taking it out of Edinburgh and down to London.
      Its hardly worth the bother. But I do accept its historical importance, and the reason the English love to use it at Westminster, regardless of its actual authenticity.


      1. I know it is not the real one but dislike the idea of the English press making as much of the symbolism as they undoubtedly will. We Scots need to start being difficult and not agreeing to anything London says!


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