ANDREW NEIL: The utter failure of Poundshop Marie Antionette Nicola Sturgeon has ensured the Union is more secure than it’s been for decades
My, how the mighty fall. Less than a year ago, Nicola Sturgeon was mistress of all she surveyed. Impregnable as Scotland’s first minister.
Lauded by both the London intelligentsia and international media which, though they know more about South Africa than they do about Scotland, felt competent to opine that she was one of the great political leaders of our age.
In short, touted by all and sundry as destined for a major global position with, say, the United Nations, once she had achieved her lifetime’s ambition to ‘set her people free’.
Sturgeon wallowed in these delusions of grandeur.
A bombshell disclosure of Scottish government spending habits surfaced this week revealing, among many other things, that the taxpayer had stumped up £10,000 so she could be whisked through various airports like a visiting potentate. That’s no exaggeration.
It was revealed earlier this week that Nicola Sturgeon’s (pictured) government billed the Scottish taxpayer for yoga classes, wellington boots and stays at top hotels paid for by official credit cards
Leaked documents show that in just three years Ms Sturgeon’s administration put £14million on the public ‘card’
Ace Handling, the meet-and-greet VIP services company regularly contracted by the Scottish government to smooth Sturgeon’s way past those pesky check-in desk queues and airport security indignities that bedevil mere mortals, boasts, ‘We treat you like royalty’ (for a price, of course).
Sturgeon had a particular passion for official overseas trips, even though Scotland’s devolved government has no power over foreign affairs, which are entirely a matter for Westminster.
But they allowed her to grandstand on the world stage and big up her global credentials, as if auditioning for that UN job to come, with Ace Handling’s special services burnishing her image.
The SNP has been in power for 16 years and for much of that time, it has gone unchecked and unchallenged.
As a result, a culture of arrogance and entitlement — a common feature when one party has dominated a democracy for too long — grew to permeate every echelon of Scottish government.
The data dump of civil service expenses reveals public money being spent on nail polish, yoga classes, midge repellent (perhaps an essential in a Scottish summer), crazy golf and even £576 on an outing to Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, which is quite a tidy amount since entry is free.
The sums spent are often pathetically paltry, such as a couple of quid on 16 packs of frozen peas (organic, naturally — the SNP is in coalition with the Greens).
Sometimes it was wasted. The official credit card was used to buy 22 copies of How To Run A Government. Given that Scotland’s government is notorious for serial failure and incompetence, obviously nobody got round to reading it.
Copies of Sturgeon’s collected speeches were also purchased on the public purse. A boon, perhaps, for Scottish officials suffering from insomnia.
But when you stop sniggering at the sheer triviality of it all, you discover that over three years there were almost 60,000 purchases along these lines and they consumed £14 million of public money controlled by a governing party whose habitual whinge is that Westminster doesn’t send it enough.
Public libraries were closed, swimming pools shut, potholes left unfilled but the Scottish government always had money for expensive stays at Gleneagles Hotel — and a £115 coffee machine for the first minister’s office (and £100 to keep it stocked with coffee). Plus everything you can think of, from sunscreen to black pudding (I kid you not).
The speed with which Scotland’s Poundshop Marie Antoinette has fallen to Earth is remarkable.
Last February, Sturgeon was forced into a rushed resignation, assailed on all sides by an inability to progress her Scottish independence agenda, on the wrong end of public opinion for allowing a convicted double rapist to serve time in a women’s prison (all part of a radical approach to gender self-identification) and caught up in a police investigation into the mysterious disappearance of SNP funds.
Sturgeon and her husband, who was also chief executive of the SNP, were arrested, interviewed and released without charge, pending further police investigations. These are proceeding at a snail’s pace and have already cost more than the SNP’s missing £600,000.
But whatever the outcome, pictures of a police tent in the garden of the Sturgeon home, like a scene from Line Of Duty, have become the defining image of her demise.
Police officers attend the home of Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell on April 5
It was not meant to end like this. Her future is uncertain, that UN job now a pipedream.
Alongside Sturgeon’s fall from grace came a decline in the fortunes of the SNP. Despite some brave (and nonsensical) talk, the party’s hope of gaining independence has been shattered.
The Union is safer than it has been for several decades. It will not split asunder in my lifetime — and probably not in Sturgeon’s either.
In the 2019 general election, the SNP won 45 per cent of the Scottish vote and 48 out of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats, 13 more than it had won in the 2017 general election.
Labour took under 19 per cent of the vote (less than the Tories) and lost six of its seven remaining Scottish seats, reduced to a rump of one in what had once been its Scottish fiefdom.
Things don’t look quite so rosy for the SNP now. The latest polls on Westminster voting put the Nationalists on 37 per cent, with Labour only three points behind.
Given all that’s happened to the SNP, you might expect Labour to be ahead by now. But neither Keir Starmer nor the Scottish Labour party quite sets the heather on fire.
They will get a fillip, however, by taking Rutherglen and Hamilton West from the SNP in an upcoming by-election.
Even so, on these polling numbers the SNP would likely lose half its Westminster seats, all to Labour.
That wouldn’t just put the SNP’s gas at a peep — for the uninitiated: the lowest pressure at which it can be ignited — it would probably secure Starmer an overall majority.
Sturgeon’s successor as first minister, Humza Yousaf, has argued that a minority Labour government would be best for Scotland since then the SNP might have some purchase on it.
Not for the first time, he has lived up to his ‘Humza Useless’ moniker and spoken before thinking.
Yes, a minority Labour government would allow scope for SNP mischief. But it is always harder to make the case for Scottish independence when Labour is in power in Westminster rather than the ‘evil, English’ Tories.
Yousaf’s inadequacies have generously contributed to the SNP’s decline and increased the prospects of a majority Labour government. If that happens, Scottish independence is even more dead in the water than it is already.
It is a remarkable reversal, as remarkable in its own way as the demise of Sturgeon.
Humza Yousaf campaigning alongside Scottish National Party candidate and councillor Katy Loudon ahead of the upcoming by-election
Recent years have seen a confluence of events almost designed to promote separation: Brexit (Scotland voted to remain); Boris Johnson (hated north of the border); the pandemic (which allowed Sturgeon to do a ‘mother of the nation’ act nightly on TV).
Yet none of that moved the dial materially in favour of independence — and now Yousaf’s SNP has no idea what to do.
The Supreme Court has ruled categorically that Holyrood does not have the power to call another referendum.
The fallback position — that if the SNP won more than 50 per cent of the vote in a general election that would count as an indy ref victory — was always a ludicrous concoction.
Westminster would refuse to recognise it as a mandate to negotiate separation and Labour’s resurgence makes it mission impossible anyway.
The SNP will struggle to stop its decline. They are already fighting among themselves like rats in a sack. One SNP MP called the leadership ‘utterly useless’ this week and was promptly expelled.
Another complained of ‘homophobic’ abuse from within the party and required a phalanx of security guards to appear at the Edinburgh Festival on Thursday.
This in-fighting will only get worse. If it cannot deliver independence, what is its purpose?
It has nothing else to shout about. It can’t build something as simple as an island ferry on time or on budget. It has failed to turn the treacherous Highland A9 road into a dual carriageway. It has presided over the worst drug problem in Europe.
But, perhaps most damning of all, it has overseen the decline of Scotland’s once world-famous school system.
When Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond in 2014, she asked to be judged on how much she managed to narrow the attainment gap between the performance of the poorest and the most affluent pupils.
Well, the evidence is in: it’s widened. So we can file her own, self-imposed yardstick under ‘F’ for fail.
That’s not stopped a London publisher from reportedly paying £1 million for Sturgeon to write her memoirs. I’m glad it’s not my money.
The book won’t come out until 2025 when Sturgeon will likely have faded further into obscurity. She has promised to spill the beans on her time in government. A hae ma doots, as they say north of the border.
One of the most controversial features of her tenure was her clash with Alex Salmond, once her mentor, now (she said this week) not ‘somebody I want in my life’.
When she came to give evidence before a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond, she resorted 50 times to ‘I can’t remember’, often on crucial matters.
If her publishers are to see their money back, they better hope her memory returns before she starts tapping out the words.
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