At a social event yesterday a couple of people I know locally who are interested in politics came up to me and said they were looking forward to seeing what I was going to write about the Sturgeon arrest. Thing is, I wasn’t planning to write anything and am only doing so for one reason; to be really clear that more than anything I want to stop talking about Nicola Sturgeon altogether.
Before I go any further here I want to confess to my sins. I am human and enjoy a bit of schadenfreude as much as the next person. Indeed given I’m still literally the only person in Scotland to lose a job (not really) over the Salmond affair I have more reason than most to be revelling in the moment. But… I’m not particularly.
I am a pragmatist. I have utopian goals but know that utopia is built out of bricks and mortar. Getting things done isn’t about wanting them to get done, its about the endless, tedious task of breaking big actions down into lots of little ones and getting them all done in a timely and well-coordinated manner. Thinking big thoughts is fun, making them some kind of reality is not.
I’ve explained this before but by the end of 2015 it was clear to me that there was something deeply, fundamentally wrong with Sturgeon administration. From junior researchers to Cabinet Secretaries I spent the year asking three questions – who makes the decisions, on what basis and who else is in the room? The almost unanimous answers were ‘Nicola and Peter, no-one knows they just do, and it doesn’t matter because everyone else is only taking notes anyway’.
I told people this was a disaster waiting to happen. No-one believed me. By mid 2016 I was convinced – to say that announcing a referendum on Brexit morning was strategically inept is an understatement. A better politician would have had discussions with others before taking such a big step. By mid-2017 (the SNP having had a grim election) was shaping up to be a turning point.
By 2018 it was clear that the Sturgeon machine would do anything in its power to maintain total supremacy over its domain irrespective of the damage and by 2019 it was really, really clear the Scottish Government was on the verge of crisis across its domestic agenda. How people didn’t see all of this is beyond me.
But the Sturgeon era is over and surely we’ve learnt the lessons – surely?
So yes, I’ve wanted Nicola Sturgeon gone for a long time. It wasn’t personal, it’s because what was ahead of us (and still is) needed someone who could work with others and listen and that is not what Scotland had. It was a purely pragmatic response.
And she’s gone. Sturgeon will not hold substantial influence over Scottish politics or the independence movement again. Her major contribution (such as it was) is over. She can go away and do the talking circuit like John Major, cash in like Tony Blair, try and do something useful like Henry McLeish, or she can learn to drive, foster a kid and get a life. Whatever.
But she’s not going to become a political leader again and she has been so deliberately divisive she has little or no ongoing role in an independence movement. All of these are for reasons of her own making. All of it was her choice. She had chance to do big, valuable things and she didn’t.
Meanwhile the rest of us have a world to save from climate change, a constitutional impasse to resolve over the nation’s future, poverty and social failure we need to face up to properly, the need to find a place in a world geopolitics which is looking increasingly concerning and massive new challenges to get to grips with like Artificial Intelligence.
Plus in Scotland we have still got a substantial way to go before we are no longer living daily with the endless damaging consequences of the former First Minister’s policy agenda (I was going to add ‘crumbling’ to that but honestly, it’s not crumbling, it’s already dust).
For what was the best part of a decade we bought this line that ‘Nicola Sturgeon isn’t like other human beings so we don’t need to worry too much about the detail or spend much time verifying the reality, if she says she’s going to solve the climate crisis than that’s good enough for us’. I found that deeply oppressive because checking the detail and the reality are what we do at Common Weal.
But it is over and surely we’ve learnt the lessons. Surely? Surely we can see that we need to start demanding that government in Scotland operates properly, with minutes of meetings, external advice sought on policy development, checks and balances to executive action restored and some semblance of confidence demonstrated?
All that we are debating now is whether Nicola Sturgeon was a failure or a villain
Because that’s all I’ve ever wanted here, to move on. Many people I’ve spoken to in recent years have expressed their fervent desire for Sturgeon to be ‘punished’ for what she was doing. I differed. I was always clear that I didn’t care whether the destination was a jail cell or a cushy job that kept her away from Scottish politics, it wasn’t justice I wanted, it was the chance to move on.
It is why on the day of her resignation I wrote my ‘Keys!’ article. I was sincere then and I still am. I’m ready to put all of the last eight years behind me, forget it all happened and start again with an open attitude to what comes next. And then, and then…
Then Sturgeon and Murrell tried and succeeded in rigging the election for a hand-picked candidate who would take all the falls for her and not ask difficult questions. Then she started running a kind of celebrity influencer show to keep what remains of her loyal troops looking backwards at her not forwards at what comes next.
So for me the overwhelming factor about this arrest yesterday is it is one more step on the road to persuading Nicola Sturgeon and her remaining courtiers that it really is over. Because, Boris Johnson-like, they really don’t seem truly to understand that fact, perhaps even dreaming of some kind of return.
That isn’t going to happen. All that we are debating now is whether Nicola Sturgeon was a failure or a villain. Are the endless disasters trailing behind her the result of a well-meaning person who was out of her depth or the poisonous detritus of an unpleasant person who acted in bad faith?
It is therefore with all the goodwill in the world that I say ‘good luck with that historians’ while I try to focus on what the hell we do now. Sturgeon’s arrest? I shrugged, thought ‘god I hope this is over soon’ and got right back on with my life.