BBC, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Democracy, European Union, Indyref2, Marxism, Nicola Sturgeon, Nicola Sturgeon's Resignation, Opinion, Peter Murrell, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Technocracy, Unionism
Although the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced her departure from frontline politics yesterday, in reality she has been protractedly leaving for many years now. In fact almost everything that I will put down within this political obituary would have been just as true on any date since 2016.
In October 2016 I had posted an article called “The End of the Road for Nicola Sturgeon.” I had thought that Scotland’s attachment to the EU was meaningless or just a lot of talk and that it would not carry Sturgeon off anywhere politically. In this I was as right as I was wrong, in that I did not foresee that nobody else would develop any useful alternative narrative. So if Sturgeon was going nowhere, in a static political landscape she was also fixed in the same place. It was indeed “the end of the road” but she would journey on as First Minister for another six and a half years.
Given Sturgeon’s supposedly towering leadership, it is remarkable how glancing an impact she has made upon Scottish society. You may hate Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, but most people could come up with an impromptu list of their political achievements (or at least actions). Blair, for example, had introduced the minimum wage, civil partnerships, the Freedom of Information Act and devolved assemblies. You might counter that Sturgeon has never gone off on a similar spree because her government was never granted full sovereignty. But I think that Sturgeon’s passivity is actually part of a broader modern political culture.
Some leaders are passive because they assume that this comes across as managerial. David Cameron and Theresa May had both drifted along simply reacting to things, from day to day. For others, their passivity is like a gorilla’s rattling of the bars of its cage. Despite his tub-thumping, and beyond Brexit, Boris Johnson had lacked the wherewithal to make any grand transformations to society or the economy. Sturgeon falls largely into the first camp. If a committee of civil servants had run Scotland since 2014, I doubt that most people could honestly discern any difference from under Sturgeon’s political leadership.
Yesterday she had felt obliged to try to set out her achievements in office. It was a small and increasingly whimsical list. She boasted that, “Young people from deprived backgrounds have never had a better chance of going to university than now.” This is correct, but only because Scottish universities today discriminate against students from less deprived backgrounds and not because anybody is any better educated. The system has not grown more meritocratic, it is only rigged in a different way.
If it sounds strange that this messy, dubious achievement is at the top of Sturgeon’s résumé, she was next citing a greater investment in childcare. No parent who I know is saying that nursery care in Scotland is utopian, or even significantly more attractive than the system in England. There has been no transformation in how this care is organised, only more generous subsidies for a sector that hankers after the cheapest labour. I am not sure if Sturgeon was exhausted by her third point or if I was, but in any case this was “the baby box,” a freebee that would look more natural, and altogether less sinister, being handed out by a supermarket chain. Her next achievement was an aspiration (“Parliament will soon consider legislation to improve access to justice for victims of rape and sexual offences”).
Still, I would not completely categorise Sturgeon’s passivity as purely managerial. Hers is in truth a weirdly compartmentalised political psyche, with the explosive materials of her populism being kept always in a locked political drawer that is labelled “independence.” The trouble is that there is no key to this drawer and probably nothing inside it.
Since 2014, campaigners for Scottish independence have moved from envisaging a new state to just reiterating one or two slogans. Before Brexit, it was possible to picture a nation state that would share the island of Great Britain with another, greatly bigger nation state, with freedoms of movement and capital across a largely nominal border. Now that almost all of the Scottish nationalist movement has corralled itself into unconditionally accepting EU supremacy, nobody knows how an independent Scotland will share our island with the rest of the UK.
Sturgeon’s ultimate political legacy is her refusal to allow any thought – any brainstorming – any intellectual groundwork – or even any marshalling of the basics – into what her own political ideal, “an independent Scotland within the EU,” could ever realistically look like. There have been years of breathless silence.
Nationalists might jump on Brexit as the culprit here and maintain that Scottish independence has been wrecked by “English” selfishness. They are nonetheless merely describing the inevitable conditions of existence for a small economy that is integrated with a far larger one. It would be democratically outrageous if the remaining UK, where around 90% of Great Britain’s population live, was forced to suppress its own democratic decision-making (i.e. to remain in the EU) in order to help out Scottish independence. Until this ever happens, the onus is on Scottish nationalists to actively reimagine their own state.
Sturgeon has steadfastly refused to countenance this. She sticks with an independent Scotland as a slogan but without any working economic model behind it, that is to say a tip with no iceberg. It is notable that throughout today’s Scottish nationalist movement, the precedent of Ireland, which has resolved its own precarious geopolitical situation with radically low rates of corporation tax, is seldom mentioned. Yet Scottish nationalism will only pay its own way by gambling either on far-left or far-right economics. It is here that Sturgeon and most of her supporters are handicapped by their unadventurous Labourism. However much they crow that they are over Labour, the problem for them is that they currently need to search for an escape route out of its underperforming economics.
With this we are left with an absurd paradox. Sturgeon is everywhere praised for spending years campaigning passionately for Scottish independence, even as a forthcoming “special conference,” and lately the contest to replace her as leader, are tasked with coming up with the first idea about an independent Scotland. How is it that the dawn of Scottish independence has not started yet if the movement’s most titanic and charismatic figurehead is on the way out? The answer is that Sturgeon has really represented a long night for Scottish independence. In practice the whole movement might be a permanently nocturnal phenomenon.
Sturgeon’s failure might be that her vision of an independent Scotland is simply a blank that she does not possess the political imagination or economic flair to fill in. Her tragedy, though, is the loss to the Labour movement. Imagine her standing against Cameron as Labour leader instead of Ed Miliband, or against Johnson instead of Jeremy Corbyn. Maybe a more exhilarating politics would have emerged from these encounters and maybe Scotland would have been all the better for them.
The lesson from Sturgeon’s career is not a difficult one and it is actually the same lesson that a previous generation had wasted so much time and energy learning with Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams. Political innovators need to conquer the Labour movement rather than splitting and weakening it. People who inquire further about Sturgeon’s place in history are invited to contemplate a picture of Boris Johnson’s face.
Postscript. Many readers might think that the above article has been authored by the BBC, as it contains no reference to the active fraud inquiry into Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive officer. He has apparently lost over half a million pounds of donations to the independence movement.
Two features of this story are democratically questionable and they are worth keeping an eye on. The first is the slowness of Police Scotland to investigate the allegations into Murrell. The second is the refusal of the BBC to broadcast them. One would think from yesterday’s coverage that the police investigation into Murrell was somehow uncorroborated or a spurious detail. Given the transfixed obsession with which BBC journalists have chased after Johnson’s loans, parties, cronies and “irregularities,” the blatancy of the bias grows quite dizzying here.
[Previously on Tychy: “Austerity Comes To Scotland.”]
The Botendaddy said:
I was at ‘Jokyo’ the world’s greatest comedy event since the dawn of the Edo period whence 37 Ronin told jokes nonstop against 1,000 attacking Samurai. The jokes were so dull the Samurai left the field in deep depression.
I was with the Scottish contingent voted the most funny since James VI wowed them at the Llewelyn Clwyd comedy festival in 1683.
The only rule is that all jokes must be told in Japanese.
Here’s an example from the Burundi Jokester Troupe: 私の妻を連れて行ってください…お願いします！
Then Vanuatu Vinnsters came back with: 馬がバーに入る。バーテンダーは言う: なぜ長い顔?
The Scots Trainspotters Shroake:セックスの後、タバコを吸いますか?わからない。私は見たことがない！
At any rate this is Bill Thompson for the Caven Courier. Ohio’s top chemical train car wreck newspaper, reporting live from Joyko!
I will translate the jokes in this comment for my non-Japanese readers.
Burundi: “I was walking down the street and a load of people were running towards me screaming. I asked one of them what was wrong and he told me that a lion had escaped from the zoo. Is it coming this way?, I gasped. He glared at me and then said quietly, well, we’re not fucking running towards it, are we?”
Vanuatu: “A man who runs a supermarket is forced to fire half his employees. Next on the list it is Jack or Ann. He brings Ann into his office and says, I have a problem, I have to lay you or Jack off. Ann replies, jack off, I have a headache.
Trainspotters: “Is anything worn under my kilt? No way man, it’s all in immaculate order.”