12 July 2021

Could Sturgeon ‘do a Kinnock’ and go to Europe on a huge salary?

By Ian Mitchell

Out here in seaward Argyll, people often say of worrying weather, “Aye, there’s a change on”. Since the inconclusive May election, I have begun to think that this expression applies to Holyrood politicians too. Something is happening today in nationalist politics which requires an explanation but so far has not been given one. What are the signs?

The most important one is that the SNP leadership has largely disappeared from view. Apart from anodyne Covid briefings, Ms Sturgeon has fallen uncharacteristically silent. There was even a short period when she didn’t even deliver those herself. Then, last weekend, she resurfaced, but in Oban rather than her official residence in Bute House. 

Though by herself, she said she was on holiday, going on to the mountain hamlet of Tyndrum. She presumably did not want to go further west than Oban as that would have involved a ferry trip, which would have provoked questions about the “ferry fiasco” her government has created. Briefly, two small island ferries have taken longer to build on the Clyde in a yard Sturgeon has nationalised than the aircraft carriers, Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, did at Rosyth on the Forth in a private yard under British government control. No wonder she has taken to the hills. 

Something similar has happened to Humza Yousaf, the former Justice Secretary, infamous for the Hate Crime Act, and now Health Minister. He disappeared too. Then he popped up at the film studio near London where the Harry Potter films were made. That was presumably ‘indy-compliant’ since, though Potter himself is English, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is plainly situated in Scotland. Nevertheless he felt the need to explain himself, tweeting: “Most important job I have is being a good father…” The Covid crisis comes second. 

Yousaf was shifted to health after the election, since when Scottish Covid cases have soared. The First Minister initially blamed soccer fans who travelled to Wembley for bringing the disease back. After it emerged that Yousaf went to England around the same time, that line of argument was quietly dropped. 

But that has not calmed the mood. Many Scottish media commentators and saloon-bar analysts have asked why the Health Minister was taking a holiday at all at a time when the Covid crisis was getting out of hand here. The World Health Organisation said last week that Scotland is now the Covid capital of Europe. Yousaf countered by saying that he had continued to work while he was on holiday. Perhaps he was consulting a professor of potions pandemic management?

Most mysterious of all is the case of Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP. He has vanished completely, and for a longer period. As with Sturgeon and Yousaf, this is noteworthy because it is so uncharacteristic. For a party that self-advertises 24/7, silence requires an explanation. 

The most persuasive theory concerns a ‘ringfenced’ £600,000 which has apparently ‘gone missing’ from the SNP accounts. It was donated to help when a second referendum was called and, since none has yet been called, the disappearance of this money has raised enough questions that Police Scotland have been making inquiries. Yet the man responsible for the money is publicly invisible.

What is going on? 

After the May elections I wrote on this site that the SNP cannot entertain any reasonable hope of winning a second referendum (short of lucky chances in a penalty shoot-out). The arithmetic simply does not add up. Since independence is the beginning and end of SNP politics, that’s a critical consideration. Perhaps Sturgeon, Murrell and Yousaf read CapX and realise that seven years of electioneering while in power have not made any difference to the general alignment of Scottish politics. Roughly half support the SNP and roughly half do not, just as in 2014 when Sturgeon took over. 

All the work since then, all those corners cut, all the concealment of the realities (like postponing publication of a damning OECD report on education until after the recent election), has been in vain. The SNP is still a minority government propped up by an increasingly dysfunctional Green Party led by Harry Potter look-alike, Patrick Harvie. Epic fail.

The First Minister has a panoply of problems which no sane person would want to deal with unless some great pay-off, like independence, were likely. She has been working in SNP politics since she left the law in the late 1990s. Half of her life has been spent in the same environment, with much the same people, lobbying for a single outcome. Now it appears it will never happen. She would be less than human if she looked forward to five more years of this with anything other than boredom and disgust. Is she really going to waste her whole working life pursuing an unachievable goal? 

The most persuasive speculation, from the Black Sheep to the Burnside Bar, is that Sturgeon is going to ‘do a Kinnock’, and go to Europe on a huge salary, with a copper-bottomed pension, there to enjoy her ‘winnings’. Perhaps the real reason Yousaf went south was to see if Lord Voldemort could use the dark arts to help get his leader away to Brussels and himself, faute de mieux, into Bute House?

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Ian Mitchell is the author of 'The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland?'

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.