20 April 2015

Nicola Sturgeon is attempting one of the greatest con tricks in British political history


The backdrop for the SNP’s left-wing manifesto launch was quite something. The party’s diminutive leader, Nicola Sturgeon, was dwarfed by the wording on the yellow hoarding behind her: ‘STRONGER FOR SCOTLAND’. And that in turn was dwarfed by the huge, imposing rockface behind it.

The venue chosen by the Nationalists’ crack presentational team was the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. This was a variation on a theme. Following the defeat in last year’s independence referendum the party held a rally at the Glasgow Hydro – a vast concert hall more often home to sell-out shows by pop stars such as Rod Stewart, Sting and Dolly Parton – where little-known SNP figures such as Stewart Hosie addressed the 12,000-strong crowd in front of a screen displaying their names in letters six-feet high and 40-feet wide.

This aesthetic gigantism unavoidably gives pause for thought – there is something retro about it, suggesting the less edifying movements of 20th century Europe, with their palaces, monuments and arches. Might, scale, power – the language of nationalism.

What Sturgeon and her party are attempting to pull off amounts to one of the greatest con tricks in British political history. On the cusp of all but wiping out the Labour Party in Scotland, they are offering ‘a hand of friendship’ to people across the UK. Sturgeon, a fan of Michael Foot’s politics, insists this election is ‘not about independence, it is about making Scotland stronger’ and building a ‘progressive alliance’ across the country. She has pledged to block the Conservatives from forming a government and will instead install Ed Miliband in No 10, promising the SNP will behave ‘responsibly and constructively’ in its new position of influence across the British Isles.

If you believe for one second that for the SNP this election is ‘not about independence’ then I have a Forth Road Bridge I’d like to sell you. For the Nationalists, every election, every policy and every decision is about independence. This latest, friendly posture is simply another tactic in aid of their long game. For the past few decades I have watched them shift their ground to defang their big, scary idea and make it more attractive and less nutty to more people. Understand this: they will do whatever it takes, will say anything, to break up the United Kingdom.

I’m with Matthew Parris, who wrote in Saturday’s Times about Sturgeon’s ‘politics of sadism’ – she will prop up a Labour government, the steps taken by which will never be good enough. And as that administration inevitably weakens, she will do what the separatists always do: promise that the tough decisions could be avoided, that the outcomes would be better, if only Scotland were independent. And if it suits the independence cause at any point, she will pull the rug from under poor Miliband, with nary a thought for the supposed ‘progressive alliance’ she has sold to like-minded souls in England. She and that nice Mr Salmond did their best, she will say, and it just didn’t work. It didn’t work because it can’t work. And a majority of Scots, at that point, may believe her.

There is nothing in the SNP’s past to suggest we should even consider taking them at their word. Theirs is a story of double-dealing, unnerving obsession and goalpost-shifting. I’ve written here about why I’ll be voting Labour in this election, even though I’d rather David Cameron continues as Prime Minister – because the fewer SNP MPs that end up going to Westminster, the better, and the more likely it is the UK will survive. No one likes to vote tactically, but Scots who want to stay British should do just that on May 7. Don’t be taken in by the fresh coat of paint Ms Sturgeon has slopped onto the same old Nationalist house of horror.

Chris Deerin was Head of Comment at Telegraph Media Group, 2008-2013. He is now a writer and communications adviser, based in Edinburgh and London, and writes a weekly column in the Scottish Daily Mail.