What a phenomenon Nicola Sturgeon is. Scotland’s First Minister is a political superstar who has that rarest of qualities in a leader: she is someone who manages to successfully project her personality when she is on the public stage. While she may have had image advisers improve her tailoring, her voice is her real voice, largely unchanged in 20 years, her mannerisms are not fake, and she is, unlike her predecessor Alex Salmond, not an ego-maniac. What you see when she is speechifying is roughly what you get from the person off stage.
Yet her speech to SNP conference in Aberdeen this weekend was not one of her finest. It is not just that the peroration lacked punch. She seemed not particularly fired up and it looked as though the huge SNP audience in the hall sensed it wasn’t the greatest. Perhaps the Nationalists have had so much excitement since the referendum that they can take no more?
Incidentally, she claimed that the SNP “won the general election” in which the SNP took 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. It didn’t. May 2015 was a UK general election across the UK (which was endorsed by a majority of Scottish voters in the 2014 referendum) and the Tories won the most seats. David Cameron is back in Downing Street with a majority, despite an SNP promise during the Westminster election campaign that they would lock him out.
Other than that, there were strong passages in which Sturgeon showed yet again what a fearsomely good speaker she is, with excellent comic timing and a nice line in asking her over-excited party to be a bit more tolerant of its critics.
None of it, though, could disguise that this was a speech with a hole at its heart. Sturgeon is seeking re-election at the devolved Scottish elections next year and she decided to major on the party’s record since it took over in 2007.
There then followed an embarrassing section in which she listed the SNP’s achievements in the policy areas where the devolved government has control. After eight years of SNP rule, it was pathetically thin gruel.
John McDermott of the FT wrote the definitive piece on SNP failure in the areas that matter. I won’t reiterate every point and I recommend you read John’s piece at Prospect.
On education Scotland declined to pursue the reforms that under Blair and Cameron have transformed English state education. The poorest pay the price. Then there is the “free university tuition fees” policy that gets Nationalists so puffed-up with pride. That is a middle class subsidy paid for by the savaging of the vocational part of the system. The SNP also made the most appalling mess of policing when it created one national force.
Everywhere the Nationalist government’s urge is to centralise and boss people about. Creepily, children must have a state-approved guardian, or designated named person from birth, who can report their parents to the state. On health, the unreformed system is creaking. Now the party is doing great harm to Scotland’s universities by trying to impose sinister new governing arrangements that will further empower the Nationalist government and curtail independence. Sturgeon’s ministers and her sheep-like MSPs seem to have no grasp of the harm they are doing to the fabric of great Scottish institutions.
Beyond all the Nationalist self-congratulation, and the party’s moral superiority complex, and its anti-profit holier than thou hectoring, their record in government is dire. They are extremely lucky that Scotland’s voters, drawn to the strong SNP brand, don’t seem to care, yet.