Chris Musson, of the Scottish Sun, yesterday published on Twitter an interesting list of Scottish Government u-turns. In each case, Nicola Sturgeon had not only denied that a certain measure was under consideration, but mocked the journalist who asked her about it. Then it happened.
Cutting the self-isolation period; recalling the Scottish Parliament between Christmas and New Year; finding an extra £100 million of support for businesses from existing budgets. All followed within days by announcements that the measures were either underway or under consideration.
The last point is especially interesting. When the First Minister derided the suggestion she find extra money, she asked whether it should come from the Health Service budget. But as another Twitter user points out, when she eventually announced it no indication was given as to where it had come from – and this in the same week Audit Scotland criticised the lack of transparency around Covid spending north of the border.
Attacking the media isn’t exactly a new look for Scottish nationalism. Recall the way separatist activists targeted the BBC during the referendum. And it has been pointed out elsewhere that this is precisely the sort of populist posturing which would give Sturgeon’s progressive English fans a fit of the vapours of practised by Boris Johnson.
But Alex Salmond overseeing such behaviour is one thing; to see it from his successor is a bit different. For all her lack of interest in day-to-day governance, Sturgeon has always been a very polished performer. This sort of behaviour, both in terms of the tone of the attacks and the swiftness of the u-turns, is not suggestive of a leader calm and in control.
Perhaps she is simply feeling the pressure. As Tom Harris pointed out this week (and some of us argued on this site during the referendum campaign), Brexit has not transformed the fortunes of separation as the First Minister and her supporters hoped and probably expected. Her party, once renowned for its phalanx-like internal discipline, is increasingly fractious. And there is growing speculation about when she might step down.
Westminster has disobligingly discovered that it can, in fact, simply say no to another referendum. Even if a general election in 2023 or 2024 delivered a government with a different position (and this seems very unlikely), by that point Sturgeon would have been in-post for a decade, even before allowing the time required to negotiate the terms of a second referendum, pass the necessary legislation in Parliament, and conduct the actual campaign.
In the event that ‘Yes’ actually won, the lesson of Brexit is that the resulting negotiations for picking apart the United Kingdom would be messy and take more years still.
So it has probably occurred to the First Minister that even in the improbable event that all the separatists’ stars align to deliver independence before 2030, she is probably not going to be the woman to lead Scotland out. One can imagine why that might make the day-to-day grind of misruling Scotland less palatable.
Can Truss deliver on the Protocol?
Earlier this week, I explained that the Prime Minister probably sent Liz Truss to Northern Ireland in much the same spirit that Shaddam IV, Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe, sent House Atreides to govern Dune. “When is a gift, not a gift?”
The constitutional situation with regard to Ulster is ultimately Johnson’s fault; Parliament might have stripped him of leverage by passing the Benn Act, but it was he who presumably made the decision to allow it to pass. But that won’t stop a failure to deliver, or the impression of having given in to Brussels, potentially undermining the Foreign Secretary’s leadership ambitions.
But the circumstances could still be a source of strength for Truss. As Rishi Sunak demonstrated, one has more freedom of manoeuvre when one has been brought in to replace someone else. The Foreign Secretary ought to demand Johnson’s full political support for her preferred approach, up to and including triggering Article 16 – and if she doesn’t get it, tell the world.