Nicola Sturgeon, SNP party Leader and First Minister now and after 5th May 2016, put herself at the centre of her party’s campaign today – 20th April, asking for a personal mandate in the coming election – for what she termed her ‘job application’ to end in her reappointment.
This herding of an electoral process into a personality cult is a dangerous road to take – but in Ms Sturgeon’s case, is an all but unavoidable one.
Personalising a political campaign under the brand of a single dominant individual seems immodest on one hand and on the other an invitation to endorse a form of dictatorship.
The risks not only to democracy but to the individual upon whose public attractiveness this all rests are not hard to see.
In short, people get bored with a one note samba – and when they do, the brand cannot be refreshed.
However, Ms Sturgeon has had no choice but to frontline her claim to her own pre-eminent trustworthiness, capability and reliability.
In different circumstances, a party leader would be in a position to put forward a successful team – than which nothing on this earth is more attractive or more reassuring.
But the SNP has nothing remotely resembling a capable team and so Ms Sturgeon’s making her campaign a request for a personal mandate is a smart and necessary political decoy – keeping the focus on herself and moving attention away from the dearth of ability beyond her.
Until the last six months or so, her Deputy, Finance Secretary, John Swinney, seemed the second and only other area of competence in the Sturgeon cabinet. But Swinney’s currency has been significantly devalued:
- in his scrapping of the Forth Bridge tolls – and simultaneously decimating the government funding for the bridge authority – making the known need for specific maintenance work on the truss-end links unaffordable – with the most serious economic consequences for local businesses and for the haulage industry;
- in his serial underspending, starving education and health in particular of the funding allocated in respect of them in the Scottish block grant;
- in his first outing at tax making – the failing Land and Buildings Transaction Tax which seems unlikely to deliver on revenue expectations;
- in the £15Bn deficit he has run up the Scottish budget;
- in his undeclared borrowing, independently estimated to reach £50Bn by 2019.
Then look at the rest of the cabinet landscape from the FM’s position?
Can she point to the success of:
- Education Secretary, Angela Constance, whose track record demonstrates nothing but substantial failure on all fronts, from falling standards in literacy and numeracy, to an unmoving attainment gap between pupils from a well off and poorer background, to massive cuts in college places, to cuts in University funding and unnecessary rows with the University sector from a minister whose weakness in basic grammar has been serially noted.
- Health Secretary, Shona Robison, under whose hapless aegis Scotland’s health service is failing while you watch; who has to be tightly scripted on the rare occasion she is let out to say anything and, in the face of serial serious failures in the health service – from recruitment to the crisis in A&E, to waiting times, to ambulances going out one-up to emergency calls, to the incompetence of the early operation of the new Queen Elizabeth hospital – takes on the look of a rabbit caught in the headlights;
- Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, who has presided casually over a real crisis in the important farming sector, with, even today, a substantial number of farmers not having received their EU farm payments which were due by December 2015 at the latest;
- Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod, who hid during the floods crisis;
- Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, who has gone completely to ground in the aftermath of the car crash [literally] of the cost cutting unification of the police forces of Scotland – and who still intends to remove corroborating evidence as a prerequisite for conviction;
- Children and Young People’s Minister, Aileen Campbell, who must theoretically be responsible for the utterly discredited and unworkable madness that is the state guardianship scheme to allocate a Named Person to every young person in Scotland from birth to legal maturity – and who has said not one public word on the subject;
- Minister for Everything Else, Alex Neil, who does nothing but is wheeled out as a human placebo in times of trouble – and plays a neat hand in setting up feasibility studies as the shortest route to the long grass – and announcing more spending;
- Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, who generously chucks unnecessary public money at a profit making private sector music festival company after sustained lobbying by a very well connected party insider…
If you were Ms Sturgeon, how would you make an election campaign out of a clutch of no hopers like this?
You’d do what she has done – focus on yourself, your own publicity, your image, your own stellar credit rating with the public – make no mention of the vegetables [as Spitting Image memorably called Margaret Thatcher’s background mumblers] – and ask for a personal mandate.
There’s no one else even a halfwit would give a mandate to in this bunch – and Nicola Sturgeon is well aware of that, even though she has personally promoted most of them to positions manifestly beyond their capability.
So – on 5th May, Scotland will effectively vote – and in numbers – for a one woman government, which is what it has had since the Autumn of 2014.
Ms Sturgeon’s hope will be that her party’s expected sweep of the constituency seats in the election will throw up some more substantial talent for her to work with than the superannuated crop she has at her disposal just now.