TOPSHOT - Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts at the count centre in Glasgow on December 13, 2019 after votes are counted in the UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Sturgeon’s hubris was her downfall

History will not be kind to her time as leader

The resignation of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland is good news for Scotland and great news for the United Kingdom. Rarely has there been a more inflated political reputation than was merited by achievement. In the coming months and years, as time and evidence provide genuine perspective, both her supporters and critics will begin to wonder what she actually accomplished. 

Unable to offer any regrets or admit any faults, her hubris would not allow her a convincing argument of why she should resign, and why now.  

The resignation came as a shock, not because it was undeserved but because there was little sign of insurmountable party rebellion that normally precedes such events. It is true the list of domestic policy calamities was mounting, and more were on their way, but the backbench grumblings at the Scottish Parliament were nothing like what unseated Boris Johnson or Liz Truss at Westminster. 

The tight discipline that prevents SNP politicians openly criticising the leadership, instilled by Stalinist party rules that brook no unhelpful comments, has continued to protect Sturgeon. What was different in recent weeks is the easy irritation that Sturgeon was now showing when grilled in parliament – and the greater willingness of the Scottish lobby to ask harder questions that were previously reserved for leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties. 

For all there were huge policy failures that Scots have been paying the price for, Sturgeon stood impervious to any political challenges because there was no obvious successor and, with the next Scottish Parliament election not until 2026, no incentive for her peers to force the change. The time of her departure was therefore always likely to be of her own choosing, generating much speculation about the search for a UN, WHO or international charity style role that would give the young 53-year-old another decade or so in the public eye. 

So why has she decided to resign? Her self-congratulatory statement was long and verbose but short of reasoning and clarity. She talked of the need for her party to take a key decision on the strategy to adopt to achieve independence, saying as it was of such importance and would shape the party’s future it would be better she was not able to determine it by force of her leadership charisma or influence. That sounds like a disingenuous contrivance.  

What leader of a political party does not want to stamp it with his or her personality and authority, believing the special insight and experience of being in charge at the job for eight years must be to everyone’s advantage? What leader would not want to ensure the strategy she preferred would not only deliver the Holy Grail she campaigned for the best part of four decades but would be credited to her foresight and good judgement? Only a leader that is politically exhausted and is forced to admit she cannot solve the problems of her own making. And those problems only kept growing. 

Her defeat at the hands of the UK Supreme Court last October in seeking to hold a second referendum confirmed the robust approach taken by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack in refusing any possibility of granting a Section 30 order that would have made a further vote legal. The key to this was the strong unionist election campaigns across the parties and beyond that denied Sturgeon the absolute majority she craved and the mandate she would have claimed from it.  

Then when Jack moved the Section 35 order that prevented Sturgeon’s Gender Reassignment Reform Bill from receiving Royal Assent he showed he was willing to challenge Sturgeon on the battleground of her choosing and in the process win the thanks of the vast majority of Scots – including many SNP supporters who detested what the bill would mean for the safe spaces of women and children.  

Her legacy will turn to dust

What Jack could not have predicted was how Sturgeon’s usually sure touch at communications would desert her when a convicted double rapist who subsequent to his crime had self-defined as a woman was sent to a woman’s prison. Under repeated questioning Sturgeon tied herself in knots and found it impossible to decide if the “individual” criminal was a man or a woman – creating instead a new gender of being a rapist. Nor would she accept her legislation would have sided with the double-rapist by giving him legal rights to ensure he would go to a women’s prison if Jack had not acted. 

The mood against Sturgeon was turning, polling showed her personal support ebbing away and opposition to her policies mounting. On Monday a Lord Ashcroft poll put support for Scottish independence 12 points behind remaining British and even less support for having a referendum. 

Sturgeon could have battled on, but party support would have suffered further as new levels of incompetence around a deposit return scheme were about to be felt by businesses and the poorest who would pay higher prices. Meanwhile two new ferries remain incomplete and hugely over budget while public services deteriorate. 

Most of Sturgeon’s domestic catastrophes went unnoticed outside Scotland, leaving her admired by Remainers, culture warriors and anti-British rebels, but she leaves a nation now deeply divided, with life expectancy falling and the worst drug deaths in Europe. Her legacy will turn to dust, confirming Sturgeon’s departure will be good for Scotland and the opportunity to now restore harmony should be great for the United Kingdom.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover