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The rise of Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola SturgeonAlex who? I always thought the Tories ‘Vote Labour, Get Salmond‘ schtick was as weak as it was pitiful. It’s all very well photo shopping an Ed Milli-band in the former first minister’s oversized coat pocket, but when far fewer people south of the border know Salmond and he’s no longer calling the shots? Well, after this week, there is no doubt in the electorate’s mind who the SNP leader is. For Nicola Sturgeon, this was the moment she passed from the leading personality in Scottish politics to a household name virtually everywhere. This was initially thanks to the leaders’ debate last Thursday, and what can only be described as a highly dubious attack in yesterday’s Telegraph. Here, for your delectation, are some brief scrappy observations.

In last week’s debate, Nicola had two seemingly irreconcilable tasks to perform. She had to give no ground to Labour at all and make sure the SNP remained the left of centre party of choice in Scotland. Then there was the trickier feat of assuring English voters that her party was not some toxic entity prepared to rinse Westminster and the taxpayer as a price for staying in the union. In both cases, she succeeded.

This election is no stranger to weird phenomena, and this was no exception: she did so by deploying basic class-based social democratic arguments against austerity that ultimately cut against the logic of nationalism. In fact, it was the only gambit capable of appealing equally to Scottish and rUK voters. What also made this approach inevitable is her own politics, which have consistently been on the SNP’s left. Going in with austerity, ably assisted by Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett, she was able to pitch her idea of a ‘progressive alliance‘ that would lock the Tories out of power this time and perhaps forever. This attempts to nullify the ‘vote SNP, get Tory‘ messages put about by Labour that will sway some new SNP voters who’ve previously been Labour-loyal while simultaneously implying an endorsement for a Labour vote pretty much everywhere else. It’s risky from an anti-Tory point of view because reasons. Nevertheless, it’s out there now. By taking on the mantle of anti-austerity the SNP now appears much more benign than the way the Conservatives would have it.

What Westminster and its bubble cannot get its head around (here’s a case in point) is that Scottish politics have changed. Masses of people have elbowed aside the tottering structure of Scottish Labour and taken up politics in huge numbers. Imagine how politics would be transformed in England if, virtually over night, there was an influx into Labour as proportional as the one experienced by the SNP – we’d be talking 800,000 extra members and a decisive shift in wider society. Politics in Scotland is no longer a spectator sport, and no amount of finger wagging, smears, and carping on about losing a referendum will change that. Labour can make a comeback, but it’s a long, hard slog. It has to adapt to the new situation, not the other way round.

And then there’s the leaked memo shenanigans! I suppose a back office “intervention” against Nicola Sturgeon was inevitable. Is it plausible? Well, there is a certain logic for some in the SNP preferring a Tory government – as Mark Ferguson points out. However, the bulk of the SNP’s new voters and recruits are not for independence at any price. But there are plenty of people, sadly including some in my own party, for whom no price is too high for the union’s preservation. Ditto for the machinery of state, as H also notes.

It’s worth remembering the “leak” originated from the Scottish Office, which was until recently run by the LibDems. Far be it for me to suggest this and a well-known track record for dirty tricks might be more than coincidence (though the LibDems seem to have ‘fessed up). Yet as stings go, whether it’s true or not and despite Nicola’s consistent political record, the logic will ring true for some and provide Labour marginal succour – at the price of firing up the SNP’s support even more.

The nightmare question for our betters will arise if Sturgeon’s anti-austerity rhetoric is taken up by many millions of others. If you’re worthy of leaks and smears, you and your political movement have arrived.

8 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    This whole affair has Labour looking desperate. Miliband, Balls and Murphy all rushed to put their comments on record on the assumption that story about Sturgeon’s comments was true. It really sounded as though they were grasping at a story that they hoped would do what political campaigning has been unable to do i.e. to reverse Scottish Labour’s decline. Murphy has plenty to be desperate about but the affair says nothing good about the sense of political judgement of Miliband and Balls. They wanted to believe the story so much that they forgot that sometimes news is just too good to be true. Why didn’t they check before jumping in? As it is their contribution will have done no good at all for Labour.

    I see that Douglas Alexander has now deleted his own ill-advised tweets trying to make hay in the sunshine of the alleged comments.

    Mark Ferguson’s piece on the affair suffers from the same problems. Face with a lack of evidence he tries to reason his way to the conclusion that its what Sturgeon must be thinking whether she said it or not. Every single thing that his argument refers to has a clear alternative explanation. His argument is an exercise in wishful thinking.

    Labour hasn’t learned that scare tactics are not working with the Scots. ‘Vote SNP and get Cameron’ has little force for people who want a break from Westminster politics and see the SNP as the surest way to obtain that. It was argued in many pieces on Left Futures in the run up to the election of the Scottish Labour leader that Labour’s only hope of making headway was by outflanking the SNP on the left. Scottish Labour chose Jim Murphy instead. So, deprived of a solid political case against the SNP, Labour leaders are hoping for a scandal which will do the trick for them. This may be politics but it is politics of a rather low sort.

    1. Robert says:

      And if they cannot find one they will try to make one.

  2. Spot-on and a very interesting point well-made regarding Sturgeon’s left-leaning social democracy cutting across her, and the SNP’s, nationalism.
    Will be very interesting to see how that plays out in the mid-to-long term.

  3. Dave says:

    Don’t kid yourselves, Salmond is pulling here strings in the background. Sturgeon is just his puppet.
    Watch his space!

    1. Robert says:

      many people say the same over labour and with Miliband being a puppet of Progress and Blair, seems people think we have a load of puppets.

      1. Dave says:

        Miliband is not a puppet he is a muppet, Blair is a yesterday man but Salmond is a today man and waiting in the wings to cause chaos where he can.

  4. James Martin says:

    Of course the irony of the SNP Keynesian approach is that it is based not only on dwindling oil stocks but also on the inequalities of the Barnet calculations that have shielded the public sector in Scotland from the type of cuts being endured in many English authorities (who could be said to be subsidising the nationalist fantasies as a result). So there is a logical bankruptcy to the whole SNP vision that is as much to do with economics as it is on the divisive poison of tartan nationalism.

    But it does lead to some serious questions for the left in the Labour Party who in Keir Hardie as its first leader had a Scot who represented a Welsh seat in Westminster and who personally represented very well the British working class rather than any ‘English’ nature of the Labour Party.

    The thing is when you take away the current froth of personalities and the nationalist surge, we still have a united British working class represented by the unions and where a Glasgow worker in Tesco has far more in common with workers in a Tesco in Birmingham or London than they do with the likes of Sturgeon, and you can multiply that by many hundreds of thousands in industry and the public sector.

    It is from the workplaces and from the unions that we will once again see a unifying class based socialism and left activist layer emerge, although it remains to be seen whether the Henry Jackson Society activist Jim Murphy will see that as a bigger threat than the nationalist bile he is currently happily spewing out.

  5. Patrick says:

    Labour pander to nationalism because they have largely abandoned socialism. Repealing anti trade union laws and allowing the closed shop and promoting free collective bargaining ought to be a top priority but even to suggest it is now viewed as a revolutionary act. How far we have sunk that any foreseeable Labour government will not untether the collectivism and civil power of the unions and working people. But it is the answer staring us in the face.

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