I used to play Jenga as a child, and I have always remembered how often the most stable-looking tower would crumble, when a single, seemingly unimportant block was removed. That tower reminds me of the current SNP, as Nicola Sturgeon and her cronies pull the blocks out from under themselves.
In a recent contribution to the Spectator it was noted that, despite the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s woeful handling of a myriad of domestic issues, she and her party remain popular amongst Scottish voters, seemingly defying electoral and political gravity.
It is expected that a party— any party— after 13 and half years in power, would see their voters trickle away, as scandals build, the party runs out of ideas, their policies fall flat, and its politicians become stale. Surely, this should be the case with the SNP, a party that has overseen financial and business collapses, the worst drugs death rates in Europe, high-level political infighting, publicity gaffes, and over 200 scandals of all kinds.
Even members of the party are now saying they are increasingly looking like a party which needs time in opposition, as they have run out of ideas.
Surely then, political gravity must take its course. However, it won’t — at least not in the way that we know it. The political gravity we are used to only applies to conventional politicians with conventional parties, standard policies, and above all, achievable objectives that they have failed to meet.
The SNP is not conventional; its policies — the limited domestic ones they have at least — are outlandish and often appalling. Their politicians rely on feelings, not figures, as the measure of their success. Fundamentally, their main political objective, Separation, is abstract, to be worked towards, not something that can be measured. When they don’t achieve their goal of Separation, they are not judged as a failure for not having carried out their promises. Instead, their voters only support them further.
Nicola Sturgeon and her party are populists and the conventional rules of politics do not apply to populists. These times of extraordinary social and political upheaval allow her to provide ready answers to absolve herself. Business is not performing; she blames Brexit. Healthcare is collapsing; she blames the pandemic. For all ills, she blames Westminster.
As populists, the SNP will play any tune they think the voters want to hear. Instead of conventional party politics, we see a mishmash of conflicting policies that are promoted for style over substance.
So, how do we deal with a populist who is seemingly immune from political gravity? Well, that is simpler than it may appear: the cracks are already there. The fate of her party and their objectives is inexorably connected to her ability to be seen to be trustworthy in the eyes of the electorate.
Already, she is taking a hit from the Salmond inquiry, Bi-Fab, the ferry scandal and the worst drug death rate in Europe, all of which, bit by bit, chip away at the visage of trust. The tower still seems stable, but the blocks are being pulled.
The Salmond Inquiry, Hate Speech Act, and the Gender Recognition Act, are alienating her base. With Bi-Fab and the ferries, she has eroded the trust of the unions and heavy industry. They have chosen to back Labour, rather than the SNP, on the constitutional issue. Thirteen years of failure on education, healthcare and social issues is losing the centre. These forces will all combine into an unstoppable political gravity, which would pull any politician, even one like Sturgeon with high-flying favourability, towards their earthly demise.
What the SNP fear above all, is a loss of a symbolic enemy, and that is precisely what is about to happen. The most recent poll conducted by the Scotsman had secession support at 52% (excluding Don’t Knows) and was taken at a time when a no-deal Brexit seemed most likely, and even unavoidable.
However, this is no longer the case, and should a Brexit deal occur, it would deprive Sturgeon of a vital source of deflection and grievance. Now, due to the pandemic, the economic impact of Brexit will not be visible to the average voter. With a loss of one popular scapegoat, she is vulnerable; two could well prove fatal.
Labour under Sir Keir Starmer, we are told, is under “new leadership”, and he is well-liked as a political figure in Scotland. Even Scottish Labour is, slowly, climbing up the polls and is currently around 20%. A few more points, a few more speeches and appearances and a honing of messaging, and Nicola will start to enter dire straits indeed.
Labour and the Conservatives only need to increase their vote by 2.5% each, providing Liberal Democrat support holds at 6%, and the SNP will be denied the supposed mandate they so desperately seek.
The search for stability after COVID and Brexit will be great and SNP members will need trust in their leadership and party. Sturgeon has led her party up the indy hill many times, and the troops are beginning to falter, despite the supposedly encouraging polling. Trust is the be-all and end-all to the SNP. Should they lose any of that trust, gravity will resume, and the earth will close in on them fast, and with an almighty thump.
The tower is set, the blocks are being continually pulled away. The members atop it fear the collapse, so they fight like dogs to keep the public from seeing it disintegrate. But once the gaps become too numerous, and the structure too rickety, even the strongest tower crumbles to rubble in seconds, pulling all those atop it down with them.
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