Whither the First Minister?

James Hamilton’s commissioned report on whether the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code was published this afternoon.

It clears the First Minister of four charges of breaching the ministerial code but states that she had given MSPs an “incomplete narrative of events” by failing to tell them about a key meeting. This was already well known and admitted by Sturgeon, and the difference of public opinion arises because Hamilton deemed it to be “a genuine failure of recollection” and “not deliberate”, so that it did not amount to a breach of the ministerial code. I agree with this because her recent testimony to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints (Committee of Inquiry) was consistent and credible, but whether it was ‘the whole truth’ is for others to judge.

Distraction: taking one’s eye off the ball

Too much weight has been placed on bringing down Sturgeon. She is one of the few competent MSPs in the SNP administration, which is why she kept so much control to herself and did not delegate easily to others.

Hamilton’s report will go some way to deflect criticism from Sturgeon, but she has been already criticised by the Committee of Inquiry and the Scottish Tories have intimated that they will table a vote of no confidence in the First Minister tomorrow.

If one wishes to concentrate on Sturgeon, she was not slow to tell the public to judge her on her record when she was Health Secretary and then as First Minister in 2015 on her record on education and the ‘attainment gap’.

Scotland’s schools are failing their pupils and today’s Audit Scotland Report points out that the attainment gap has not improved. Alex Salmond’s testimony to the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry suggests that the senior echelons of her administration are less competent than Sturgeon is.

It is possible to judge Sturgeon on her record but not many of the core voters for separation will do so. Their minds will not change before the May 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election.

The Holyrood election in May

Even the Parliamentary election in May will not be a public judgment on Sturgeon, although she told the Scottish Parliament that it will be.

Rather this election focuses on much bigger issues than Sturgeon, although success will be interpreted as a ringing endorsement of Sturgeon herself. It will not be so. Any SNP success in May will be in spite of Sturgeon and her administration. Any success will be delivered by the diehard separatists who will vote SNP in spite of all the events in recent months.

This is why the Unionist cause needs to present the positive case for the Union to the remaining floating voters instead of hoping that damage to Sturgeon is enough. Like the impeaching of Donald Trump after he had left the US Presidency, a vote of no confidence in the First Minister during the final days of the current session risks backfiring and will not accomplish much. It could elicit a sympathy vote, possibly already demonstrated by the reported recent rise in SNP membership. The Unionists need better leadership than has been currently demonstrated.

Only a catastrophic fall in the SNP vote in May will signal a vote of no confidence in Sturgeon, and this is unlikely to happen because of the core vote for separation.

Opposition parties don’t win elections; governments lose them. The Unionist cause must use the remaining weeks to demonstrate why this SNP administration should not be returned to power because of its ideology and its poor record in charge of Scottish affairs for so long.

The election in May will not be a judgment on Nicola Sturgeon but a judgment on the capacity of the SNP opposition to muster their arguments and present them to the Scottish people.


22 Mar 2021: is James Hamilton truly independent? Andrew Neil thinks the redactions in Hamilton’s report make it unintelligible. Today, Craig Murray was found guilty and Sturgeon’s SNP published a draft Bill for another Referendum. This is a black day or at least a marked day. James Hamilton has added a note effectively protesting against the redactions in his report: “A redacted report that effectively erases the role of any such individual in the matters investigated in the report cannot be properly understood by those reading it, and presents an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what happened.” It seems this activity of the SNP administration is not new.

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