The Sturgeon paradox

A couple of weeks ago the Spectator ran a piece by Alex Massie, featured with the front cover headline  "The Sturgeon Paradox," which asked why there seems to be an inverse correlation between the actual performance of the SNP government of Scotland and its popularity with Scottish voters - the worse they do the more popular they become.

The article gives chapter and verse on the failure of the SNP's policies on education and health. He doesn't but could, also point to their dreadful "named person" children's policy and an atrocious attitude to free speech. With regard to the coronavirus pandemic - and in repeating this point I do not wish to associate myself with any suggestion that either government has got everything wrong and nothing right - Massie also points out that all the worst mistakes made by the UK government have also been made by the Scottish government.

Yet even as voters in Scotland profess themselves deeply unhappy with services the management of which has for years been devolved to a Scottish parliament which for a decade has been run by the SNP, they continue to re-elect SNP MSPs and MPs. 

I don't pretend to be an expert on Scottish politics but it is very clear that Nicola Sturgeon has mastered one trick which may be part of the explanation. She is extremely skilled at ensuring anything in Scotland which is unpopular is blamed on the UK government while the Scottish government takes the credit for anything popular - even when this completely flies in the face of reality.

Sooner or later there will be another Scottish independence referendum. If there is a "Yes" vote the chaos which results will make Brexit look like a walk in the park.

The SNP successfully labelled the "No" campaign in 2014 as "Project Fear" and in the political environment of 2014 a campaign based on pointing out (with undoubted accuracy) the risks of independence could still succeed.

The "Leave" side was equally successful in labelling the "Remain" side in the 2016 Brexit referendum as "Project Fear" during the course of a campaign in which, frankly, both sides played fast and loose with the truth to a horrendous extent and the impact of the risks of separatism.

If humans voted purely on logic, after we have all gone through in the past four years which has shown only too clearly how difficult it is ripping up the bonds between nations,  neither the SNP or the "Yes" campaign in any referendum would get a single vote from anyone other than the hardcore nationalists for whom national sovereignty for Scotland is so important that they would prefer to be part of an independent Scotland even knowing that it would be significantly poorer than as part of the UK. Yet humans are so far from being logical that there are still many who think that Brexit has been a mess but see that as an argument for Scottish independence rather than the reverse. 

The cognitive dissonance in believing both that ripping Scotland away from the EU is a disaster for Scotland but also that ripping Scotland away from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will make Scotland better off is astonishing, but it does not appear possible to avoid the incomprehensible fact that some people really do seem to be able to hold both of these incompatible opinions.

No campaign which looks like "Project Fear" will work again in the present climate. Those of us who want the United Kingdom to continue to exist had better start preparing to make the positive case for it that "Remain" so catastrophically failed to make over Brexit.    


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