As a half-Scot, what do I think of Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation? I think it’s admirable to admit that you’ve become an obstacle to the things you care about most. But I also worry that her exit will do little to help the relentless quest to calm the divisions that have become a hallmark of devolution.
I’m half Scottish, one quarter English, one eighth Welsh and one eighth Cornish (this may sound weird, but it’s important to me). I don’t see anyone with a Scottish, Irish or Welsh accent as an enemy. But Sturgeon and the SNP think I’m a British predator because I have a British accent and live in London. The same appears to be the case for Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Labor Party. During the pandemic, the Welsh government closed its borders to the wicked Brits, preventing us from visiting my Welsh mother-in-law, even just standing outside her house and waving.
Sturgeon’s exit was a dignified one. Like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, she left in a dip in poll numbers and cited the personal toll of politics. Unlike Ardern, who is raising young children, Sturgeon has wisely not overemphasized the point. A brutal tactician who quelled internal dissent and now leaves her party without a clear successor, she referred to a “brutal” life as a politician as a double-edged sword. We should all worry that politics is an increasingly thankless game, especially for women. But that doesn’t do women in public life any favors, claiming they’re not up to the task: better to admire Sturgeon for being a strong and shrewd operator all the time.
Sturgeon was absolutely right when he said that “no one person should be dominant in any system for long.” Neither should either, arguably. We saw this in Westminster, where the Conservative Party was exhausted and divided despite claiming to be “new” under five different prime ministers. But we’ve seen it manifest itself in the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales.
In the 15 years since the SNP won control of Holyroodhouse in 2007, Scotland has increasingly resembled a one-party state. The party’s relentless focus on independence can easily distract from its lackluster record in power. A chronic lack of competition at the ballot box has created a cult of leaders. One MSP told me that the selection process for Sturgeon’s successor would be “Soviet” because the machine was built around her.
Sturgeon’s insistence on pushing a gender reform bill that’s so out of touch with the public is a bit of a stretch: half of Scots even backed those dreaded southerners in Westminster to block the bill. Rishi Sunak can therefore take the blame for her downfall, although Labor is more likely to reap electoral benefits.
When a party becomes so dominant, it can lead to infighting instead of focusing on serving the public. Since the first Welsh Assembly election in 1999, Wales has been governed by the Labor Party, sometimes backed by the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru. This is also the case in Wales. That’s a problem, says Welsh professor Roger Awan-Scully.his book The end of British party politicss?, depicts discord in Britain as voters face increasingly incoherent political choices. In 2015 and 2017, four different political parties ranked first in four countries in the UK.
You’d think that having the levers of power so close at hand would be able to focus efforts on improving public services. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. According to the IFS, Scotland spends 27% more per capita on public services than England and 13% more than Wales (whose population is older, poorer and sicker than Scotland’s). However, Scotland has one of the lowest life expectancies in Western Europe and one of the highest rates of preventable cancer in the UK.
Scottish secondary pupils do not outperform their English-speaking peers on international assessments, despite the SNP spending significantly more on school than England. In England, the proportion of 18-year-olds going to university has grown faster, although Scotland is spending more to cover free tuition. Wait times for A&E and referrals have been consistently longer in NHS Wales than in England over the past decade, according to the Nuffield Trust. However, it is always someone else’s fault for raising these issues.
The Stoking sector is probably more interesting than dealing with dry issues of infrastructure and services. If Sturgeon stays, she will face resistance from a bottle take-back scheme and consultations to ban alcohol advertising, rattling the whiskey industry.
The independent business wasn’t invented by Sturgeon: it kept burning even while I was growing up. My parents had friends in Scotland who refused to come south of the border (we had to meet them), as did friends in Wales. But we have a lot in common, and it seems sad that politics has exacerbated our differences.
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have unleashed hopes of Scottish devolution in hopes of stemming the momentum towards independence. Instead, they inadvertently added to it, which widened divisions within each country in the UK. Friends in Scotland complain that politics is too toxic and you don’t want to discuss it around the dinner table. Commentators focus on the fact that around half of Scots want independence. But half don’t: Brexit’s shocking economic legacy is a stark reminder of the risks of going it alone.
It’s nice to imagine we might get a kinder, gentler politics now. Of course we don’t. We unionists will stumble.
Mention Sources Can Request us to Edit This Article