One Queen of Scotland is enough

One Queen of Scotland is enough

by Brian Monteith
article from Wednesday 12, April, 2017

THIS WEEK I wrote in The Scotsman about the First Minster’s trip to the US and questioned why it is that she and her two predecessors Alex Salmond and Jack McConnell elevated themselves to play the role of international leaders when they are no more than the equivalent of US State Governors.

I framed the article in the context of the very serious problems at home demanding attention. I concluded that their behaviour was caused by politicians believing they can make things happen that benefit us (such as cutting deals and creating jobs) and can raise the reputation of their nation by meeting other political leaders and smiling at the camera.

Both conceits are a result of the hubris that builds up in politicians who believe their own publicity. Jack McConnell started the process, possibly innocently enough, by developing a foreign aid policy – but many MSPs (including myself) saw the danger of his precedent and warned it was pandering to nationalism and could be exploited in time by the SNP.

This was dismissed as partisan sniping, for after all, devolution was meant to “kill nationalism stone dead”; but it did indeed come to pass for when Alex Salmond became First Minister he ratcheted-up the international travel as a way of inflating his importance and developing the idea that Scotland could play an important role on the World Stage.

As usual Salmond was crafty, using ruses such as the Ryder Cup coming to Gleneagles and invitations to speak from grand US institutions, but this only served to provide a template for Sturgeon who has now added her own ingredient – partisan propaganda that promoted independence and painted the UK as uncompromisingly reactionary.

Many commentators today still write as if Sturgeon is a Salmond clone but from my own experience in dealing with her in committees and plenary debates I have absolutely no doubt she is her own woman. She is undoubtedly much further to the left. Her nationalism originates and is driven by different influences, such as her early membership of the KGB-supported CND. She demonstrably has a poorer understanding of economics and is without doubt more partisan. Once said to be cautious, she has also now become more reckless than Salmond, painting herself into a corner over a second independence referendum. Her adoption of social media mores, such as the regular circulation of Selfies, has also fed a personality cult that has gone far beyond even the garrulous Salmond’s media attention.

All of these aspects of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership need challenged if we are to have a First Minister that pays due respect to the expressed will of the Scottish people – such as the vote to remain in the United Kingdom even if that were to mean Scotland would end up outside the EU.

In reply to my column on Sturgeon’s US trip some referred me to an article published the day before by Euan McColm (a former regular contributor to this website) that argued Sturgeon would receive criticism for either going to the US or staying at home, and that we should resist the temptation to criticise her for using the Easter recess to go abroad.

Others referred me to the column by David Torrance, (another former ThinkScotland regular) that argued Sturgeon’s vague platitudes said nothing new and was in effect harmless, “a perfectly reasonable use of the Easter recess.”

I think both columnists are mistaken.

When I was an MSP I too went on a trip to New York as representative of the Scottish Parliament during what had become ‘Tartan Week’, together with members from all the other parties. No one acted in a partisan manner; no one tried to promote their own party or its views and no one belittled the UK or tried to score points against each other for the benefit of entertaining the US hosts or our audiences at home.

In fact as Convenor of Holyrood’s Audit Committee I spent a good deal of time visiting Federal, State and municipal auditors to learn of their best practices and also met people responsible for Washington DC’s voucher programme to learn of its progress (Obama aborted it in his first year of office). Other MSPs undertook similar exploratory meetings and we would reconnect in the evenings at the social functions we had been invited to attend. It did not make for good press copy but I found it helpful to my role as an MSP and convener and there was no party division, our job was to represent Scotland.

Jack McConnell was a regular attendee over a number of years but I cannot recall him or any of his colleagues seeking to use the platform to amplify Labour campaigns.

What we have now witnessed in Nicola Sturgeon’s behaviour is for the occasion to be turned into a party political campaign under cover of representing Scotland. She told her Stanford audience that Scotland is ready to vote for independence – which is nothing short of a lie.

Scotland is not ready economically – for it would, currently, face an existential economic shock to its public services, employment levels and ability to fund its welfare commitments – but more importantly for the point of refuting the lie the Scottish public neither wants a referendum on independence nor does it support leaving the UK. This is beyond dispute; the polls repeatedly show public support in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom and against a referendum, and the trend in both questions is towards those views strengthening.

To claim Scotland “is ready” is to misrepresent and disrespect the Scottish people.

In Sturgeon’s defence it has been said that because the SNP is the largest party at Holyrood and won convincing elections in 2015 and 2016 she can make such a claim – but this is twisting facts to suit an argument for it ignores that Scots were told by Sturgeon that a vote for her party is not a vote for independence. Many Scots have, as a result, voted SNP for reasons other than having a second referendum or separating from the UK.

Once in New York Sturgeon let her ego get the better of her – allowing herself to be branded “Queen of Scots.” I know I am not alone in saying she is not and never will be my Queen, but I would have at least expected her to grasp that such a term would be viewed as insulting to the majority of Scots whether they voted for her or not.

I say “allowed herself” because it was within her power to prevent it.  I can say as an international PR consultant that has advised foreign governments and Presidents there is no way a professional communications adviser would let a national figurehead take the stage without knowing what the backdrop would be like or what the content of any introduction, video or accompanying descriptions would convey.

Either Sturgeon knew how she was being presented and welcomed it or she was had not asked her staff and was surprised by it but carried on regardless to what people might think back in Scotland. It might appear a minor matter but to me it summed up the nature of the trip which was yet more of developing her personality cult that we have come to expect from the SNP.

To add to the First Minister’s graceless and arrogant behaviour we have since been assailed on social media with photos showing SNP MPs attending the Tartan Day parade behind a large banner proclaiming “SNP Westminster Parliamentary Group”. They have no shame in politicising a purely cultural celebration – and at whose expense? How much further can the behaviour of the SNP MPs sink?

Much as I did not care for their politics the days of Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish as First Minster look respectful and dignified.

The SNP is not Scotland and Scotland is not the SNP, the nationalists do not own our Saltire flag and they do not own tartan or Tartan Day.

Such abuses as the politicisation of international events by the SNP and its leader may seem unimportant or trivial to some but it is all part of the tactic of marginalising opponents by defining and capturing what is Scottish and excluding those who are not supporters of their party or independence.

It needs to be challenged at every opportunity if those who want to remain Scottish and British are to have any future in Scotland.

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