This article first appeared on RobinMcAlpine.org on the 22nd March 2023. I was going to write an article along similar lines but Robin’s article is very good and I have got a bag to pack for my holidays which start tomorrow! I thought this article was just right to mark Nicola Sturgeon’s last day as the Leader of the SNP.
The Sturgeon Era: control, paranoia and vanity
by Robin McAlpine | 22 Mar 2023
Few politicians have seen their reputation collapse so completely so quickly as Nicola Sturgeon. There is a very good reason for this – behind her endless rhetoric her real legacy was failure.
Come Monday there will be (god willing) the start of a new era in Scotland. That new era is most certainly not without its challenges and that is what I will focus my time on. But given everything it would be odd for me not to do a brief political obituary for Nicola Sturgeon and since I’m away for the rest of the week I’ll just do it now.
This is a cramped field. I knew that when Sturgeon goes her reputation would start to dissolve given that it was based on nothing but hot air in the first place, but I couldn’t have predicted how quickly.
Honestly, Adam Tompkins’ analysis is hard to improve on (especially his take on Yousaf), Iain Macwhirter is brutal but incisive on why her departure is shameful and why the leadership election result is patently unsound and Kevin McKenna does a well-justified take-down of her enablers and hangers-on.
I just want to add two things in this piece – what did she get away with and how did she get away with it? I’ll address them in reverse order.
So why did everyone think Sturgeon was such a brilliant politician? There are four primary answers to that. The first is social media. In many ways Sturgeon operated basically like an AI for elite liberal Twitter – she was adept at working out what was the most popular opinion on any subject and repeating it as if she came up with it. That’s why she has no memorable quotations to her name – there was no originality in her words. Sturgeon didn’t once challenge ‘the London Liberal Consensus’ but rather waited to see what was popular and then shouted it really loudly.
Second, she was an incredibly accomplished ‘Gish Galloper’. A Gish Gallop is for when you don’t have a strong argument. Take questioners on a long, circuitous route,bombarded them with superfluous information and then stop without addressing the original question. It leaves a vague sense that you tried really hard to answer the question when actually you simply ignored it. She did this every time she had to answer when under pressure.
Third, she was an appalling ‘ego hoover’. This is what sickened me most. She wasn’t serious, she was greedy. In 2014 she saw the excitement and inspiration created by the independence movement and she wanted it all for herself, none for anyone else. (Sturgeon had hee haw to do with the independence movement – her contribution was running Yes Scotland and no-one has a good word to say for Yes Scotland).
Seeing the post-referendum buzz she simply cut the independence movement off at the knees and almost literally stole the buzz for herself by organising ‘rock concert’ gigs where her husband organised the printing of giant bits of glorification merchandise which were handed out as if it was a spontaneous message of love from the people of Scotland.
It never finished. By the time she was instructing her MSPs to vote down a motion that would make the Scottish Parliament the first in the world to announce a climate emergency so that a couple of months later she could do it and claim she was the first in the world, it was so common people didn’t notice. She announced all good news, some poor hapless minister stood up to deliver the bad news.
Every time Sturgeon was challenged even slightly (whether real or in her head) she created a new fault-line, a new conflict
That is also part of her fourth technique – to control either through bribery or aggression. If she could directly control it either through government or party she did. If there were checks and balances in her way she just removed them.
But if she couldn’t control things directly she used a system of patronage and money-dangling (the Scottish Government is a warren of utterly pointless grant schemes there only to make people dance for money and keep their criticism down). If that wasn’t possible she had them viciously attacked in social media pile-ons.
(It should also be noted that Sturgeon had an impressive facility to well up or start crying whenever she was under serious pressure or needed to regain public sympathy.)
All of this was transparent and shouldn’t have worked. But, for reasons I suspect I’ll only ever partially understand, she managed to utterly mesmerise most journalists and almost all of the commentator class to a stupendous degree.
This is a long way short of a list of all the objectionable practices she brought into government. She would make lectures about raising the tone of politics while she herself was among the most vituperative senior politicians in British public life. She was shameless in hiding information, covering up failures, closing down transparency and ‘forgetting things’.
She was simply brutal towards anyone who caused her even mild embarrassment, throwing anyone to the wolves if it made her look good (Michelle Thompson, Natalie McGarry, Mark McDonald). She was unpleasant to colleagues and punished anyone who said no to her. She cut almost everyone else out of decision-making. First person plural (we, us) were alien to her.
All of this was about her insecurity, paranoia and resulting vanity. From day one it was ‘me me me’ and nothing wasn’t tradeable if it meant her image was bolstered.
It has been a terrible, toxic time in Scottish politics. You all know how much the events of the independence referendum and its movement meant to me but I don’t deny there was toxicity. Rather than trying to reduce that toxicity in its aftermath, Sturgeon simply harnessed it for her own ends.
But keeping Scotland polarised between her and other political parties wasn’t enough. Every time she was challenged even slightly (whether real or in her head) she created a new fault-line, a new conflict. This reached a crescendo when she became convinced Alex Salmond was eyeing up a Holyrood seat. She escalated a simmering feud into a full-on civil war and she tore her party apart in the process.
But she couldn’t stop herself. She kept escalating conflict further. The gender recognition legislation debate didn’t have to be bitter and nasty, but it suited Sturgeon to polarise the debate in an attempt to isolate a few more critics.
Sturgeon traded Scotland’s chance to become an independent country for the sake of her own vanity and we will never get that opportunity back
It is now time to sweep all of this away. Strip back the shallow showwomanship, the bluff, the grand statements that were substance free, the posing and the posturing and what is left? Or to put it another way, what got better and what got worse?
Is civic Scotland stronger or weaker for Sturgeon’s eight years? Is government more or less transparent? Has the quality of government got better or worse? Has the pool of talent in Scottish politics grown or shrunk? Is the tone of Scottish politics better or worse? Is local democracy stronger or weaker? Is Scotland more centralised or less centralised?
Is the SNP stronger or weaker? Does it have more members or fewer? Is it more united or less united? Is the independence movement in a better place or a worse place? Are we closer to independence or are we further away? Is independence seen as a more credible option or a less credible option? Is our nation more united or more divided?
What is her policy legacy? Before the excuses begin, let’s just set the baseline. Yes, Sturgeon had Covid. But the previous administration came to power in the massive financial crisis of 2007 and faced biting Tory austerity for its entire duration. Sturgeon faced two years of adversity, the previous regime faced adversity from start to finish.
So is education in a better or worse state than when she started? Is the NHS more or less secure? Are Scotland’s carbon emissions rising or falling? Is the civil service more respected or less? Is legislation improving in quality or deteriorating? Are Scotland’s islands better served or worse served? Is transport more reliable or less reliable? Is Scotland’s economy in a better state or a worse one?
And what exactly was done? Baby boxes? Seriously? Do I have to explain yet again that this was based on a transformative policy from Finland with a wide package of measures for supporting parents and improving the knowledge of what good care for a child is through training – with a baby box a perk at the end. The Scottish Government butchered this policy so badly that all that remained was the gimmick.
How many other leaders can say they’ve announced a full four defining missions in an eight year term (expanded childcare, closing the educational attainment gap, leading the world on climate change and introducing a National Care Service) yet when asked now what her legacy is she can’t even cite one of these because of the mess she made of them?
In fact the only real policy legacy she has is the Scottish Child Payment. This is a genuinely marvellous intervention, but one Sturgeon actively blocked seven years earlier when one of her Cabinet proposed it. And marvellous it may be, but it is very, very expensive. Sturgeon introduced it but has done a runner before the first budget in which those she leaves behind will need to wrestle with its affordability and what they can cut to keep it alive. Brave that is not.
Her defenders will fall back on the fact she won elections. She did – over the medium term the Sturgeon Show was persuasive. But the SNP would have won those elections anyway and it is debatable how much she added to results that weren’t going to lead to a Labour Scottish Government anyway. Plus she went on to convert those wins into… nothing.
No. Take away the bluster and what is left is worse than a total lack of substance. It is almost uninterrupted failure from start to finish with hardly a positive anyone can come up with. Even her final ‘defining mission’ of gender recognition reform has been not only fluffed but probably fatally damaged.
Sturgeon has been an unmitigated disaster for this country. The rate of collapse of her reputation and credibility once her power and control were removed tells you everything. Nothing is better. Scotland is in a mess, its reputation harmed along with hers.
But there is one thing more than anything I resent her for and that is what she has done for the cause of independence. Between Brexit and Boris and Truss and the state of the UK, it is really hard to think we’re going to get a more propitious time to progress the cause of independence.
Unfortunately rather than do that Sturgeon chewed up that cause, absorbed its vitality and spat it out undigested. She traded Scotland’s chance to become an independent country for the sake of her own vanity and we will never get that opportunity back.
For that, for all of it, I will never forgive her for what she has done.
I am glad we have reached the end of Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure as First Minister. At the start, like most of us I was excited to have this articulate leader heading a vibrant YES Movement. Sadly as the years past and rhetoric and carrots substituted for strategy and action it became clear she was really a divisive figure obsessed with minority issues but completely missing the real goal. My feeling at the end was one of relief she was gone. She proved a big failure as leader of the Yes Movement in Scotland.
I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND
22 thoughts on “PARANOIA AND VANITY:THE STURGEON YEARS”
Robin McAlpine and Iain are spot on.
However, barring the hinted at ‘revelations’ that are apparently going to break in the coming days/weeks and a total clear out of the remaining usual suspects at the top of the SNP then I fear we are in for more of the same with the SNP firmly on a trajectory to finally admitting that it is a Devolutionist entity.
I hope I’m proved wrong.
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I really hope the “revelations” come to pass. Otherwise I’ll need to reconcile myself to dying in the British state like so many independence supporters have already done!
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Petty and vindictive to the last, I understand Ash Regan wasn’t invited to Sturgeon’s leaving do.
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Robin is credited with being amongst the very first to see through the carefully concocted image and recognise the horror that lay beneath. I suppose being professionally concerned with the nuts-and-bolts of political campaigning, Robin was quickly cognisant of the true lack of substance, the absence of serious intent, ultimately the nature of the grift.
Beyond the crass self interest of carpetbagging parasites, what’s intriguing is why this superficial con artist was so successful, why so many folk were eager to follow this charlatan?
This brings us to the concept of Pathocracy proposed by Polish psychologist Andrzej Łobaczewski. Łobaczewski states that a leader exhibiting strongly atypical psychological pathology will through a process similar to osmosis, alter the system to mirror their dominant psyche. Łobaczewski, who experienced the tyranny of both the Nazis and the Soviets, focuses on psychopathy but in theory, malignant narcissism and Machiavelli syndrome would also apply. Crucially, Łobaczewski allows for the acolytes of the leader to mimic the psychological pathology of the leader rather than truly possess it themselves. Quote: “If an individual in a position of political power is a psychopath, he or she can create an epidemic of psychopathology in people who are not, essentially, psychopathic.”.
Without an intimate knowledge of Sturgeon’s personality, amateur and remote diagnosis of any of the “dark triad” traits (psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) is problematic. This said, there’s enough of her professional life that’s been lived in public to form some speculative proposals. The “dark triad” pathologies exhibit reasonably early in life. Did the failed Solicitor display the ruthless focus of a psychopath, the needy attention cravings of a narcissist or the serpentine manipulative scheming of a Machiavellianist? I suspect not. Sturgeon’s career is characterised by failing upwards.
This leaves open a possible diagnosis of Hubris Syndrome. Unlike the “dark triad”, Hubris Syndrome is an acquired personality disorder. This is über hubris on a pathological scale. Alternatively, Hubris Syndrome is a pseudo-scientific label applied to what the rest of us would regard as common bleedin’ sense. According to its advocates, Hubris Syndrome exhibits only when high office is attained and becomes more pronounced the longer the elevated position is retained. We could go through the 14 symptoms of Hubris Syndrome one-by-one and most if not all apply to Sturgeon.
Perhaps the most strikingly applicable is; “Excessive confidence in the individual’s own judgement and contempt for the advice or criticism of others”. This trait was clearly on display during the Judicial review at the Court of Session, called by Alex Salmond to adjudicate on the procedure the Scottish Executive attempted to use to “fit him up”. Only when her lawyers Roddy Dunlop KC and Christine O’Neil, flatly threatened to resign, did Sturgeon concede the case.
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There’s a lot in there Viv and I wouldn’t presume to comment on as I am not in any way qualified other to say that the traits you have identified seem, to me at least, to some extent exhibited by this individual.
I am equally cognisant of the fact that people bought into this almost hook, line and sinker immediately after Nicola Sturgeon assuming the SNP leadership. (For the avoidance of doubt, I consider myself one of these, albeit I wasn’t a pom-pom waving cheerleader).
The mass hysteria among the Independence supporting community e.g. The Hydro ‘gig’ and the subsequent country-wide ‘tour’ when she took over is something that is traditionally alien to sometimes dour and always (usually) questioning Scots.
My own take is that, having run the Brits so close in the Independence Referendum folk simply imagined that all we had to do was wish for victory and we’d be able to restore our full statehood in due course and that a new, you and (dare I say it) female leader would march us these last few steps. As the SNP membership surged and soared in the days, weeks and months after the vote this belief seem to reinforce itself, everybody loved Nicola, the girl next door who was so approachable and would take a selfie with everybody and anybody.
It was a bit like the Lakota people at Wounded Knee in 1890 performing The Ghost Dance in the genuine belief that they could wish the cavalry and the whites in general away and return to their old traditional ways. A massacre of 300 Sioux men, woman and children followed. Nobody died here but the YES movement as a single united entity is no more.
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“she managed to utterly mesmerise most journalists and almost all of the commentator class to a stupendous degree.”
I think £3million to msm might have helped and I’m fairly sure that more dosh was given later.
But yes Robin hits the nail of the lead. And indeed the SNP would have won regardless of who was in charge. They monopolised the Yes vote. We’ve had 8 years of an Evita. What we needed was 8 years of Gandhi – a leader leading a country to independence.
The hours count down to the leadership reveal. Yousaf would be a disaster, Forbes is too right wing economically for me but should be competent. Would she rid the cabinet of the numpties and promote talent? Hopefully! No-one realistically expects the candidate, Regan, most committed to independence to win. And that is Sturgeon’s biggest legacy – the effective destruction of the SNP as the party of independence and it’s morphed into the party of winning for winning sake.
Have a good holiday Iain.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
Wings twitter has a screenshot of Sunday paper reveal about fraud squad and SNP. I don’t want to like to it as the screenshot might take up half a page! It’s easy to find though.
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The Tompkins article is worth a read too as Robin suggests.
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I used to read John Robertson’s blog until it morphed into Talking Up Sturgeon.
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That was funny, but I can understand why if personal preferences or agendas aren’t accommodated, such as McAlpines spurious Sturgeon failures on Education,healthcare and SNHS, well why would you.
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“Sturgeon traded Scotland’s chance to become an independent country for the sake of her own vanity and we will never get that opportunity back.”
Robin is one of the best political analysts we have and the above sentence shows why.
“For that, for all of it, I will never forgive her for what she has done.”
Anyone who cares one iota for Scotland and all who sail in her cannot help but feel the same. I, for one, certainly do.
As regards devolution, it is worth noting that the dictionary definition of devolution is “descent to a lower or worse state” and “evolutionary degeneration”.
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“like most of us I was excited…” Yes, I’m afraid I am among those who felt very positive at first and even after I moved back …. I have become similarly progressively disappointed at the complete lack of any hint of preparation (in the form of Scotland’s logistics, infrastructure, economy and political strategy) for actually making independence happen (or even, should the people decide otherwise, simply to leave Scotland stronger and more prosperous for the future). It seems even clearer now that the “can” was not just being kicked down the road, it was being kicked off it altogether…
I can only hope that, through the energy stirred up by all this, the real independence movement can come together in a single-minded and cooperative way, leave egos where they belong and put real foundations in place. I am also hoping that this whole business leaves the parcel of rougues in Westminster dazzled by their own complacency and hubris into failing to seize the opportunities they have in a really effective way…. we’ll see.
Meanwhile, I’m watching the wee spider outside my window… spinning her web despite the wind and rain…..
Have a restful and reinvigorating holiday, free from all these mind-allergens!
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There’s got to be a bit of public responsibility here for all those stupid posts and videos of Queen Nicola nonsense. Idolising someone ended up with the crap we are facing today. Then when you realise that the figure you helped create was the very thing that trapped ye so you turn around and blame them solely but forget that without the contributions it wouldn’t have happened. So now what? Empower ourselves as sovereign individuals that represent the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland collectively by being the people who free ourselves together via the Liberation movement.
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We need to start as we mean to go forward and the old tried and tested Scottish maw method, have you got an ego well we have a rolling pin to flatten it within minutes.
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If you think the various Sturgeon fanzines overdo the gush then pay a visit to The Guardian’s comments on The John Crace sketch.
Our southern friends and neighbours there think she is Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one.
Is Robin McAlpine nearer the mark with this? “…. she was an incredibly accomplished ‘Gish Galloper’. A Gish Gallop is for when you don’t have a strong argument. Take questioners on a long, circuitous route,bombarded them with superfluous information and then stop without addressing the original question. It leaves a vague sense that you tried really hard to answer the question when actually you simply ignored it. She did this every time she had to answer when under pressure.”
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With no definitive analysis being possible regarding the personality of Nicola Sturgeon, I, for one, find myself much more interested in her concrete and definable legacy as it has worked its way through Scotland’s institutions and civil society. With that in mind, how many of us today would express confidence and would be willing to extend credibility to: Police Scotland, the Civil Service, Copfs, the Judiciary, the Media, or to Scottish politics and political-life in general? Should anyone really be even a wee bit surprised then that the current leadership contest, which was allowed to proceed under the stewardship of someone who may or may not be under criminal investigation, has degenerated into a banana-republic style nonsense? Personally speaking, it seems to me that we’ll have to look well beyond Sturgeon and Bute House if we want answers to the question of who it was that really poisoned the well. Sturgeon’s legacy, again, in my opinion, may yet amount to her being cited in historical footnotes as having been: *”a ‘highly accomplished’ foreign cypher”. *
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We put out trust in this dud pretender, 8 years of nothing, 6 wasted mandates, what did she give us or do for us. She wasted the opportunity of Brexit. She refused to acknowledge or project our sovereignty or the claim of right. Acquiescence and capitulation is what she gave us and a sound bite of lies, she played us for fools made us mooncalfs.
She kicked the can down the road . Yes she gave us baby boxes, now we need food boxes. Prehaps now that we cant afford our electricity they could put a couple of candles in it for us. What a benevolent country UK,Ok is.
Dissolve the Union.
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Baby boxes and now we need food boxes. Never a better association of what Sturgeon’s tenure delivered Alistair.
Wind and fart as an old friend used to somewhat inelegantly opine about certain folks. Absolutely bang on in describing this fabled baby box successful mega policy.
And all the while she conspired to undermine independence whilst at the same time allowing living standards in Scotland to drop, whilst fuel poverty became the legacy for swathes of our populace. That’s the poor hapless folks who put their trust in Sturgeon and the SNP to deliver.
Let down, folks don’t know the half of it. But you now what, in the not too distant future Alistair, folks will know. The truth is coming out. And it won’t be the truth about baby boxes.
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Yip, I read this on Robin’s blog the other day.
Iain I hope you have a lovely time on your holiday, you thoroughly deserve them with all the great work you do running this blog.
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The media can write all the political eulogies that they want but for me Sturgeon was a defrocked solicitor who took over a movement, a party, and a government and sold out independence.
And sell out independence she did big style. Yes she may have had all of the bad and foul personal characteristics that have been mentioned, but she sold out in a deliberate slash and burn programme to destroy the independence movement.
No doubt job done she will maybe, just maybe, be protected and or receive what piece of gold she was promised to her for systematic conspiring to destroy the SNP, the movement, whilt trying to cloe off the roads to independence.
But that protection, that promise of gold, may be illusory. Perfidious Albion has a habit of ratting on what they agreed and she may find out that she has no protection at all. And properly exposed that may be no bad thing for the independence movement.
The truth about the Alex Salmond attempted stich up, and more,is still to emerge. And when it does so, as it most probably will, the criminal coordinated actions of all those involved will bring to light the real principals on whose behalf, and with whose support, Sturgeon and the rotten clique acted. Sturgeon’s character is really unimportant. She was a found wanting solicitor in her early days found guilty of maladministration and behaviour unbecoming of a solicitor, and that predilection of character, without doubt, has carried forward to her later career.
And the exodus of people from the Crown Agent, to the Chief of Police, to the First Minister’s most enior SPAD, to the Head of Communications, to the resignation of her husband as party SNP chief executive, toe the standing down of Sturgeon herself tells you that there is something big to come.
But side, yes I agree with this piece, she most certainly did have some unpleasant and utterly malign characteristics as First Minister.
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