News from Nowhere: Queen of Scots
Nicola Sturgeon's resignation last week may come to be seen by many in Westminster not as the blessed relief that it might have first appeared, but as an even greater threat to the ongoing integrity and existence of the United Kingdom itself.
Last week, Scotland’s First Minister announced her resignation. This came, to put it mildly, as a massive shock.
This was not only huge news in Scottish politics, but will have significant repercussions on the state of the United Kingdom for years to come.
Her predecessor had taken her party, the Scottish Nationalists from, the margins of politics into the mainstream and then all the way into government in Edinburgh, but had resigned following his failure to secure Scottish independence at the referendum of 2014.
Under her leadership, Nicola Sturgeon’s party came to dominate Scottish politics to an extraordinary degree, sweeping to an unprecedented landslide victory at the general election of 2015, when they took 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats in the parliament at Westminster.
Brexit – which remains overwhelmingly unpopular in Scotland – has only served to heighten the appeal of Scottish nationalism and Scottish independence.
In recent years, however, Ms. Sturgeon’s popularity has taken a number of significant hits.
First, there was her high-profile falling-out with her predecessor, whom she had once served as a vocally loyal deputy. Questions remain unanswered as to her own role in the pursuit of allegations of serious misconduct which had been levelled against him, criminal allegations which have since been dismissed. For many of his die-hard supporters, a whiff of conspiracy continues to taint her involvement in that unedifying affair.
In recent weeks, she has gone head-to-head with the UK government, and with many in her own nation, by introducing controversial legislation to liberalise statutory gender recognition practices to an extent which many fear would undermine women’s rights, and specifically put at risk the safety of women prisoners, if violent male offenders were allowed to transfer to women’s prisons on the grounds that they had chosen to identify themselves as female.
She has also courted controversy by asserting that, having failed in a legal bid to secure a new referendum on Scottish independence (a poll resisted by the British government), the next UK general election will, in Scotland, constitute a de facto referendum on Scottish independence.
Despite her own party’s popularity, support for independence remains deeply split in Scotland, and there are those among her own backers who are concerned that by directly equating a vote for the SNP with a vote for national autonomy, Nicola Sturgeon may have undermined her their future electoral prospects.
Like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, who quit her country’s premiership earlier this year, Ms. Sturgeon has decided to leave office with dignity, at a point at which she retains sufficient popularity for her departure to be regretted by large cohorts of her supporters.
Like Ms. Ardern, and like Ruth Davidson, the surprisingly successful leader of the Scottish Conservative Party who resigned 2019, Nicola Sturgeon has cited personal reasons for her exit from the ‘brutal’ business of frontline politics.
Yet the impacts of her resignation will resonate way beyond her personal life. There are those who will believe (some in fear and others in hope) that the departure from government of this intelligent and charismatic figure will undermine the cause of her nation’s independence, with no other obvious candidates for the leadership waiting immediately in the wings.
However, the terms in which she has framed her decision to go may suggest otherwise. She has said that she’s quit because she felt that staying on as First Minister would not promote the struggle for Scottish independence. She has also stressed that she is ‘not leaving politics’ and will continue her rigorous engagement in that struggle.
It appears that she may wish, in moving beyond the responsibilities and constraints of government, to cement and enhance her position as the figurehead of Scottish independence – to become Edinburgh’s version of Nigel Farage.
As such, her resignation last week may come to be seen by many in Westminster not as the blessed relief that it might have first appeared, but as an even greater threat to the ongoing integrity and existence of the United Kingdom itself.