Our always-alert readers will probably have noticed that Nicola Sturgeon’s constant catchphrase this week has been how Yes supporters still need to “build the case for independence”, rather than actually do anything to achieve it.
But the thing is, she’s the leader of the SNP. Building the case for independence is literally her job, and she’s now been doing it for six and a half years. So how much progress have we made?
The first 10 opinion polls after Sturgeon took charge of the SNP two months after the 2014 indyref returned an average Yes vote (excluding Don’t Knows) of 45.6% and an average No lead of 1.1 points.
The 10 most recent polls have found, on the same measure, an average Yes vote of 44.9% and an average No lead of 1.2 points.
For mathematically challenged readers that’s a decrease of 0.7% in the Yes vote and an increase of 0.1% in the Unionist lead.
(If you try to help Sturgeon out by taking 20 polls rather than 10, to include much more of the recent pro-Yes sequence, her first 20 average to 45.5% and her most recent 20 average to 45.45%, still a decrease.)
That’s despite an incredibly favourable series of events, most notably Brexit but also years of shambolic, corrupt and weak UK Tory governments, including two and a half years when Theresa May had no majority and the SNP held the arithmetical balance of power at Westminster for almost the only time in UK history – a position of unprecedented leverage and power with which the SNP did precisely nothing.
May’s successor was even more of a gift. There hasn’t been a UK Prime Minister more unpopular in Scotland than Boris Johnson for 40 years. His administration has overseen 120,000 needless deaths of UK citizens and unimaginable amounts of money corruptly and very publicly funnelled to Johnson’s pals, and still Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t been able to shift the dial a millimetre in persuading Scots to escape London rule.
Those six and a half years have been wasted, at best. The case is in fact weaker now, because questions which had viable answers when she took over – most notable currency and borders – now don’t. That’s mainly due to external events, of course, but the Brexit vote that changed those things was five years ago. She’s had half a decade to come up with a credible response and done nothing – this week she told the Today programme that she’d offer voters some answers when there was a referendum and not before.
Her only tangible contribution to the indy case has been the vastly unpopular Growth Commission report, which has provided Unionists with ammunition (and greatly disheartened most Yes supporters) since the day it was published.
Nothing has been done to either make the case for independence or enable the holding of another referendum. In those six and a half years a court case could have established the legality of Holyrood having the powers to call another vote, and strategy could have been adjusted according to the result. But instead Sturgeon sat on her hands and instructed her law officer, the Lord Advocate, to obstruct an ordinary member of the public who tried to do it for her.
The cold statistical facts are that Nicola Sturgeon, with every political advantage imaginable landing in her lap and no domestic opposition, has taken independence backwards. If the job is building the case, then the inescapable truth is that she has failed utterly at it, in every measurable way. Her failure to come up with a serious plan for a referendum is actually comparatively irrelevant among her other failures, because as things stand we’d lose it anyway.
(To call her the Derek McInnes of Scottish politics would be to do a grave disservice to Derek McInnes, who at least took Aberdeen from a regular 9th place in the league to an average of 3rd place and a constant presence in Europe no longer enjoyed by the country as a whole. Sturgeon inherited a party with an absolute majority at Holyrood, lost it at the first opportunity, and looks increasingly likely not to regain it next week.)
All she’s actually succeeded in is turning the SNP into a totalitarian personality cult whose campaign buses now don’t even feature the word “SNP” (and definitely not the word “independence”) but urge voters to give both their votes to her personally, for vague meaningless pledges of “strong leadership” and “Scotland at heart”.
And – like the previous bus which lied to voters she’d “STOP BREXIT” but at least still said “SNP” on it – she’s produced nothing but a string of empty and broken promises.
Sturgeon said some time ago that if she was starting now she wouldn’t choose the name “Scottish National Party” and was embarrassed by it, but now she’s effectively changed it anyway – SNP now appears simply to stand for the Sturgeon (Nicola) Party.
Given a whole truckload full of bricks and cement and an army of willing workers desperate to get on with building, all she’s done is take selfies with them.
Six and a half years is long enough to prove yourself. The evidence is plain: anyone waiting for Nicola Sturgeon to build an unassailable case for independence, let alone convert that case into an actual achievement, will be waiting a lifetime. We haven’t got that long.