Time to lose the sarcastic smile, First Minister

STV: Scotland Debates

Nicola Sturgeon makes no secret to having been schooled by Alex Salmond. Watch the 1995 ‘Great Debate‘ between Salmond and George Robertson, and it’s Sturgeon sitting in the front row. Elected in 1999, Salmond’s tenure as SNP leader and later First Minister have been all-encompassing of her time in the high ranks of the party and government. She was bound to pick up a habit or two.

One of the more unfortunate of these is his infamous ‘duh’. When met with something he doesn’t agree with or thinks is utterly preposterous, there’s a smug chuckle, the heavy slump and the heaving feigned shock and awe at how stupid anyone could be for challenging the obvious (which just so happens to be an SNP policy or position).

Sturgeon’s debate performance was riddled with it. And if there’s one thing that Jim Murphy was good for last night it was at least providing tempered opposition that gave a softly spoken tact to hard facts. Willie Rennie, with all possible respect in the world, is a spent force and all of his vision of a better and more socially just Scotland is meaningless if he doesn’t have the salt for a fight. Ruth Davidson, forever the better debater and the most polished of the speakers, nevertheless heads a party that doesn’t yet have the manpower or intellectual gusto to provide the sniper rifle precision opposition that she deserves to lead. If the Scottish Tories won’t reform, rebrand and recruit hard and fast enough, particularly with their internal leadership, Scotland and Davidson will be denied its best bet for a genuine alternative to the SNP and the centre-left.

The problem is that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have become so accustomed to riding the wave of popularity from their acolytes that they’ve forgotten how to debate. That’s the kind alternative to saying they’ve become so self-obsessed that they find it impossible to believe that there might be an alternative to their views. Every argument put forward by Davidson, Murphy and to Rennie was refuted as incorrect or incoherent and as somehow in the pocket of Westminster. No, only the SNP can be patriots. National is in the name, but they do not have a monopoly on patriotism, and it’s long overdue that complacency is abandoned. The newly elected SNP Deputy Leader, Stewart Hosie, shows promise of bucking the trend and it will be a welcome day if he has the opportunity to restore civility to Scottish politics and debate her political leaders with respect.

Sturgeon commands a majority of one Scottish MSP. The SNP are standing no candidates in England or Wales. Their best electoral prediction for 2015 is 50 of 59 MPs, a swing but a number that pales in the context of the 600 other MPs from across the UK (Scotland should have more constituencies, but that’s a matter for another day). The media love an unexpected uproar; they like a fracas even more. 2010 was a pivotal year when the country made and has the opportunity to reaffirm anew, the choice to commit to austerity rather than try to spend its way out of debt.

For all the media attention she is getting, Nicola Sturgeon is not fighting Scotland’s corner. She is proud of an SNP record because it has not been held to task in Scotland. As I’ve said previously, if the SNP-led Scottish Government had governed so lacklustre in the bullpen of the Westminster spotlight, then the SNP would have been exposed a long time ago in the same manner as Natalie Bennett was on LBC Radio.

Just because you can say something aggressively doesn’t mean it’s true, no matter how big the temptation is for the voter to believe it when looking at limp alternatives. The SNP has dominated the control of their own narrative, and no one has checked them on their historical rewrites.

Indeed, for all the cries of foul play they make against the Tories and the Lib Dem Coalition, why does no one remind them that it was the Scottish Tories that propped up their minority administration from 2007 to 2011?

Collective amnesia and the hubris of power were all summed up in sarcastic grins and condescending shoulder shrugs last night.

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