BY EFFIE DEANS
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Sturgeon’s wonder when she first picked out the green light at the end of Covid’s dock.
Her popularity was rising as the disease spread throughout Scotland. But we at least had a deliverer who could save us all from this sickness. We could be comforted by her daily televangelism. Her prophecy that the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped was finally coming to pass. The most stubborn former No voter was either dead in a care home, or else converted to the cause. Even Tories were saying we could not survive without Nicola. Her daily TV appearances killed all known viruses remotely just by zapping them with a flick of her prompter. When Covid was over there would be the green light for a second independence referendum and the result by that stage would be inevitable.
2020 must have seemed a good year for Scottish nationalism. There had been great hopes before about Brexit. Angry Scottish Remainers would surely prefer the EU to the UK. Yet somehow it never quite happened. Sturgeon lost 21 seats at the 2017 General Election. But now finally the issue that would get her to the promised land had arrived. Of course, she hated having to be on TV every day, just as she loathed taking selfies with Greta Thurnberg and a can of Irn Bru. Still there was a moment as her popularity climbed and as support for independence gained a 13% lead that she saw herself as unstoppable.
She could hardly fail to grasp the dagger that would kill the United Kingdom. “Come, let me clutch thee” said Sturgeon “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”.
Something happened last winter and it became clearer still as we moved into the second year of the pandemic. All of Sturgeon’s TV appearances, all of her little rules and regulations and Scottish versions of British guidance made zero difference. If there had been no devolution at all and we’d all just done the same in each part of the UK, it would have made minimal difference.
I remember how we treated Covid like the Olympics. Germany was doing better than Britain. It must have been because of all their extra efficient hospitals. Now they are in lockdown. Sturgeon too saw her task as simply doing better than England. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the disease-ridden English spreading it to Scotland, we wouldn’t have had any cases at all.
I remember how Sturgeon had an elimination strategy in the summer of 2020 and promised us that if we only did what we were told she would eradicate Covid. Even Australia and New Zealand haven’t managed that. With Covid spreading this summer in Scotland at a higher rate than anywhere else in Britain, Sturgeon looked merely foolish as if she were trying to abolish the common cold.
She did not know that it was already behind her, somewhere back in that vast obscurity of SNP plans, where the dark fields of Ravenscraig rolled on under the night.
Brexit changed everything firstly on the surface and then fundamentally. It helped the SNP initially, but this was merely an illusion as if some unkind fate were playing tricks on Scottish nationalist hopes, like one of those stories where you are given your heart’s desire, but the price is something dreadful. It must have seemed so close.
Brexit briefly increased support for the SNP because Remainer Scots were angry, but in time we all gradually began to realise that it was going to make it much harder for independence if England was outside the EU while Scotland was inside. It put Scotland back to a world we hadn’t inhabited since the Middle Ages and went against the whole course of history where we gradually became closer to the neighbours on our small island. The SNP have never come up with a convincing answer to how practically it would work for an EU border to be drawn between Berwick and Gretna. This is why support for independence is falling. The fundamentals of the SNP argument are mere obscurity and we won’t vote for dark fields in the night.
Sturgeon believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
Boris would say Yes. He would be forced to. If only she made a coalition with the Scottish Greens, she would get her green light. But there is no sign of it. The man from Del Monte, he say No. It’s not at all obvious what Sturgeon with Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater can do about this. They could hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament, but we already know that it is outside Sturgeon’s remit, because the courts have told us this. So, it would be ignored.
It took over three years to organise the first independence referendum after everyone accepted there would be one in 2011. So, who are you kidding Mrs Sturgeon when you keep telling us that it will be in 2023? It amounts to a Scottish nationalist wet dream that may well be orgastic, but is merely a sticky mess the next morning.
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.
Covid has changed the way we work forever. Along with the Internet it amounts to a revolution like the invention of the printing press. We are therefore going through one of the great changes in history and we can hardly guess what work will be like in the coming decades. Faced with uncertainty voters stick with what they know.
Two things mattered during the pandemic. The vaccine and furlough. The first saved our lives the second saved the economy. Neither came from Sturgeon.
The Conservatives have made a lot of mistakes lately. But the decision to go it alone on vaccine development rather than join with the EU, made more difference than everything else put together. It saved more lives too. In difficult times we learned the benefits of the Treasury. It would have been much tougher if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014. We all know this. This is why support for independence is falling.
With Russia perhaps about to invade Ukraine and with China threatening Taiwan now does not look like a good time to abolish the British armed forces.
Scottish independence depended on a world that is now gone. This is the problem with the SNP continually trying to rerun 2014. It eluded us then. Just one more go. It’s like a compulsive gambler at the puggy machine. Next time I’ll get four cherries. Even if this time I have only one and she’s called Joanna.
Tomorrow we will march faster. The pity for these poor people is that they are marching backwards. All that they demonstrate by their marches is that they are not really a mass movement.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
This is the tragedy of Scottish politics and why the Scottish Parliament has achieved nothing of significance since it was created.
It isn’t that Scotland could not become independent. It’s that it couldn’t be done without damaging our prosperity, standard of living and above all without doing grave damage to the relationship we have with those who live in the other parts of the UK.
We are obsessed about a past, when we continually fought against England, which was in every respect worse than now. But it is not 1314 that prevents our rowing boat from getting beyond the waves that are pushing it back, it is 2014. Our population is divided and pulling in different directions. The idea that independence would unite a disjointed crew depends on the opponents of Scottish nationalism accepting defeat in just the way we have all learned from the SNP not to do.
The Great Sturgeon may go on and it may be true that she has no plans for retirement, but she knows that her career is already over because it is revolving “slowly, tracing, like the leg of compass, a thin red circle in the water.” And her cause is lying face down dead in the water.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.