BY EFFIE DEANS
Why are there so many tales of corruption and scandal involving Scottish nationalists? Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry has just been convicted of embezzlement and will most likely be jailed. It is a sad story and each of us ought to regret the disgrace and ruin that this individual faces. She could have had a long career as an MP, instead it was cut short after two years and now she will find herself in an unpleasant place with limited prospects afterwards. But why did she think she could steal money and get away with it? The answer I think is that belief in the cause makes Scottish nationalists feel they are immune to ordinary morality.
We don’t know exactly what exactly Alex Salmond did or did not do when he lived in Bute House, but we do know that his behaviour was covered up. The Scottish media did not carry stories of what he was alleged to have been doing when he was alleged to have been doing it. It took many years before witnesses came forward and eventually there was a trial.
Mr Salmond must have thought he was immune. He could do what he pleased, and no one would even talk about it. After all there was an independence referendum to be won. No SNP politician who witnessed anything untoward would have spoken publicly about it in 2014 in the months leading up to the referendum.
But this culture of silence has if anything got worse since Nicola Sturgeon took over from Salmond. There was secrecy about how Salmond’s behaviour was investigated. There was secrecy about what Sturgeon knew and when she knew it. When the whole scandal was investigated by the Scottish Parliament documents were withheld and the final result of the investigation was less than satisfactory.
Anyone watching the coverage of both Salmond and Sturgeon speaking about the various allegations was confronted with the idea that there was something important waiting to be revealed, but that it never would be. One or other of Salmond and Sturgeon was not telling the truth. We could reasonably believe that Salmond was a more or less innocent victim of an attempt to ruin him by Sturgeon. Alternatively, we could believe Sturgeon’s story. But we could hardly believe both.
Astonishingly both Salmond and Sturgeon were able to return to frontline politics soon after. Sturgeon’s party was not damaged even a little bit by the scandal. Salmond was able to launch a new party and is still treated with respect.
In England both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer have faced calls for resignation for minor breaches of lockdown regulations such as having an impromptu birthday party or drinking beer with a curry with colleagues. It is simply unimaginable that if something like the Salmond Sturgeon scandal had happened in England that it would not have leaked almost immediately and that it would not have brought down everyone involved.
In Scotland however the Scottish nationalist side of the electorate simply does not care if Sturgeon breached any lockdown regulations. It doesn’t even care if she plotted to unjustly have her predecessor sent to jail.
I have become bored following stories about incompetence at building ferries. The story is important. It could only happen in Scotland. Public money has been wasted, documents have gone missing. But even if these documents are eventually discovered it won’t make any difference. The SNP politicians involved won’t be touched and even if they were the popularity of the SNP won’t be touched.
There is a word for this. It is corruption. Natalie McGarry’s crime is part of a culture that has developed in Scotland under the SNP. The cause of independence is more important than anything else. It is more important than morality. It is more important even than crime.
If Nicola Sturgeon broke a lockdown rule, there is no one who would snitch on her and even if there were such a story the Scottish media would not touch it. So, we are left with rumours about her that no one really knows to be true or false.
Alex Salmond could behave so badly in Bute House that women civil servants were told not to be alone in the same room as him, but not one of these women felt she could go to the police at the time when it might have been possible to investigate more fully. Instead, they had to wait for permission from on high years after the event when it was difficult to prove anything.
But if you lived in a political culture where people tended to get away with things, whether it was hiding documents or touching knees in the backseat of cars, then you too might think it would harm no one if some money from a campaign account ended up in a personal account.
Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues know that they will probably survive any scandal. If they make a muck of building ferries, it won’t matter much, emails will be lost, documents shredded. More importantly scandals are mainly about public opinion. If Boris Johnson loses enough votes because of a scandal he will go. But Sturgeon knows she won’t lose votes, and neither will the SNP.
It is for this reason Sturgeon acts like an absolute monarch and why the SNP courtiers behave like they are in Versailles rather than in Holyrood.
How do you get to the top in the SNP? How do you reach the inner circle? There are nearly fifty rotten boroughs in the gift of Sturgeon. One of them can go to a Natalie McGarry or not as the case may be. But we know that Sturgeon in the end will have the final say over the list.
The difference between being an SNP MP or not would make a big difference to the lifestyle of a lot of independence supporters, few of whom could earn that much on their own. So, who wouldn’t keep silent in the hope of getting the patronage of the monarch?
It is for this reason that we don’t get leaks from the Scottish civil service. It’s for this reason that SNP scandals and lies so rarely lead to resignations and almost never lead to a drop in support or the loss of seats.
Parties like the SNP think they can rule as badly as they want, because it won’t make any difference to their support. They think this, because it is true.
But if you think that you can get away with ruling badly, because you can, eventually you think you can get away with anything, because you can.
It is for this reason that Natalie McGarry will go to jail. She is the product of a corrupt political system which thinks that it can do anything and still be elected. If hundreds of millions of pounds can be wasted on ferries that are never built, but no one is punished, then what is twenty grand between friends? If you can get away with losing millions, then you can surely get away with nicking small change.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.