The lies, the cynicism, the intrigue, the contempt – it’s all unwinding at the top of Scotland’s dominant party. Enablers and courtiers in civil society are fleeing the scene. A reckoning is due, says David Jamieson.
This article is an abridged version of the Sunday Sermon podcast. You can sign up for Conter Radio for free.
The meltdown in the SNP is extraordinary. Here’s a sequence of events that occurred within a little over two days. Kate Forbes, the finance minister, and de facto no.2 in the Scottish Government called for an independent investigation into her own party’s handling of the leadership election. This alone was a stunning development. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, Gordon Brown or George Osbourne having demanded an investigation into their own parties while in office.
Party HQ, after prompting from Humza Yousaf and other elements within the party machine, was forced to release membership information showing that 50,000 had left the SNP since its peak – 30,000 in just two years. Chief Executive Peter Murrell had churned out lies to the press in late February, asserting a figure of some 103,000. Once this fake news was blown, Holyrood party comms chief (a publicly funded position) Murray Foote quit, furious at being used as a conduit for false information. Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and the chief of her party operation, resigned the following afternoon
We are witnessing the most torrid scandal spree in the history of devolution. The SNP’s reputation is in tatters. And we don’t even yet know what is driving the carnage at the heart of the party. We do know that investigations into several matters – from missing independence campaign funds to aspects of the Salmond affair – continue. We know as well that Sturgeon’s top people – from Murrell to Foote, chief spad Liz Loyd to John Swinney – are fleeing in all directions. The camarilla that has dominated Scottish politics for years is falling apart. The brand itself is, more than toxic, emitting radiation.
In the concentric circles around the government – NGOs, commentators, grifters of all variety – there is a fear of contagion. Those who castigated all opponents of the Sturgeon-Murrell clique as post-truthers, reactionaries, bigots and conspiracy theorists for years have turned scrupulous upholders of standards in the SNP. Stroking chins and speaking down noses, they proclaim that something must be done. From the time of Foote’s resignation, it took about half an hour for people to swap their colours. Everyone now is looking to the world beyond the present Scottish Government. Without their power to hand out cash and cushy jobs, the outgoing administration is suddenly friendless.
As one of those who was rudely noticing that something was awry for years, I find the bovine spectacle of the herd movement, the shuffling of hooves and the lowing of new mantras, truly repulsive. Do you people believe in anything but yourselves? If you stood by the old regime when it was easy – when it was earning you slaps on the back and sage nods, sinecures and bungs – stand by them now its hard. Earn your smugness.
Just days before the collapse, people were still saying ‘it was all so good until Sturgeon left’ and motioning to figures like Kate Forbes as some kind of antithesis, rather than a product of the old regime. But now we know that this fish rotted from the head down, and not the body up. Save the pieties about Sturgeon not having to answer for her husband. This is her party manager. They were always a team, and no one questioned that when they were at the peak of their powers.
For years the stench of decay was obvious. The ooze of putrefaction covered everything. Do you recall how Sturgeon was greeted as a feminist hero after her government wrecked an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by her predecessor? How she was hailed as a managerial genius as the bodies stacked-up in Scotland’s care homes. We still don’t have a paper-trail for the disastrous decisions she made during the pandemic. Future historians will struggle to make sense of recent years – vital records are simply missing. Issuing fake membership figures is the least of the wrongdoing. But many who today solemnly shake their heads and declare for consequences and answers were nodding like idiots all through the years.
It’s utterly and completely contemptible. I’ve more time for the remaining fanatics still insisting, with tears in their eyes, that Sturgeon was a saint, and we didn’t deserve her. The only people still saying that are those who were never in the grift game to begin with – the egg accounts on Twitter who have real jobs and just wanted to live in a better country. Perhaps they still believed the SNP could be a vehicle for that because they heard some decadent dork uttering golden platitudes about ‘empowered communities’ and ‘circular economies’, even as living standards continued to fall and political leaders kept handing power and money to international military alliances.
The proof of lying at SNP HQ, even over a relatively small matter, now poisons everything. When there are no standards at the top, everything below is tainted by association. On his way out the back door, Murrell was keen the emphasises he had nothing to do with the leadership election. But then his office also pushed the claim of 103,000 members, so who cares.
You see how this works. No one any longer has the right, the justification, the excuse to believe anything they are being told, or have ever been told, from the top of the SNP. Now that one conspiracy to pervert the truth is proved beyond doubt, it’s open season for conspiracy theorists. There’s no evidence that can be offered, no matter how true, to disprove allegations. Evidence was given in response to allegations in the very recent past and it turned out to be lies.
And what did each of the candidates know? What did Angus Robertson know that caused him to stand aside and let poor Humza Yousaf hold the bucket of manure? And behind it all the great, looming question remains: what did Nicola Sturgeon know? What does she still know that we do not? Whatever it is, it was enough to compel her to announce her retirement from politics very suddenly, before her hapless colleagues had a chance to make any plans. You’ve got to wonder to what extent she even kept her own household in the loop.
Again, hold the piety on that front. Spectators outside Scotland are presently learning that the CEO of the ruling party is also the husband of the long-time First Minister and that he had been in post without serious challenge since 1999. He only left when he was chased out by his own party’s National Executive, after being caught lying in the most flagrant way. Our country and political system look ridiculous.
The warnings have been blaring out from Bute House and party HQ for years now. Somehow, an entire civic sphere was napping until the wrongdoers self-terminated their rule. They brought themselves down – there was no institution to step-in and hold them accountable.
The flocking of the sycophants is how modern establishments reproduce themselves. The herd is looking for new gigs, new heroes to venerate, new silences to join, new traitors and deviants to denounce. Remember who kept telling the truth as they saw it, even when it was difficult and thankless. Because this is far from over, and just as the pig returns to roll in its own muck, and the dog to lap-up its own vomit, so the grifters will be back.
Cynics and users can only prosper in an atmosphere of general dishonesty and political immaturity. So there’ll be no pretence here that there’s an easy remedy to the mess of Scottish public life. Devolution era politics has reached a foul nadir, but we can go lower. Long will be the path and narrow that leads up from here. But it starts with an honest accounting, and a determination to fight against this government and any similar that will replace it. So much that is wrong has happened under cover of a ceaseless and largely phony fight with Westminster that leads nowhere. It’s time now to get the Scottish house in order.