Nicola Sturgeon would secretly prefer a Conservative government, according to a shock story from The Daily Telegraph. Coming hot on the heels of an impressive performance at the party leaders’ TV debate, Scotland’s first minister allegedly made this confession to a French diplomat in February, unaware that it would get back to UK government civil servants and/or be leaked to the press.
Sturgeon has replied saying that the allegations are “categorically, 100% untrue” – and representatives of the French embassy have denied ever hearing it. Yet the story rumbles on in the usual: “she would say that, wouldn’t she?” style.
Bad journalism, bad assumptions
The story looks dodgy. It seems to have been knocked up in a hurry without following the usual journalistic rules, such as calling up the people involved to see if the story is true. Even dodgier is the subsequent analysis of what is going on. I’m not talking so much about the Clouseau-esque discussion of who had the greatest motive to plant and benefit from the story (which is still playing out, largely on Twitter). I’m talking more about the conclusion by many that, even if the story is completely false, it has merit because Sturgeon does indeed want a Conservative government.
For me, that is simplistic and out of date. People are talking as if the referendum didn’t just happen. The flawed logic goes like this: the Scottish National Party (SNP) wants another referendum. If the Tories are elected, it will either get one soon as part of a minority government deal (unlikely), or people in Scotland will get so cheesed off at Tory government that they’ll want to vote Yes next time (and soon).
The problem with this argument is that many people in Scotland were already cheesed off with Tory government but 55% still voted No. It seems unlikely to me that enough people will change their beliefs so fundamentally in such a short space of time.
The long game
It also seems unlikely that the SNP leadership, which has shown such competence for such a long time, would seek a referendum so quickly unless it thought it would win this time (also unlikely - despite what some polls suggest). To lose again so quickly would hurt the SNP far more than the first (which, in fact, benefited the party with rising membership). It would push the issue into the long grass, potentially for decades.
Instead the SNP will want to maintain its electoral strength until a opportunity arises in the longer term. For me, that suggests at least a ten-year, not a five-year plan. It involves maintaining majority government in the Scottish parliament and demonstrating the high level of governing competence that got it a majority in the first place.
In the UK it involves “standing up for Scotland” and showing the immediate pay-off from electing SNP MPs. I would think that that pay-off is just as likely (if not more) to come from being Labour’s conscience, and securing high-profile concessions, than spending another five years declaring that the Tories are ruining the country.