A new survey puts Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity in the doldrums, but all the opposition leaders are in Purgatory or in Hell. She leads the pack by a wide margin but should not be complacent. Any number of setbacks have befallen her tenure and the public have begun to notice the accumulative tally, effectively denting her image as the Teflon Queen. This is par for the course for all long-serving politicians anywhere, their failures and flaws begin to stack up.
One aspect that keeps her popularity way above other leaders is they are so very bad at what they do. Voters look at the intellectual poor quality of the other parties and decide Nicola Sturgeon can talk and walk better than them all. Circumstances and luck have sustained the first minister as best of a bad bunch, a determined character ‘getting on with the job’ while her opponents bicker, backbite, and deal in peurile point scoring. In addition, she gained a great deal of trust from the public to handle the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the praise unwarranted.
In the matter of popularity, there is an element, of course, of familiarity breeding contempt, but there are other aspects that cannot be ignored. A short list has to include alienation of swathes of the electorate who dislike her curtailment of women’s rights, the recent banning of democratic, lawful assembly around Scotland’s Parliament, and an air of Prebyterian certitude that she exudes, they all work against her. Dissent is so rife in the country to the blundering policies of the SNP that two new independence parties have emerged with full self-governance as their priority, the ISP and ALBA parties, both shunned by Sturgeon, the post of First Minister normally associated with national unity and inclusiveness.
In addition, repeated promises of a referendum on independence sidelined or broken are not supported by any campaigns to educate the public over the benefits of restoring self-governance.
Finally, there is a perception that she lacks statecraft, tending to react to events rather than be a good judge of her opponents’ political tactics, knowing how to repel or outwit the worst of them. Meanwhile, demographic surveys show that, barring unforeseen existencies, Scots will be in the minority of ethnic people in Scotland by 2050, overtaken by incomers and settlers looking for a better environment. This does not bode well for a nation delaying full sovereignty.
Nicola Sturgeon’s devotees, clutching at straws, may dismiss the signs, but there is no doubt that sections of the electorate are tiring of the over-exposure and headmistress style of leadership. The apparant lack of empathy for the jailing of human rights activist Craig Murray did not dispel her image of a one-solution-to-everything politician, especially not after the hunting down fiasco of her mentor Alex Salmond, the loss of taxpayer money on court cases, and a never plausibly explained missing independence fund of £600,000, still under investigation by Police Scotland.
Down but not out
The slump in her personal appeal (revealed in the YouGov poll for The Times) emerged as Sturgeon faced questions about her leadership successes and failures. She coped well with a brace of loaded questions from Laura Kuenssberg, followed by a brief report of Scotlands ‘limited’ ability to withdraw from the Union full of fabrications, myths and half-truths repeated by BBC Scotland’s Sarah Smith.
In the interview, Nicola Sturgeon said she had “no intention of going anywhere” and was determined to lead the country at least until the end of this parliament in 2026. Reaching this 12-year tenure would comfortably position Sturgeon as the longest-serving first minister. The Times states ‘since devolution’, but no such post existed prior to devolution!
However, despite facing no real threat to her party’s political dominance, Sturgeon’s popularity has fallen almost 40 points since August last year when it was a remarkable +50. The latest survey gives her a ranking of +12, the only Scottish party leader to achieve a positive rating. (See list below.)
At her apex of popularity, the first minister addressed the public almost daily in televised Covid-19 briefings. Since YouGov’s last pre-election poll in May, her public appeal has halved. The Times states: “It is understood that private polling for political parties paints a similar picture to the YouGov poll suggests her government’s domestic record is beginning to drag on the first minister’s reputation.”
Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said that Sturgeon “is at risk of looking like a politician stuck in second gear” despite the SNP’s electoral ascendancy, which appears to have been maintained. He continues, “While she may still be Scotland’s most popular politician (albeit not as popular as earlier in the pandemic) who leads by far and away Scotland’s most popular party (albeit one dependent on the Greens for its Holyrood majority), there is little sense of progress towards its ultimate goal of independence.”
Independence not a priority
The YouGov’s revelation that the electorate no longer see independence as a priority comes as no surprise since Sturgeon herself relegated the core ideal of the SNP to the backburner some years back, closing down committees on research and development. “Research also found that voters had relegated the pursuit of independence to eighth in their list of priorities, with less than a third of SNP supporters seeing it as a key objective of the Scottish government.”
This collapse in confidence is a bi-product of SNP inertia in promoting the vast benefits from running one’s own country, especially one as wealthy as Scotland. But there is also a feeling in the country that Sturgeon does not have the statecraft to steer the populace to a Yes vote, or take on the power of England by withdrawing from a long abused and broken Treaty of trade partership in a Union.
Professor Curtis again: “The constitutional question remains on a knife edge; unionists maintain a slim lead with virtually no movement compared with YouGov’s last survey in May. The UK and Scottish leaders of the Conservative and the Labour Party have all sunk to record lows in voters’ estimation”.
The rest are all also-rans
Bumbly boor Boris Johnson has an absolutely farcical rating of minus 62, a 17-point decline, as allegations of sleaze and corruption engulf the prime minister and his government. It is so bad, there are mutterings in the ranks of a palace revolution. How much further a personal rating can drop before it is out of sight is anybody’s guess.
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, had the smallest drop of any leader, four points to minus 38. The largest individual fall in any leader’s popularity was that of poor, struggling Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, who dropped 21 points to minus 1 after he had struck a personal chord with voters during the election campaign.
Leaders doing well or badly?
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party: Well 17% Badly 55% Don’t know 28%
Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labour Party: Well 32% Badly33% Don’t know 35%
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister: Well 53% Badly 41% Don’t know 7%
Harvie and Slater, leaders of the Scottish Green Party: Well 27% Badly 35% Don’t know 38%
Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish LibDems: Well 14% Badly 30% Don’t know 55%
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party: Well 22% Badly 57% Don’t know 21%
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister: Well1 6% Badly 78% Don’t know 6%
Sturgeon interviewed in shockingly bad BBC item
Sturgeon, 51, said rumours that she was looking for a way out of frontline politics were “wishful thinking” by her opponents. She will become the longest-serving first minister next year but has regularly spoken about the emotional toll of leading the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speculation about her plotting an exit was fuelled when she told Vogue magazine that she and Peter Murrell, her husband and the SNP’s chief executive, might wish to foster children in the future.
In an interview with the BBC that Scottish Labour branded “a self-indulgent distraction from the challenges facing this country”, Sturgeon said she had “no intentions of going anywhere right now as first minister”. She added that she hoped to still be “relatively young when I get to the point of contemplating other things”. The first minister said: “It is almost as if my opponents have concluded they can’t beat me or remove me from office themselves, so they’re hoping that I’ll remove myself from office.” But they are going to be really disappointed because I’m going to be around a lot longer.”
It is hard to accuse the First Minister of vanity in allowing a news item to be all about her popularity because the questions asked of her are those she answered, but a skilled politician would know how to brush off remarks on self and move the interviewer to issues that affect the public.
Sturgeon concluded, “My opponents are going to be really disappointed because I’m going to be around a lot longer.” History teaches us politicians should never make such pronouncements, especially those who fail consistently to defeat their opponents even when their enemies are in disarray and vulnerable.
NOTE: Some aspects of this article are culled from the Times-YouGov survey.