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Strong opposition at last

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

The fact Nicola Sturgeon has not been able to repeat her predecessor’s success in winning an outright Holyrood majority must have been a blow.

Although her party remains in government, and won a comfortable 63 out of 129 seats last Thursday, the nationalists suffered something of a setback.

No one expected the Conservatives to eat into the SNP vote as much as they did, least of all Sturgeon. She was clearly taken by surprise at the Tory resurgence and promptly cancelled a post-election press conference in what looks like a fit of pique.

That mood seems to have lingered on into this week because all her pre-polling day promises to be a consensus First Minister have been abandoned and she has reverted to combative type.

Her plans to mount a summer pro-independence campaign should have been dropped as soon as the results came in last week. She didn’t have a mandate to call a second referendum before Scots voted and now, as the leader of a minority government, she has even less of an excuse.

‘Peak passed’

This is an opportunity for her to take the political temperature of the country and recognise it has changed; Ruth Davidson, the pugnacious leader of the Scottish Conservatives, was right when she said ‘peak nat has passed’ – the SNP’s power was on the wane.

Not by much, to be fair, and those of us in the unionist camp should perhaps contain our excitement. But after nine years of heading in one direction, nationalist support has suddenly done an about turn and that is cause for jubilation among No voters – and it should be cause for serious reflection in the SNP high command.

Sturgeon doesn’t believe so. By keeping alive her party faithful’s hopes of a second referendum she has put her new government on a war footing with Westminster.

The constitutional argument is one she knows she can’t win but it will suit her to have an ongoing grievance against the Tories, especially if Davidson starts to land some blows.

Even more cynical, though, is her determination to see through her controversial and deeply unpopular Named Persons policy.

This is the legislation that will see a state snooper appointed to every child in the country, empowering adults other than parents to ensure all children are “safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included”.

Apart from stretching scant resources to protect children who aren’t in need of protection, while dysfunctional families continue to fall through the net, the scheme sanctions intrusion into people’s homes on spurious grounds.

Current law says social services can intervene where a child is at risk of significant harm. But Named Persons can intervene merely where there are concerns about a child’s “happiness”, a notion surely open to interpretation and therefore abuse.


The law has already been passed and each child in Scotland will be assigned a Named Person by the end of August, unless a legal challenge currently before the Supreme Court in London succeeds.

The Conservatives have said they will try to block the policy’s implementation but Sturgeon is using it as the first test of her authority.

She will, she said, enlist the support of the six Green MSPs to bulldoze her way through any objections, dismissing parents’ concerns as “unfounded”.

If we thought her arrogance knew no bounds in preparing to replay the independence issue when she and she alone decided the time was right, her attitude over Named Persons shows her in even more autocratic mode.

And like real autocrats, whose controlling impulse grows as their power ebbs, she would rather get her own way than do what is right.

As for the Greens, we should not be surprised that they have sided with the Nationalists over a matter that strikes fear into the hearts of ordinary families.

Maybe you need to be a parent – neither Sturgeon nor Patrick Harvie is – to understand the horror of having your role usurped by a stranger.

The Scottish Tories’ deputy leader, Jackson Carlaw, said he thought there was a “natural majority” against Named Persons; and maybe MSPs could force a rethink if they voted with their consciences.

However, the SNP doesn’t do consciences. As Sturgeon said, she will not be thwarted by a party that has polled little more than 20% of the vote.

This could all seem very depressing but for one thing: Davidson.

While the First Minister was busy acting as if the Nationalists were unassailable, the Conservatives’ not-so-secret weapon was launching her attack.

Davidson told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme she would take an aggressive approach as the head of the second biggest party in the parliament.

“I think I’m going to be a pretty robust opposition leader,” she said.

She certainly needs to be.