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JENNY HJUL: Sturgeon is no giant, she’s just surrounded by pygmies

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Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, was correct in one way when he referred to Nicola Sturgeon as a “giant among pygmies”.

In the seven years she has led her party there has been no one close to competing with her in terms of authority or popularity.

Only her predecessor and now most bitter enemy, Alex Salmond, could be considered a threat.

But while he has his own power base and fan club, he is not even an MSP and failed to stir the electorate with his renegade Alba movement in the May elections.

The MP Joanna Cherry may have once eyed the top job and certainly cannot be dumped in the pygmy class, having more than made her mark in Westminster.

But she has fallen out with the SNP hierarchy big time and has recently hinted, after a bruising few years of Nationalist in-fighting, that she is ready to quit politics altogether.

Within the fold, there has been talk about Angus Robertson as a possible replacement when and if Sturgeon decides on a handover.


As former SNP leader in the Commons, Robertson has more experience than most of his Holyrood colleagues, whose ranks he joined in May after winning the Edinburgh Central seat.

But since then? Nothing much. Sturgeon, perhaps not ready yet to pass the baton, gave him a second-rate portfolio, Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, in which he is doing a second-rate job.

He has failed to make much of an impression, either in the parliament or in the party where, it has been said, his arrogance shows.

Sturgeon cabinet lacks lustre

Of Sturgeon’s front bench, the line-up is even less inspiring. Where to start?

Over at Health, Humza Yousaf may see himself as First Minister material but no one else does.

In this most important of ministerial offices, he has in five months managed to get just about everything wrong.

With the Scottish Ambulance Service in crisis, and patients dying before they could be saved, his advice was to “think twice” before dialling 999.

More recently, Scotland’s Covid app was dismissed as a “farce” throwing the SNP’s whole vaccine passport scheme into chaos.

Embarrassingly, the English app, which works fine, was rejected – presumably on the grounds that it was English – in favour of Yousaf’s expensive folly.

Among other possible leadership contenders, John Swinney, Sturgeon’s deputy and the Education Secretary, never looked happy leading the party in opposition in the early noughties.

On his watch, the attainment gap between poor and rich schoolchildren has continued to grow and his handling of exams in the pandemic was rightly labelled a fiasco.

Of the next generation, Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, has been tipped for greatness but as a member of the ultra-conservative Free Church of Scotland, her convictions are at odds with her party’s extremism, particularly on gender recognition reform.

So, Dowden’s “pygmies” comment is not wide of the mark.

Where he gets it wrong though is in clinging to the perception among outsiders that Sturgeon is a giant.

Johnson pinpoints Sturgeon failings

His boss, Boris Johnson, has been paying more attention, telling delegates at the Tory conference in Manchester that Sturgeon was losing her lustre.

He would say that, of course, but the evidence he cited – the ambulance debacle (see above), the Covid app (ditto) – has taken the shine off the FM’s apparent pandemic polish.

Her almost daily televised coronavirus briefings convinced much of Britain that, compared to Johnson at least, she was indeed of gigantic stature, politically.

But with that platform now more or less removed she is back trying to defend her domestic record, which is largely indefensible, on education, the NHS, economic management and transport.

The latter, with its narrative of millions squandered on unbuilt ferries, of lucrative contracts going abroad instead of to (government owned) Scottish yards, of island communities and businesses stranded, and dangerous roads not upgraded, will be a lasting legacy of the Sturgeon era.

With her attention always focused on constitutional change, she has let the day job of governing Scotland take a back seat.

Critics from within the ranks

“With this lot [the current SNP regime], the whole thing may unravel in the next 12 to 18 months, to the point that their incompetence will be evident to even their most fanatic supporters.”

So said, not another Tory bigwig, but the Nationalist veteran Jim Sillars who, in a newspaper interview on Sunday, predicted the First Minister’s ego would bring about her downfall.

SNP veteran Jim Sillars is critical of the modern-day party.

No one can tell her she is wrong, said Sillars – wrong on cosying up to the Greens, on abandoning Scotland’s oil, on picking fights with the English, and prioritising gender politics over a desperately overdue educational shake-up.

Sturgeon would never get this kind of skewering in London.

If only Westminster had seen through her hubris, as critics in her own party have done, she might not have been placed on that pedestal in the first place.