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JENNY HJUL: SNP running out of culprits for mess it has made and may decide Nicola Sturgeon’s day is done

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

John Swinney, standing in for Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s questions last week, blamed Covid for Scotland’s crisis in emergency health care.

It makes a change from the Nats blaming England for everything they get wrong, but as an excuse it didn’t go down well with the opposition in Holyrood.

Labour’s Anas Sarwar summed up mounting voter frustration, saying the Scottish government was ‘out of touch and hopeless’, which is hard to dispute, given its epic failures on the NHS alone.

Swinney, Sturgeon’s deputy, was on dismal form but it should have been his boss, not him, on the receiving end in parliament instead of glad-handing at COP26 in Glasgow.

Hinderance or help?

Sturgeon is beginning to make a habit of focusing her attention where it is least needed and her own colleagues must surely now be asking themselves if she is more of a hindrance than a help to the party, to their independence cause and to Scotland.

As First Minister, Sturgeon was never going to ignore the massive climate change gathering on her doorstep but her presence at COP became a source of embarrassment rather than a gamechanger for Scotland.

Dubbed ‘Elsie McSelfie’, her contribution to tackling global carbon emissions was to photograph herself beside as many celebrities as she could corner.

Toe curling snaps of US politicians and teenage activists, all presumably with better things to do, being lined up to humour Sturgeon’s vanity were a low moment in the annals of SNP state building.

Nicola Sturgeon with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Glasgow, COP26.

Even before COP began, the tone set by Sturgeon was off-key, with her adverts proclaiming Scotland “a nation in waiting” angering Scots of all political persuasions who like to think their country is already a nation.

Graver, though, than the leader’s opportunism was the fall-out during the world’s grandest eco fest between the broader environmental movement and Scotland, which, it was noted, has failed to meet its CO2 targets for the third year in a row.

Sturgeon under scrutiny

Despite Sturgeon bending over backwards to accommodate Green interests in Scotland, ostensibly to further her separatist dreams, her environmental credentials did not stand up to scrutiny in Glasgow.

Friends of the Earth criticised her government for failing to join a new alliance launched at COP that aims to phase out fossil fuels.

“Nicola Sturgeon is keen to use the language of climate justice and be photographed with Greta Thunberg but at some point her fine rhetoric has to translate into a commitment to stopping the oil and gas production that is driving the climate crisis,” said Friends of the Earth director Richard Dixon.

In her defence, she said she did not want to throw oil and gas workers on the “economic scrapheap” but that has not stopped her signing up to the Scottish Greens’ agenda, which insists on the destruction of the sector.

Another row saw Greenpeace at loggerheads with her Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, and co-leader of the Greens, Patrick Harvie over her ambivalence towards the Cambo oil field west of Shetland.

Even Greta, one of Sturgeon’s selfie pals, said Scotland was not even close to being a climate change leader.

Independence poll

The gnawing realisation for Nationalists must be that Scotland under Sturgeon is not close to leading on any front, and especially not on its main goal of breaking up Britain.

An opinion poll at the weekend, by Panelbase, showed support for independence at 49% compared to 51% for the status quo, just the latest in a line of surveys that have highlighted the mountain the SNP has to climb.

If Sturgeon had propelled her party to the brink of secession, they could perhaps forgive her for failing to deliver on any of her other promises, such as closing the attainment gap in education between the richest and poorest children or making Scotland a fairer and more equal society or cutting NHS waiting times.

But with less than a quarter (23%) of those polled now believing independence is likely within the next five years, the Nationalists seem to be going backwards in their bid for constitutional change.

Career move

At the same time as overseeing the decline in separatist support, Sturgeon has taken her eye off the ball – to use her own words – on drug deaths (the worst in Europe) and, she may have added, on every other domestic policy that was a distraction from her preoccupation with a second independence referendum.

There has been much speculation in the wake of her COP antics that she is actively engaged on her next career move.

The problem with that has always been the lack of an obvious successor. But her party, running out of culprits for the mess it has made of governance, may decide that Sturgeon’s day is done.

Her only salvation at present is Boris Johnson, the Tory gift that keeps on giving to the Nationalists.