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You Can Run On For A Long Time

February 15th 2023

Resigned we must be while we're parting.

Nicola Sturgeon was a cunning politician. She often took the low road but always managed to package her politics as the exemplar of ‘high-road’ progressivism. Her electoral achievements speak to her success at marketing herself, and her party, as idealistic, pragmatic, technocratic and principled - all at once. No-one can take that away from her.

But, in the end, her career is defined by her failure. She failed to achieve either independence or a clear path towards that one, overarching, animating objective. She failed to win the outright majority at Holyrood achieved by her predecessor. She failed to procure ferries that worked or refuse collection in Glasgow or to design a deposit return scheme that wasn’t self-evidently doomed to failure. she failed to carry public support for her handling of the Isla Bryson, gender, sex offenders and prisons, issue. She has not achieved any meaningful policy outcome at the micro or the macro scale. She is a failure - if we measure our politicians by their ability to do anything with their power.


What does this mean for Scotland and for politics?

It is not impossible that the SNP will find a talented and attractive leader to replace her. But Sturgeon has not groomed a successor and she leaves behind a long tail of controversies and policy messes — and big shoes to fill, in terms of political skill at least.

We’ll be sharing details of the runners and riders as they emerge over the coming days. All of whom will be, at this very moment, huddled with their teams doing the necessary maths and modelling to see if they have the required support to give it a go. But what is immediately clear, is that each of the big names expected to throw their hat in the ring bring their own complicated mix of factional distrust and legitimate questions over their delivery record.

Without Sturgeon and with the prospects of a very nasty succession battle heating up, quite a few of those Labour-SNP marginals begin to look eminently more winnable. Starmer and his team will be rubbing their hands in glee and praying for a full-scale implosion. Anas Sarwar has been busy engineering selections north of the Border in such a way as to ensure a suite of genuinely talented candidates. Scottish Labour is serious about clawing its way back in Westminster and in Edinburgh.

Of course, Sturgeon’s resignation does not preclude the independence movement growing its popularity, but it does break the magic that has held it together so far. This is a disastrous and dangerous moment for the SNP. It is possible that their hegemony crumbles in much the same way as Scottish Labour’s once did.

People will say that Sturgeon has had a good run. She says that she has run out of energy. But in reality, Nicola Sturgeon simply ran out of roads - high or low - and the reality of her failure had begun to catch up with her.