by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 15
February 2023
Analysis
13:55

How Scotland fell out of love with Nicola Sturgeon

A steady decline in the polls made her resignation inevitable
by Henry Hill
Nicola Sturgeon speaks at Bute House in Edinburgh this morning. Credit: Getty

Looking back over Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure as First Minister of Scotland, there was never one magic moment that saw her poll ratings collapse.

In 2015, the year after she took over from Alex Salmond following his resignation in the wake of losing the 2014 independence referendum, she enjoyed a truly extraordinary level of support.


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And she remains the best-rated Scottish politician. As she pointed out in her departure speech today: “I enjoy approval ratings after eight years in government which most leaders would give their right arms for.” She’s not wrong.

But the weakness of Sturgeon’s opponents, and the SNP’s iron grip on Scottish politics, has masked a slow bleed in support. 

With the exception of a big rally in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic hit – one also enjoyed by the Conservatives at Westminster – polling shows the balance of opinion shifting, with dissatisfaction gradually creeping up.

Yet if the trans row was merely the culmination of a long-term trend, it was a tipping point. According to YouGov’s most recent figures, 51% of respondents dislike the First Minister, versus only 26% who like her.

The questions put to Sturgeon by journalists at her press conference explain why this is. Drug deaths are “catastrophic”. NHS performance is poor. The attainment gap in Scottish schools remains. 

And for voters who don’t have independence as their number one priority, the fact that she kept detailing the progress she felt Scotland had made since 2014, the referendum, rather than Salmond’s 2011 landslide election or the SNP’s taking control of the Scottish Executive in 2007, probably said a lot about where they felt her priorities really lay.

Just at the weekend, the First Minister was insisting that she was going to get back on the front foot, waiting for the heat to come out of the trans issue and then reframing her legal challenge as a constitutional battle.

But new polling from Lord Ashcroft found that, contrary to received wisdom, Scots would rather have a law they liked from Westminster than one they disliked from Holyrood. And as UnHerd’s own polling shows, Scots are deeply out of step with their governing class on the trans question.

In her speech, Sturgeon suggested that the furore over her GRR Bill was down to polarised attitudes towards herself, claiming that issues which “are already controversial become almost irrationally so”.

It’s as good an excuse as any. But the most telling stat of all is probably that despite Brexit and all the Tory chaos, she has not moved the dial on independence to where it needs to be. And delivering independence, for this lifelong Nationalist, was always the prize.

Without it, the prospect of enduring the very real miseries of being a front-line politician just to govern Scotland day-to-day — and govern it badly — just wasn’t worth the fight. 

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

And just as I was beginning to give up hope on there ever being good news…
Am not against Scottish independence per se, but bringing the issue forward in any meaningful way means:
A. Building up support for it consistently and patiently over years, maybe decades – not just effing and blinding at Westminster;
B. Having sensible, solid plans for how you are going to achieve it, above all from an economic point of view;
C. Governing Scotland in a way which inspires confidence in your ability to deliver independence and survive as an independent nation.
None of which Sturgeon has managed. Her real talents were blaming the English for everything and enacting some of the daftest imaginable policies in an ill-advised rush to seem “progressive”. (Whereby “progressive” today seems to mean lacking all common sense.)
Good riddance.

Last edited 1 month ago by Katharine Eyre
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

D. Stop taking money from the English

Harvey Mushman
Harvey Mushman
1 month ago

They are in the United Kingdom…..

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

I see this as her admission that independence isn’t going to happen – she’s getting out before she has to carry the can for that. Strongly suspect we’ve seen peak SNP.
As for the parallel fiction that politics is so much nicer and less tribal in Scotland than the rest of the UK (meaning England)(repeated in her press conference today). How can they say this with a straight face ?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

I’ve been unable to take any of her anti-English ramblings (or anything much else, really) with a straight face.
The Krankies found their true successor in Sturgeon.

Michael Furse
Michael Furse
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Agreed. Nationalism rarely accompanies an improvement in tribal behaviour. Not of nothing was it described as the last refuge of a scoundrel, and it is astonishing that they have got away with it for so long. But playing the victim card to successive generations doesn’t come without risks, and it’s high time Scotland was led in a way that encouraged disaporees to return, rather than encouraging net contributors to leave.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Furse

Patriotism, not nationalism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel and, contrary to common belief, Dr Johnson was criticising scoundrels, not patriots.

Harvey Mushman
Harvey Mushman
1 month ago

A distinction with a very big difference… Thanks

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago

I wrote nearly 2 years ago that the SNP’s mission to ban “hate” would prove their undoing – given that, as a party, they utterly rely on that particular emotion for their support.
Ms Sturgeon – for the most part successfully – sold the lie that Scotland is more internationalist, more welcoming, more “European” than those ghastly “wee Englanders” south of the border. Very few in the media ever seem to counter this narrative – even though it is palpably untrue.
Never judge someone’s utterances when everything’s going fine. How they react under pressure will be what gives you their true measure. Whenever they try to sell this lie it might be worth reminding these friendly, welcoming Europhile Scots of Ms Sturgeon’s pronouncements when José Manuel Barroso, then President of the Commission, countered the SNP’s assertions that an Independent Scotland could remain part of the EU, stating: “(A) new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the treaties would no longer apply on its territory” – a position backed up by the then Council president Herman van Rompuy, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy and Commission VP Viviane Reding.
Sturgeon’s remarkably vitriolic response was to announce “There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland, ….. If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.’ This was amplified by Robin McAlpine, who jumped in to say that Scotland would only “be out the EU for as long as we can afford to put every single EU citizen in this country on an EasyJet and send them back to their countries”.
Imagine, if you can, how the BBC would frame such an outburst if a Tory PM had spoken those words. Huw Edward’s eyebrows would have ended up 6 inches past his hairline, and Katja Adler would probably have wet herself live on air in horror.
Yet even though the UK’s position was always that EU Nationals were welcome to stay (in return for reciprocal rights for UK nationals in the EU), Ms Sturgeon endlessly criticised Westminster for their approach and insisted she had always wanted EU nationals to remain. “As EU citizens in the UK you have had to endure years of careless indecision on what the future holds for your lives, your careers and your families… The hardest part of dealing with Brexit has been meeting EU citizens across Scotland, who want to stay here but who do not know what steps they need to take and whether their rights will be secured.”
I’m prepared to be corrected but I’m not sure I ever saw anyone in the British media actually push back against such obvious untruths. How is it, given their appalling track record with every one of their devolved powers, and their blatant xenophobia, that the SNP still largely get a free ride from so much of the British and European media?
The media played a very large part in how Ms Sturgeon – despite the pitiable shambles she has made of devolved powers – is still able to boast “I enjoy approval ratings after eight years in government which most leaders would give their right arms for.” There was almost no scrutiny of the very obvious failings of her govt. It should have been those failures that brought her down – long before her doomed efforts to convince us that simply uttering the words could transform men into women.
She was a useful camparison against a very unpopular Tory Govt in Westminster, and the media played that for all it was worth. UKIP and Donald Trump were lumped in with Orban and Bolsonaro as ugly nationalists. Nationalism was akin to nazism. if you read the Guardian. Yet the SNP’s clearly anglophobic nationalism never seemed to get any pushback.
Although her record in Govt was much worse than the Tory’s, you would have been forgiven for not noticing if you relied on a supportive press to inform you.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paddy Taylor
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

You’re quite correct about the free ride, especially from the Scottish MSM. The great irony is that the two occasions where she was eviscerated publicly in political interviews were both at the hands of Scottish journalists in their capacity as BBC employees based in England.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The UK (London) media, especially broadcast (TV and Radio) had many homogenous newsrooms where he professed views chimed with their own, which meant she was only very rarely forensically interviewed about her claims, and very often not challenged at all.
This was because her main role for C$ and the BBC was to provide shock type soundbites and headlines with which to hector the UK govt, ie Tories in later interviews.
The Scottish media is just too hollowed out and lacking financial resources to risk any loss of the SNP controlled government and local government ad money, for statutory notices, as well as ads from various government agencies, publicising their existence… Let alone risk expensive litigation from the nasty party formerly known as the SNP

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 month ago

Best news in ages.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 month ago

There has to be more to this than meets the eye. My theory is that a very damaging disclosure is about to break and hence the need for NS to get her story of selfless service and achievement in first – in the hope some of it will stick in her political obituary after any brown stuff hits the air circulating machine.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Or in tabloid-speak –
“Krankie quits before s**t hits the fan-dabbi-dozie”

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 month ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

It has been said for many months now that she wishes to get a big international job in the US for romantic reasons.

Harvey Mushman
Harvey Mushman
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

She has a “romantic life”? I’m going to have to skip dinner now…

Jonny Stud
Jonny Stud
1 month ago

I’m sure if she’d spent less time ranting about the English and more time solving the many issues that riddle Scotland (and got worse under SNP rule) she may have achieved independence by now

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
1 month ago

When I began writing my comment I was going to ask the question. How did Sturgeon and Ardern do it? Why cannot people see they are no better than anyone else at dealing with the very real problems of the West?
But actually, I know the answer. They both mined grievances and used the word progressive as if that was a shorthand for the solutions to those issues. Those issues were not important ( as is now perfectly clear to Sturgeon) what is important, well everybody on this forum knows, so I will not waste time reminding us.
One difference between Ardern and Sturgeon. When I was in a doc hut tramping on the South Island the question of self-ID came up. The response I heard was “Thank goodness we do not have to deal with that here.” Some Kiwis don’t even know it’s now part of the fabric of their laws. Maybe all the other even dafter things Ardern was pursuing offered a smoke screen.

Last edited 1 month ago by Michelle Johnston
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago

Michelle,
There is a tendency among leftist admirers to extol the virtues of their preferred leaders for what they represent, rather than what they actually did, or how the world benefitted from their time in office.
Ardern, like Sturgeon, was lauded for taking up activist causes and being seen to be on the side of good – rather than actually doing any good.
Similarly, an objective review of Merkel’s time in office would make for pretty unflattering reading, as would Obama’s – yet both are held up as great statesmen of our time, having done remarkably little to earn such accolades.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I believe that’s the very definition of Progressivism: the perception of doing good, while doing nothing or actually making things worse.

Harvey Mushman
Harvey Mushman
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Obama ran with the slogan “Hope and Change” Hope isn’t a plan and change isn’t always good….
To this day many Leftist ostriches think he was the best US president ever…

Last edited 1 month ago by Harvey Mushman
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago

At least Ardern can point to a few successes from her time in office, such as a massive reduction in immigration numbers, the median salary rising by a quarter, the minimum wage slightly more and record numbers of housing being built. I’ve never understood the worldwide love in for what was an incredibly centrist politician but she achieved much more than Sturgeon

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 month ago

As an expat Scot, still contributing to the Scottish/UK economy through Council Tax and VAT and a lot more than a large proportion of the resident population, this good news is long overdue. I once believed that the only hope for Scotland was independence within the European Union from the shackles of Westminster and its London/SE-centric government. Even trading the Pound for the Euro and taking directives from Brussels would have given Scotland a chance to establish its own policies, economic development and social/physical infrastructure whilst still honouring UK defence commitments. What unfortunately has happened over the last 10 or so years has been the country being subjected to a Double Whammy, a destructive and blind UK government with total absence of stature, integrity and pondus, compounded by a completely incompetent and unqualified government in Holyrood with an obsessed and delusional leader who has no interest in Scotland’s future apart from a pie in the sky dream of what Scotland could achieve, and where none of that has any bearing on reality. The reality is a totally unviable national economy, massive social problems, too few taxpayers and too many economic dead weights including non-working/non-tax-paying newcomers, a number of national fiascos which have no solution in sight : CalMac ferries, Ferguson Marine, Prestwick airport, less than reliable Queensferry Crossing, Rest and Be Thankful road link to Argyll, NHS chaos, barriers in university opportunities for scots pupils from the upper working and middle classes, nationalised railways with service levels the worst in 60 years, the condition of urban roads (3rd world level), etc. I fear that even if an independent Scotland had the opportunity to join the EU there would be no chance of being accepted. With all these issues mounting up over the last 10 or more years Sturgeon seems to be completely oblivious to the country’s needs. Her governing of the country has been bordering on criminal and she is personally responsible for much of the decline though her blinkered approach and holier than thou superior attitude.
Her successor has mammoth task ahead, undoubtedly impossible. What Scotland needs is a right wing progressive government which doesn’t seem to exist anywhere in Europe. The SNP and Labour have 50-70% of the population in their pockets based on socialist policies. Scotland has always had this leaning for as long as I’ve been alive and it is no recipe for dragging the country out of its current state of affairs into a more positive future. The future is indeed bleak although it’s not the fault of Scottish industries, hard working and dedicated individuals in the private sector or the current and future generations many of whom have been and will be deprived of an education system which once was the envy of the western world.

Last edited 1 month ago by stephen archer
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
1 month ago
Reply to  stephen archer

“a right wing progressive government”? ?? Did you perhaps mean ‘ a competent progressive movement; or did you really mean a right of centre politicsl movement? Because, to me, ‘right wing progressive’ is a cntradiction in terms – sort of like ‘a pro-management labour union’.

Peter Quasi-Modo
Peter Quasi-Modo
1 month ago

Scottish politics is characterised by a once per generation clear out Up until the 1960’s, the Conservatives dominated politics at both the Westminster parliamnet and the local level in Scotland. (In 1959, the majority of voters in Scotland voted Conservative.) Then it was Labour’s turn until 2007 when SNP was the largest party in Holyrood, at which point it was the SNP’s turn to be Robert Mugabe. Interestingly, all three parties maxed-out at just over a 50% share of the vote before going into decline.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

But I thought that Scotland leaving the UK was an inevitable result of the UK leaving the EU.
At least that’s what all the pundits said.

Chris W
Chris W
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

If all of the UK could vote Scotland and Wales would leave the UK.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris W

Spot on Mr W.
However the Blob will never in one thousand years take the risk of allowing another referendum unless the result could be rigged in their favour.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 month ago

Be competent: be seen to be competent.

The first, a subjective matter, was beyond her, and so she persued only the second: ‘her truth’, in the current fashion for easy and convenient epistemological solipsism.

Harvey Mushman
Harvey Mushman
1 month ago

I was all for an Independent Scotland until years ago it became apparent that Independence would mean becoming an effete woke liberal hellhole where facts no longer matter…