The First Minister Needed A Crisis

“Current polls suggest the devastation of this pandemic could ensure the devastation of her political opponents in May next year.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 17/08/2020 [Online] Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Aug 19] 

After an extremely turbulent week in which her administration was forced to reverse a decision made to lower exam grades, Nicola Sturgeon ended last week with a new poll revealing 72 per cent confidence in her leadership and a bounce in support for her party. In a YouGov poll for The Times, 52 per cent of respondents felt Scotland is heading in the right direction, which was an increase of 20 percentage points from a poll asking the same question and carried out by the same pollster this time last year.

The First Minister needed a crisis to bolster her support and the pandemic has done just that. It seems absurd to think her leadership was on such a shoogly peg only a few months ago that she had to confirm her intention to fight another election on The Andrew Marr Show. In February, The Herald columnist Neil Mackay wrote: “The [SNP] record on key domestic issues like education is woeful, and there’s been such manoeuvring against Nicola Sturgeon that she’s had to confirm she wants to stay on.”

The late former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson once famously said: “A week is a long time in politics.” For Scotland’s First Minister last week will rank as one of those she is pleased to consign to the history books. Her administration rolled back on support for grades awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority as her education secretary John Swinney survived a closely contested motion of no confidence in his leadership last Thursday, which was defeated by 67 votes to 58.

In a keynote address in August 2015, Ms Sturgeon said education would be the main “priority” focus of her tenure as First Minister. She said: “Let me be clear – I want to be judged on this.” She added: “If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people then what are you prepared to?” However, these comments were made in the heady days when our education system was believed to be the best in the world and with record levels of attainment.

In 2014 – a year before her speech – research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) placed Scotland among the most educated nations in Europe and highest globally for tertiary education attainment. At that point, we even superseded the scholastic superiority of Finland but our standards have experienced a meteoric fall from grace ever since. The World Economic Forum has long since returned the Finns, whose attainment stands above all other OECD nations, to its original status.

I have met Nicola Sturgeon several times and it cannot be disputed, whether you love or loathe her, she is an astute communicator but her domestic achievements leave a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, polls suggest the devastation of this pandemic could ensure the devastation of her political opponents in May next year.