As we noted last week, recent events have put a fresh spotlight on Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP. The defeat of her preferred candidate for the leadership of the SNP’s Westminster group was the latest evidence that the leadership’s iron grip may be faltering.
This week Shona Robinson, the Scottish Government’s Social Justice Secretary and one of the First Minister’s closest allies, insisted to the media that her authority remained “absolutely solid” – seldom a thing that needs saying when it is actually true.
Meanwhile Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and the Nationalists’ Chief Executive, has become embroiled in a row over the Party’s finances. From the Herald:
“Nicola Sturgeon’s husband is facing questions about a personal loan to the SNP of more than £100,000 which he failed to declare on time to election watchdogs. Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, gave the money to the party to help it with a “cash flow” problem after the Holyrood election.”
“Despite Mr Murrell running the SNP for more than 20 years, the party claimed it didn’t realise a £100,000 loan would need to be reported. Parties must report all loans of more than £7,500.”
Most interestingly, the loan apparently coincided with the start of a police investigation into whether the SNP had committed fraud by raising over £600,000 to fight a referendum campaign and then, in the absence of a referendum, spending it on other things. (We wrote about this last July.)
And that story followed an earlier row when several members of the SNP’s finance and audit committee resigned after being refused adequate access to the party’s finances – by Murrell.
The combination of the Nationalists’ hegemonic position in Scottish politics, the phalanx-like internal discipline they exhibited until recently, and the control of the political and organisational leadership by a wife-and-husband duopoly, could quite easily have created an environment of minimal scrutiny.
And one can understand why it would be frustrating to have £600,000 sitting uselessly in a ring-fenced account whilst the party’s day-to-day cash flow struggled. As the Herald reports:
“The SNP accounts for 2021 said the party has already spent more than a third of its Indyref2 fighting fund despite the lack of a vote. They said that by the end of last year it had spent £253,335 out of a total of £740,822 raised by its referendum appeal since 2017.”
Of course, for now the SNP continue enjoy their Dorian Gray-like ability to simply rack up bad stories without it having any immediate effect on their poll ratings.
Indeed, whilst undoubtedly outweighed by the structural setback of the Supreme Court defeat, recent polls have found stronger showings for separatist sentiment.
Meanwhile the SNP are keeping the bandwagon rolling with a Westminster Bill aimed at amending the Scotland Act to formally give the Scottish Parliament power over the constitution; it has no prospect of passing but should help to keep the increasingly fractious separatist movement united for a bit longer.
And senior mandarins have indicated that civil servants can continue to work on the Scottish Government’s plans for independence, despite independence not actually being within the constitutional remit of Holyrood. (Westminster should change this.)
But the gradual accrual of negative stories does suggest that when the dam finally bursts – perhaps after Sturgeon’s departure or the defeat of her strange Plan B of using the next election as a proxy vote on independence – the crash to Earth could be a painful one.
In the meantime, a legal challenge to the Scottish Government over its plans to redefine a woman in law has been thrown out by the courts, and the Nationalists are apparently looking at proposals that would allow children to be elected to Holyrood from the age of 16 – the lowest age of any legislature in the world.
Who should the IRA have been killing, exactly?
This week Mary Lou Macdonald, the leader of Sinn Féin, said that no member of An Garda Síochána – the Irish police – should have been harmed during the “conflict” in Northern Ireland, according to the Irish Times.
Her remarks followed fierce criticism from Liam Griffin, the former manager of the Wexford hurling team and the son of a garda, at the launch of a new history of the force.
Given Macdonald’s willingness to be specific in this instance, could she not extend this principle? It would be immensely illuminating, given the habit of many in the Republic to whitewash her party and its past, to have a definitive list of who were and were not considered legitimate targets by the IRA.