You’d be forgiven for thinking that a political party which has been in a position of power at the top of government for 14 years would take responsibility for its actions and admit when it gets things wrong as opposed to blaming others. Well that may be true in other countries but here in Scotland, the SNP are always finding someone else to blame for the state of our country.
They’ve managed to socially engineer a great number of Scots into believing somehow all of Scotland’s problems are at the feet of the Conservative government in Westminster and not the SNP Scottish government. 
 
Immigration, defence and some elements of the environment policies are in the hands of the Tories… outside of that Scotland pretty much already has its own ability to make decisions over a majority of issues. The Sturgeon government is indeed very powerful, but having power and using it are two separate things. We could have a government of national unity in Holyrood working together to end child poverty for good, tackle in work poverty and fix our education system as well as drugs crisis but nope instead we have another 5 years of SNP/Greens chaos pursuing the same old ideological, grudge and grievance politics. 
Nicola Sturgeon seems to be an architect of this theory, in that she blames Boris Johnson for literally all of Scotland’s ills despite the fact she is the most powerful First Minister in the history of devolution, and her government is the most powerful devolved administration in the entire UK. This covers issues which Scotland badly needs to pay attention to and fix. Notably, the drugs crisis where Scotland is the drug death capital of Europe, where in 2019 stats show deaths were 23 per every 100,000 people (Powell, 2021). Powers over drug misuse are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as part of the massive overhaul of powers we’ve seen transferred between the governments over the past 5 years since the Scotland Act (2016) was passed, closest to ‘devo max’ as we’ll ever be surely?
It seems that all the nats are interested in is virtue signalling and finding others to blame. This can be extended to issues regarding child poverty, a subject to be treated with great sensitivity no political point scoring. SNP MP Mhari Black (known for her maiden speech where she lamented the rise in food banks usage in 2015), appeared before a committee at the House of Commons and called out the Tory government. She said, “People in poverty are not the problem – the government that ignores them is.” Clearly, referring to the UK government and how immoral it was. If only the SNP could do something about it… well, actually they could. 

Education and health (factors which can be used to tackle child poverty) are fully in the control of Holyrood, as well as powers to increase financial investment. Powers which won’t be used by the SNP to make things better. Mhari Black likes to virtue signal, but perhaps she should have a word with her colleagues in Edinburgh. It’s typical and become boring. 14 years later, and the people keep falling for it. Black talks about being ‘ignored’ yet, she is a member of a party which has openly stated it will gladly put key matters of the day to the side to pursue an ideological route to separation. Again, that’s the term ‘separation’ because it’s not actual independence.
Education, another issue which needs to be paid attention to more. Scotland’s education system has been ranked the worst in the UK for attainment, where consistency those deemed to live in ‘poor areas’ haven’t received equal opportunities.

Notably the exam fiasco last August where low income students were punished. Across the UK, Scotland’s system has ranked 15 out of the 15 metropolitan areas.  John Swinney has wrecked our education system, he may as well wreck our recovery from Covid now. 

 
We’re 14 years down the line, why can’t they take responsibility for their own actions? Scotland still receives very generous Barnett consequentials, and has the ability to take on these challenges face-to-face. In the 2000s, when it was the ‘Scottish Executive’, the administration was much less powerful but did tackle Scotland’s knife crime epidemic and got back positive results. This was because we had a government of pragmatists. 
 
Currently, we have a government of ideologues who constantly want to whip up tension and pursue a ludicrous course of separation. Recently, the SNP also claimed the lowest income for each Scot in an independent Scotland would be £37,000 not bad, that sounds great but wait… ‘these figures aren’t fully costed’ was the small print. Okay then, so you can make nonsensical claims but no way to cost them. Welcome to Scotland in 2021! 
As I stated in articles before the election and now after, this parliament has to be about recovery. Scotland needs to recover and be fixed. We have a drugs crisis, waiting times at A&E not being met, a failing education system and an economy which is driving away investment with these pointless job and life destroying restrictions.

At this stage, even with the Indian… I mean April-02 variant around (have to extra PC now), the vaccine has worked and it’s time to end all restrictions yet Sturgeon for the sake of a good old nanny state wants to deflect from other domestic matters. I should note that the rise has been in cases, not deaths or ICUs but cases. There is absolutely no need for this and the people continuing to support these measures need to get a grip. 

What our political discourse has shown is that the SNP never want to take the blame for their own actions. They’ve took their foot off the pedal regarding massive problems Scotland faces, like drug deaths and lowering educational standards and they’ll never have to worry about the opposition as a threat. A 3 way split will cement decades of SNP rule to come, independence or not. 
If the Scottish government didn’t have these powers and was like a local council, essentially powerless I would sympathise but they have had enough time and power to get these problems sorted. Instead, they want to pursue an agenda of grudge and grievance. I’m no fan of the Johnson government in Westminster and goodness knows what those new Northern Tories see in the party but they are not to blame here. 
So remember next time you see Mhari Black, Ian Blackford or any other SNP MP try and deflect blame from the incompetents in Holyrood, it’s because of the agenda to maintain their strong grip on power. 
14 years down the line, when will the SNP start admitting maybe some things are their fault? 🤦‍♂️ 

THE disgraced finance secretary Derek Mackay and dozens of other former MSPs will tomorrow share golden goodbyes costing taxpayers more than £2.2million.

Nine MSPs who failed to get re-elected earlier this month and 34 who stood down of their own accord, will be paid controversial “resettlement grants” to help them adjust to life after Holyrood.

Nicola Sturgeon accused of ‘regurgitating’ independence priority as she lays out government programme.

The First Minister was accused of “regurgitating” her party’s top priority of independence after she laid out her government’s immediate priorities to MSPs.

The Scottish Government will set out its “expectations” for what will come after Scotland reaches level zero of Covid-19 restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she told MSPs on Wednesday of her plans for the first 100 days of government.

Ms Sturgeon said her “most important priority” was to lead Scotland safely out of the pandemic – but she also said she had been elected on a “clear mandate” to take forward a second independence referendum to “give people in Scotland a choice over our future when the crisis has passed”.

On coronavirus, she said an announcement will come in the next three weeks on how Scotland will look once the levels system is scrapped and predicted “bumps in the road”.

“We will also lead a wider mission of national recovery and renewal. I have appointed the Deputy First Minister as Cabinet secretary for Covid recovery. He will convene the first meeting of the new cross-party steering group on Covid Recovery today.”

Ms Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government would publish an NHS recovery plan “setting out how we will achieve a 10 per cent increase in activity in key services” and legislation to create a national care service would be introduced within the next year.

“In our first 100 days, we will begin the consultation on legislation to establish a National Care Service,” she said.

“We intend to introduce the legislation during the first year of this Parliament and expect the service to be operational by the end of this Parliament.

“This will be, in my view, the most important public sector innovation since the establishment of the National Health Service.”

However, Ms Sturgeon went on to say that as Scotland emerged from the Covid crisis it needed to “decide the kind of country Scotland becomes” and “once the crisis is over – people in Scotland should have the right to make that choice”.

“The election result has delivered a substantial majority in this Parliament for an independence referendum within the current term,” she said.

“There can be no justification for the UK Government seeking to block that mandate. To do so would suggest that the Tories no longer consider the UK to be a voluntary union of nations. And it would be profoundly undemocratic.”

However, while opposition party leaders said there were things in Ms Sturgeon’s plan on which they would “work constructively”, they said her words on independence were “divisive”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “For most of the First Minister’s statement she spoke of the pressing issues facing Scotland right now, finally putting more teachers in our school, finally delivering on childcare promises, finally focusing on climate change and the climate emergency.

“On these issues there are points where we can agree and work constructively with parties across this chamber, but ultimately this comes down to independence for the SNP.

“It is there in the third line of her statement. It took just 15 seconds for Nicola Sturgeon to talk up the prospect of another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon speaks of bringing people together then pushes the most divisive proposal imaginable.

“This isn’t a speech to unite Scotland, it is not a statement of the people’s priorities. It is regurgitation of the SNP’s top priority.

“It sets up the same old us-versus-them choice, the same bitterness, the same division, the same proposals that the SNP thrive on.

“This Parliament does have a choice. Either we can be a Parliament of action that focuses 100 per cent on people’s priorities and gets things done using the powers this Parliament has right now or another five years will be wasted as this government gets more and more distracted as time goes on.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “I recognise the scale of the challenge facing our country coming through this pandemic. I am willing to work with anyone in the national interests or on the issues we agree on.

“But let’s be clear, this is not day one of an SNP government, it is day 5,136. Rhetoric is no longer enough, we need action.

“This government must be bolder and more ambitious.

“If the First Minister is serious about focusing on recovery, will she commit in the first 100 days to deliver a genuine jobs guarantee scheme for young people and the long-term unemployed, to double the Scottish Child Payment to challenge child poverty, to remobilise the NHS to confront Scotland’s biggest killer, cancer, and take urgent action to avoid a repeat of the SQA exams fiasco.”

He added: “The First Minister has pledged to focus on our recovery and not be distracted by divisive old arguments. She must keep that promise.”

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister promised this would be a parliament focused on recovery and she would defer a referendum until the effects of the pandemic were over.

“I’m disappointed to see the First Minister announce plans which would push the recovery aside.

“She has re-announced a host of commitments that her government has failed to deliver in their last three terms in power.

“It’s important that patients don’t wait longer than 12 weeks for NHS treatment, young people get mental health treatment within 18 weeks, that we save more people from death from drugs and the poverty-related attainment gap is closed completely in schools.

“All these major issues must be delivered before the government presses for another referendum.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has always been adamant she has no desire to politicise the coronavirus pandemic.

Sure, the SNP may, during the recent election campaign, have circulated leaflets bearing the image of the lectern from which Sturgeon delivers her regular covid updates and, yes, the FM may have spent the last couple of weeks before polling day insisting only support for her party would guarantee strong experienced leadership during the recovery period but you must see, surely, that none of this was political.

Let us all simply agree that, when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus crisis, Sturgeon and her Government are doing a tip-top, rinky-dink job.

There’s always someone, though, isn’t there? Someone who insists on picking at the officially sanctioned version of events. Last week, a group of troublemakers – from Scotland on Sunday’s sister paper, The Scotsman, and a number of other media outlets – successfully challenged an attempt by a government agency to withhold information about the deaths in care homes.

National Records of Scotland unlawfully blocked requests – under freedom of information legislation – to release details of how many people had died in each of the country’s care homes.

The publicly-funded body offered a range of pitiful excuses for its refusal to do its legal duty. It offered up some nonsense about “data protection sensitivities”, claimed the release of the information might harm the commercial interests of care home owners (doesn’t the heart just bleed?), and even suggested there was a risk to the health and safety of care home staff.

The information commissioner didn’t buy any of that rubbish and, finally, we know the truth about how many people died in each care facility in the country.

It is difficult to disagree with the reactions of opposition MSPs at Hiolyrood to this scandalous attempt to keep the public in the dark. The Tories are correct when they say there had been a blatant attempt to sweep the true scale of of the care hoime deaths scandal under the carpet and Labour are equally on the money with their description of the refusal to publish the information as “utterly shameful”.

For all the SNP spin about the First Minister’s masterful leadership during the pandemic, the fact remains that it was on her watch that the NHS discharged covid-infected patients into care homes where the virus quickly spread, causing more than 3,000 deaths among residents.

So, the information commissioner was absolutely right when he stated there was a strong public interest in the release of the information NRS wished to conceal.

When the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, we were promised a new era of openness. Public bodies, previously able to cover up their dealings behind a veil of secrecy, would have to provide information about the way they were run. For the first time, we would learn the truth about decision making.

While the legislation’s primary objective was to make information available to the public, a secondary effect – or hope – was that it would make public bodies more honest. If they faced being held publicly accountable for their every act, then perhaps they would take greater care to do things by the book.

But all of this only works if public bodies – including the Government – play by the rules of the act.

In recent years, there has been a troubling tendency for the Scottish Government to drag its heels over answering freedom of information requests. We have seen a culture emerge where ministers’ special advisers have been allowed to oversee requests, putting the protection of MSPs who might be embarrassed by the truth over the public’s right to know.

The NRS’s attempt to conceal details about deaths in care homes is part of a wider culture – which starts at the very top of government – of evasion when it comes to freedom of information.

Had the NRS done as the law required and released the information in question when it was requested, then it is entirely likely that Sturgeon and her ministers would have faced difficult questions about what the hell was going on. Perhaps that carefully crafted tale of Government competence would have seemed a little shakier.

Asked about this scandal on Friday, Sturgeon said there had been “no masking of the scale” of deaths in care homes. Nobody suggests this has happened but it was a useful straw man for a First Minister under pressure.

The NRS, she added, operated independently of ministers, she added.

But Scotland is a small country and the reaction by NRS to an awkward question about care home deaths is entirely in keeping with the current public sector culture.

Supporters of the First Minister might feel that, well, in the scheme of things, a tendency to evade troublesome freedom of information requests is understandable. After all, it’s usually just a bunch of troublemakers fishing for something with which to beat Sturgeon, isn’t it?

It is certainly true that FOI is a useful tool for opposition parties. Before it came to power in 2007, the SNP regularly used freedom of information requests to generate damaging stories about Scotland’s Labour-Liberal Democrat administration.

But partisanship shouldn’t factor in our condemnation of a growing culture of secrecy which sees the freedom of information act defied by public bodies. When National Records of Scotland decided to withhold vital information about care home deaths, they prevented families from making fully informed choices about the safety of their elderly relatives.

Freedom of Information requests may bring forth information that embarrasses politicians and civil servants. Good. If that happens, the law is working.

Those who break the law by failing to answer difficult questions may be motivated by the desire to protect themselves and their political superiors but, as this case shows, they may also be making Scotland a less safe place for the rest of us.

n March, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about her response to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. She said failings were ‘not because we didn’t care, or because we weren’t trying to do things, but we have concluded because we couldn’t do anything else, that we didn’t get it right’.

This is how she addressed the worst drugs death rate in Europe and the government failings which fuelled it. An admission of regret and some self-justification: a recognition of the harm done but little in the way of a roadmap for future prevention. Drug deaths were a matter of regret rather than a health and social problem that needs solving. It wasn’t about what ministers did but whether they ‘cared’.

Let’s spend a while on that word ‘care’: to care about something is to view it emotionally — I can care deeply without responding practically. Indeed, if I focus on my care over my response, it implies an inability to properly respond.

To ‘care’ in politics is to view problems through this emotional lens rather than the practical lens, to view issues as traumas requiring acknowledgement instead of material failings demanding change. This is what we see in the Scottish government’s response to any criticism: trauma recognised but never remedied.

Welcome to traumocracy, our new politics of feels over fixes. Recognising trauma is necessary, but it is not primarily a matter for politics. Indeed, when acknowledging trauma becomes the prime duty of politicians, the demand for concrete action is lessened. Think back to Sturgeon’s talk of being ‘deeply concerned and moved’ by deaths in care homes in May last year, when we now know that her government was moving Covid-positive patients into those homes. This is traumocracy at its worst: name-checking consequences without substantively responding to them.

The appearance of caring — rather than the doing of things to actually make people’s lives better — is intrinsic to traumocracy. As an approach to public policy, it is a form of political inactivism, and the accompanying discourse of ‘care’ spurs on a cycle of neglect.

We can see this in education. Last August, Sturgeon apologised for failing to get exam results right — but only ‘after a lot of soul searching’. Almost one year on, students are sitting exams in all but name and there have been warnings that another results fiasco is on the way. If you believe politics is about material action, you would be working in earnest to head off a repeat of last autumn. If you subscribe to traumocratic politics, you just need to have some warm words lined up for when it all goes wrong.

Naturally, if you fail to remedy a situation it will get worse — and, when it worsens, you have to care more. Thus is politics becoming a matter of who ‘cares’ the most rather than who offers the most effective solution. Policymaking is being rendered a matter of morality over practicality: a competition to see who claps loudest for the NHS or is the most regretful over a failing. In the process, problems get worse and the cycle of neglect continues.

This cycle is not simply a matter of worsening outcomes and declining standards. It is toxic for pluralism and civic society. A politics primarily about caring rather than acting is just another branch of performative morality: a battle between Good Parties and Bad Parties. If that discourse takes root in a pluralist democracy, as it has done in Scotland, it entrenches partisan divides and further chips away at political trust.

Compromise becomes an exercise in moral surrender rather than productive pragmatism. This moralising also blends roles and damages institutions. Politicians exist to fulfil a practical purpose and answer real-world needs: to fix the roads or to close attainment gaps. They are not supposed to provide moral guidance. They should behave morally, of course, but they should not use virtue as a shield. Morality is a matter for individual conscience, civil society and spiritual institutions.

Yet traumocracy is usurping these institutions as politicians assume for themselves roles that were hitherto thought beyond politics. In doing so, they undermine pluralism and replace neutral civic spaces, in which we can be free of political partisanship, with a new, highly politicised version of public morality. Professing to ‘care’ holds such sway that it allows you to neglect tangible needs, contribute to the tribalism around fulfilling them, then congratulate yourself on your empathy.

Traumocracy has become the dominant mode of Scottish politics. A third of all Covid-19 deaths occurred in our care homes but instead of confronting how that came about, the decision-makers get away with pivoting the conversation to how they feel about it. Scotland has the highest drugs deaths rate in Europe, with mortality figures spiking year on year since 2015. Ministers cared — I’ve no doubt they did — but their empathy didn’t stop almost 9,000 people dying from drugs misuse since the SNP came to power. But at least they had a sympathetic face ready for the cameras.

Traumocracy is politics as therapy session: everyone’s feelings get a boost but no one’s circumstances change. But politics without the possibility of change is a dead end. It’s not enough to care, you have to care enough to act.

THE response of the newly reappointed First Minister to the results of the Scottish election is as depressing as it is predictable.

Following a mostly presidential campaign, emphasising Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic, we are now told that there is a cast-iron mandate for another referendum and independence is around the corner.

At Full Council last Thursday, the SNP group were akin to religious zealots announcing the second coming. Independence was shoehorned into almost every single contribution and promoted as the cure all for every single problem. We face another five years of this triumphalist nonsense.

Like all nationalists, the SNP are desperately keen to promote a sense of exceptionalism, that Scots are somehow different from our neighbours with unique traditions and distinct, not to say superior, values. Scotland, they argue, could be so much better if we were not held back by Westminster. Westminster, of course, being no more than a euphemism for England.

In the two weeks since the election, this line of reasoning and myth making has been ratcheted up. We are told that the Scottish people have spoken and are being held against our will by the rule of law rather than democracy. This is a ridiculous argument as it ignores the fact that the rule of law is essential to any functioning democracy. In a democracy, laws can be changed but they cannot be ignored or dismissed simply because they are inconvenient.

Nationalists continuously argue that Scotland is almost unique among nations in that the people have always been sovereign. In doing so they hark back to a historical conceit concocted by George Buchanan almost 500 years ago to justify the overthrow of Queen Mary in 1567. It was trotted out again a century later to excuse the revolution against James VII. It was based on myth and invented history then, it remains a constitutional nonsense today.

Similarly, the SNP have jumped on the recent events in Kenmure Street to peddle not one but two myths. Firstly, that the Scots are more welcoming and tolerant than our near neighbours and secondly that, in an independent country, there would be no such thing as illegal immigrants. Survey after survey has proved that Scots are only marginally more liberal in their attitudes to immigration than the rest of the UK. Scotland, unfortunately, has its fair share of racists and sectarian bigots. That is an issue we have to tackle but it does not make us unique and certainly no better than our English and Welsh cousins.

An independent Scotland, like every country in the world, would have immigration laws. If, as the SNP hope, our neighbours agreed to a common travel area, those laws would have to be clear and effectively enforced. The alternative would be passport control at Berwick and Gretna. Instead of admitting this, our First Minister promulgates a falsehood that in a uniquely tolerant and progressive Scotland all such issues and difficulties will evaporate.

I fully expect the next several years to be entirely dominated by constitutional wrangling at the expense of using the powers and considerable resources of the Scottish Parliament to address the very real problems we all face.

These problems range from the strategic to the mundane. Independence is not required to improve the quality of our health service, it is already fully devolved. Freedom will not empty our bins or keep our libraries open.

There is no indisputable mandate for a referendum, still less is there any evidence that there is even a narrow majority for independence. Sadly, the SNP can never admit that because their myths are more important than any inconvenient reality.

Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle is an object lesson in making a very limited talent pool go a long way. John Swinney, who has been education secretary since 2016, has been shifted into a new brief in charge of the Covid recovery. Swinney’s tenure at education won’t be fondly remembered, presiding as he did over the SNP’s fundamentally flawed Curriculum for Excellence, a stubborn attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils, a long-running teacher shortage and the 2020 exams fiasco.

Any other minister in any other government would have been sent on his merry way long ago but Swinney is too valuable an ally for Sturgeon, having proved his political worth most recently in the Holyrood inquiry into the Sturgeon-Salmond affair. He remains deputy first minister and minister for Scotland Tonight, the Holyrood equivalent of minister for Newsnight. Swinney is not a terribly adept minister but he is a skilled tactician with a gift for verbal thuggishness that comes in handy with the Scottish parliament’s easily cowed opposition parties.

The education brief goes to Shirley-Anne Somerville, hitherto in charge of Sturgeon’s stalled plans to gut the Gender Recognition Act in favour of the self-declaration model that removes medical experts from the process and is favoured by trans activists. Meanwhile, Humza Yousaf has been moved from justice, where he spearheaded the authoritarian Hate Crime Bill which will soon see Scots at risk of prosecution for remarks uttered in the privacy of their own homes. Yousaf has solid patter but might be a more accomplished minister if he spent more time with his briefing papers and less with his Twitter account. His appointment to the health brief is unlikely to further his leadership ambitions.

Sturgeon is the only health minister since devolution to become First Minister and only then because she got out in time. Yousaf will be responsible for the reopening of the NHS post-Covid; a forthcoming public inquiry on the handling of the pandemic; tackling the worst drugs-deaths rate in Europe; rolling out the proposed National Care Service and abolition of dental fees; addressing shortages of GPs, doctors and nurses; and meeting long-missed waiting times targets. If Yousaf has any sense, he’ll get out in time, too.

Replacing him at justice is Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader. A former Royal Marine who served in the Falklands War, Brown is a political bruiser who previously held ministerial roles on the economy, infrastructure, transport and skills. Popular among the party’s grassroots for his unapologetic nationalism, Brown’s return to the fold suggests Sturgeon is mindful of the need to keep her impatient activists on side even if she can’t give them the second independence referendum she’s been promising for almost seven years. Brown’s new title is cabinet secretary for justice but his more important role will be as Nicola Sturgeon’s ambassador to her party’s membership.

Another political resurrection is that of Shona Robison, a personal friend of Sturgeon who was forced to resign in 2018 amid near-universal criticism of her management of the health brief. She takes on the social justice, housing and local government portfolio. If she fails again, it’s unlikely Sturgeon will be so forgiving a second time, even if she is a mate. Transport minister Michael Matheson remains in post, though his title has been rejigged to ‘net zero, energy and transport’. He will take forward the SNP’s plans to nationalise the ScotRail train franchise, address the ongoing island ferries row and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045. Matheson is the invisible man of the cabinet and, though having no discernible achievements to his name, has survived so long by being blandly forgettable. It’s hard to get the sack when even the First Minister would struggle to remember your name and what you do.

Kate Forbes stays on as finance minister and assumes the economy role too, a sign of Sturgeon’s confidence in the 31-year-old. Forbes has proved a safe pair of hands in the job but discontent is growing in the business sector over the SNP’s prioritising of a second referendum, delays in passing on Treasury Covid cash to small firms, and a general lack of economic direction. While the bulk of fiscal and economic policy failings either pre-date Forbes’ tenure or should more properly be laid at her boss’s door, it falls to the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP to rekindle business confidence and encourage the economy in a pro-growth direction.

A fellow member of the 2016 intake, Mairi Gougeon, is bumped up from public health minister to cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands. Gougeon has largely kept her head down and put the work in, particularly in her earlier posting as a junior rural affairs minister, and her promotion should be seen as a reward for living up to the faith Sturgeon showed in her in 2018, when she found herself a minister after just two years at Holyrood. It is telling, perhaps, that the two ministers who have shown the most capability each have only five years as MSPs.

The generation who became involved in politics at a time when the phrase ‘SNP government’ was barely computable have a decidedly mixed record in ministerial office. The generation for whom government by any party other than the SNP is just as unfathomable so far look more impressive. Successful parties typically attract more capable politicians (plus a tonne of dreck, careerists and chancers) and it will help sustain the SNP longer in power if that trend holds up.

Rounding off Sturgeon’s gender-balanced cabinet (because of course) is Angus Robertson, the former Westminster leader of the Nationalists who lost his Moray seat in 2017 to Douglas Ross, who is now the Scottish Tory leader. On May 6, Robertson got into Holyrood by winning Edinburgh Central, which had previously been held by Ruth Davidson, who is no longer the Scottish Tory leader. Robertson will be constitution, external affairs and culture secretary, even though the first two of those are reserved powers. The way devolution works is that Holyrood unilaterally makes policy on Westminster matters and when Westminster eventually notices and objects, Holyrood accuses it of a ‘power grab’.

Robertson’s role will come into play when Sturgeon decides to fire up the independence juggernaut again but until then expect more of the routine undermining of the Union, including internationally, which the Scottish government doesn’t even bother to do quietly anymore.

Among those getting the boot are rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, a right-winger (in SNP terms) accused of, though denies, bullying civil servants, and Fiona Hyslop, the Nicola Murray-esque economy, fair work and culture secretary who has been a cabinet minister for 14 straight, inexplicable, years. Noticeably unpromoted are Europe and international development minister Jenny Gilruth and public finance and migration minister Ben Macpherson, neither of whom has caused any headaches deserving of a snub.

Overall, this is less a reshuffle than a meh-shuffle. Even though major portfolios are changing hands and big-ticket policies are in the offing — a National Care Service, rail nationalisation — there just isn’t enough talent at cabinet level to get excited about. Plus, few if any of these ministers are likely to be judged on any failure to deliver. The SNP has a death-grip on the 40 or 45 per cent of Scots who want independence and are willing to look the other way on health, education and economic outcomes until they get it. There is no incentive for improvement when, in all likelihood, you’ve already won the next election anyway. Sturgeon’s new cabinet is a B-level team for a B-level government, but B-level is what the public keeps voting for.

With that in mind, it is worth reflecting on the experiences of a European country that gained their own independence following a referendum held exactly 15 years ago.

On 21 May 2006, the small Adriatic country of Montenegro held a referendum to determine whether its citizens wished for it to embark upon an independent path or remain in union with Serbia.

Of course, there are few direct parallels between Scotland and Montenegro, a country in the Western Balkans of just 622,000 citizens.

Scotland faces entirely different challenges in a dissimilar context, yet there are lessons to be drawn from Montenegro’s experience, not least how pre-existing divisions within a body politic can become entrenched by the zero-sum game of a referendum and the resulting resentments can weaken the foundations of a newly independent country.

Montenegro’s path to independence was far from straightforward and complicated further by the question of whether Montenegrins were a separate nation or part of the wider Serbian nation.

Montenegro’s citizens, and often families, were divided on the issue. An independent state between 1878 and 1918, Montenegro was absorbed into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) before becoming one of six republics within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

With the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Montenegro united with Serbia, albeit as a junior partner within the rather asymmetric Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In 1997, Montenegro’s prime minister, Milo Djukanović, fell out with his erstwhile sponsor, the Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević and Montenegro’s monolithic Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) split into a pro-Milošević faction led by the Montenegrin president, Momir Bulatović, and an anti-Milošević faction led by Djukanović, who began to slowly create greater distance between Montenegro and Serbia.

This led to the crystallisation of two large political blocs, pro-independence and pro-union, and the trajectory towards an independence referendum.

Though there was much speculation that a referendum would be held in 2002, the pro-independence Montenegrin government signed the Belgrade Agreement, which ensured the continuity of the union with Serbia.

Djukanović, however, extracted a key concession – that a referendum on Montenegro’s independence could be held three years after the ratification of the agreement. That referendum took place on 21 May 2006.

In advance of the referendum, I attended numerous pro-independence and pro-union rallies in different parts of the country. It was evident that the momentum was with the pro-independence bloc, led by the DPS.

The European Union played a key role in the referendum, monitoring it closely and insisting not on a simple majority but upon 55 per cent of the overall vote as the threshold for victory.

It was a controversial measure but, in a deeply divided society, a prudent one. In the referendum, 55.5 per cent voted for independence, 44.5 against. The result left a significant minority embittered by the outcome of a referendum they had not wanted.

Nevertheless, following the declaration of independence in June 2006, Montenegro rapidly joined key international organisations and adopted an unambiguous Euro-Atlantic foreign policy orientation, with EU and Nato membership central to it.

Foreign investment increased and the tourism sector in the ‘Monaco of the Balkans’ boomed. Domestically, however, the DPS dominated. The argument, made by pro-independence campaigners in 2006, that independence would lead to the power of the DPS diminishing, proved hopelessly optimistic.

Instead, they became a ‘state party’, the winners of the referendum and the self-proclaimed guardians of Montenegrin statehood and national identity.

They consolidated their power – though they had to rely on coalitions to govern – the lines between party and state became increasingly opaque and the system of patronage that developed became impenetrable to those without party connections. The opposition remained weak, divided and unable to effectively challenge the DPS.

Allegedly Russian-backed coup attempt

During the ten-year anniversary of independence, however, I was struck by how muted the celebrations were. Although there was a genuine sense of pride among many that the first decade of independence had been a success, it had increasingly come to be viewed as a ‘DPS project’ and Montenegro a ‘private state’ controlled by a small, powerful elite.

Those opposition politicians who opposed Montenegro’s accession to Nato were angered that the government were taking Montenegro into the Western military alliance against their will.

That perception did much to undermine the DPS, despite the fact that the October 2016 parliamentary election – during which an allegedly Russian-backed coup d’etat that aimed to derail Montenegro’s Nato membership was foiled – was won narrowly by the DPS and their allies. Less than a year later, Montenegro joined Nato.

It was, ultimately, an ill-judged attempt by the government to push through a new ‘Law on Religious Freedoms’ in 2019 that facilitated a political union between the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and the opposition.

Large protests against the law were a precursor to the country’s first change of government through the mechanism of democratic elections in August 2020.

The new government, with a majority of one seat in parliament, comprises numerous MPs that opposed independence and Nato membership, have close links to Serbia and Russia, and Serb nationalists who claim that Montenegro is part of the ‘Serbian World’.

Meanwhile, the once all-powerful DPS, now in opposition, argues that the country is under attack from Serbia, Russia and by a pro-Serbian/Russian government that negates a separate Montenegrin national identity, wishes to destroy Montenegro’s statehood and reverse the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Fifteen years after the referendum, therefore, divisions not only remain but are more acute than they were during the 2006 referendum. Independence, while it has brought significant benefits, was not a panacea and has done little to resolve pre-existing disputes.

© Scotland Matters