Sunday, 25 Oct 2020

Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘reputation under attack’ as Tories fight to halt SNP’s independence bid

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Since the start of 2020, “Yes” campaigners have secured a consistent lead over their unionist rivals in opinion polls. One recent survey predicted a total reversal of the 2014 referendum result — 55 percent in favour of separation, versus 45 percent against. Some of this swing could be tied to Brexit – as many Scots feel like they have been dragged out of the European Union against their will.

However, the coronavirus emergency also seems to have helped their case, with the SNP recently boasting “record” support for their party.

According to political analyst Sir John Curtice, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has “played the politics” of the pandemic more adeptly than Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said: “The public think that Nicola Sturgeon has handled the coronavirus crisis brilliantly, and they think Boris Johnson has done badly.

“That is not unique to those who voted No in 2014, or those who voted Leave in 2016. In all groups, Sturgeon is well ahead of Johnson.”

Despite the polls painting a positive picture for Ms Sturgeon, according to political commentator and Scottish journalist Chris Deerin, this image of success could easily crumble.

Mr Deerin argued that Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross could change the cards on the table – and in turn, is hoping it will help him block Ms Strugeon’s independence dream.

He wrote: “As of today, this seems unlikely but not unthinkable.

“There has been hostility to the First Minister’s latest restrictions – with pubs and restaurants in central Scotland closed – which critics say pose a grave threat to the hospitality industry.

“Ms Sturgeon’s reputation is also under attack as the inquiry into her government’s handling of the sexual assault allegations against Alex Salmond continues.

“Her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, has been criticised over his private messages.

“Ms Sturgeon’s account of her meetings with Salmond, and her apparently wobbly recollection of what she knew and when, has the capacity to rebound on her. Critics within the SNP are watching, and waiting.”

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Ms Sturgeon’s evidence to the Holyrood inquiry was published last week – more than two months after she submitted it.

It includes five pages of WhatsApp messages sent between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon, in which he complains about a Scottish Government sexual misconduct probe into him.

She said the investigation had caused her “a great deal of personal anguish, and resulted in the breakdown of a relationship that had been very important to me, politically and personally, for most of my life”.

Meanwhile, Mr Murrell reportedly admitted sending WhatsApp messages appearing to call for pressure against Mr Salmond.

Mr Salmond was acquitted on 14 charges of sexual misconduct last March.

Mr Deerin continued in his piece for The New Statesman: “Even so, the chaos around the governing party is so compelling that it leaves little space in the public conversation for its main challenger.

“Remember how the Blair-Brown squabbles were more interesting than anything Michael Howard or Iain Duncan Smith had to say? Same again.

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“It’s quite a moment to take the reins of a party that has such a darkly complex relationship with Scots, and such a recent history of resentment and rage.

“The challenges are historic and formidable – but then, commensurately, so are the potential rewards.”

Mr Deerin concluded that all Mr Douglas can really do now is “knock over those shibboleths and hope his opponents will self-implode”.

In an exclusive interview with earlier this year, former Labour MP Gisela Stuart suggested Mr Ross’ appointment could work as a powerful weapon in the fight against Scottish independence.

The former Vote Leave chair said: “The work that is happening right now across Government is particularly significant.

“Trying to maintain the integrity of the UK.

“They are in the process of really increasing the work that goes on into that.

“One interesting thing that has happened recently is the decision of the Scottish Conservative Party to quite dramatically change their leader.

“And hand it over to a new generation of politicians.”

She added: “I hope that what will happen now is Ministers going to Scotland and Wales.

“We really shouldn’t forget about Wales. And make the case of the United Kingdom as a union.”

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