Will this go down as mo­ment her ed­i­fice started to crum­ble?

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Week Civil War Hit SNP - By Jack­son Car­law

THE sham­bles of the Alex Sal­mond af­fair has pro­vided grow­ing ev­i­dence that Nicola Stur­geon’s Gov­ern­ment is no longer fit for pur­pose. It has the First Min­is­ter with the big­gest cri­sis of her time in of­fice. And it se­ri­ously brings into ques­tion how long her ad­min­is­tra­tion can sur­vive.

Big claims – but jus­ti­fied based on the fi­asco of the past seven days be­cause the fail­ings ex­posed by this tawdry af­fair are not one­offs. Rather, they are cen­tral to the widen­ing cracks within Ms Stur­geon’s Gov­ern­ment.

To be­gin with, there is the ba­sic in­com­pe­tence.

When the SNP came to power 12 long years ago, the party prided it­self on its pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent-prone ten­ure of Labour in the early years of de­vo­lu­tion, the SNP promised to bring back com­pe­tence and pride to gov­ern­ment in Scot­land.

A dozen years on, the Stur­geon ad­min­is­tra­tion would be laughed out of town if it tried to make the same claim – and this af­fair has demon­strated why.

You might think that a gov­ern­ment faced with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by the for­mer first min­is­ter of Scot­land would tread care­fully.

You might ex­pect it would pre­pare for a le­gal chal­lenge. You would be wrong.

We dis­cov­ered last week that the civil ser­vant tasked with lead­ing the in­quiry had, un­be­liev­ably, had prior con­tact with the com­plainants.

In­deed, Mr Sal­mond’s lawyers even claimed this civil ser­vant had en­cour­aged the women to come for­ward.

Ms Stur­geon’s de­ci­sion to meet Mr Sal­mond in a se­ries of five pri­vate au­di­ences fur­ther brought the im­par­tial­ity of the case into ques­tion.

It al­lowed the for­mer first min­is­ter’s le­gal team to tear the case to pieces.

The re­sult is that two gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who pre­sented com­plaints about Mr Sal­mond have been un­for­giv­ably let down – and the tax­payer is at least half a mil­lion pounds worse off.

IT re­vealed a gov­ern­ment that is mak­ing things up as it goes along. Then there is the other thing this scan­dal has ex­posed – how, un­der the SNP, the line be­tween gov­ern­ment busi­ness and party in­ter­ests has been erased al­most en­tirely. Over the past week, it has been ob­vi­ous to just about ev­ery­one in Scot­land that Ms Stur­geon’s meet­ings last year with Mr Sal­mond to dis­cuss the com­plaints against him were gov­ern­ment busi­ness.

They were, af­ter all, dis­cussing a gov­ern­ment in­quiry, brought by gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, into the for­mer head of the gov­ern­ment.

In­deed, with her ad­mis­sion to me dur­ing First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions on Thurs­day, that her own chief of staff was present at the first of these dis­cus­sions, a thresh­old was crossed in es­tab­lish­ing that this was in­deed a gov­ern­ment busi­ness meet­ing.

Yet, bizarrely, Ms Stur­geon is still in­sist­ing that this was a party mat­ter – just a pri­vate chat be­tween two old party friends.

We should not be sur­prised. For Ms Stur­geon and her Na­tion­al­ist col­leagues, the words ‘SNP’ and ‘Scot­land’ are in­ter­change­able.

The in­ter­ests of the SNP and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment are the same.

Is it any won­der, there­fore, that Ms Stur­geon strug­gles to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween a party mat­ter and a gov­ern­ment mat­ter?

This ar­ro­gance has turned many Scots away from the SNP over re­cent years.

Last week, it re­bounded on the party and the con­se­quence of this Na­tion­al­ist blind spot has landed Ms Stur­geon in deep trou­ble. Her rep­u­ta­tion is now on the line.

This tawdry busi­ness has also high­lighted the sheer bit­ter­ness that has seeped into the SNP’s blood­stream.

Ad­mit­tedly, no party is im­mune from this, par­tic­u­larly those that have spent a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time in gov­ern­ment. What the past week has shown be­yond any doubt is that the SNP is now rid­dled with ac­ri­mony.

MR Sal­mond ap­pears to have de­cided to de­clare out­right civil war on Ms Stur­geon and her aides, in­fu­ri­ated by the party’s fail­ure to make any progress ad­vanc­ing the case for in­de­pen­dence. In re­turn, Ms Stur­geon and her own al­lies are clearly livid at Mr Sal­mond’s self-ag­gran­dis­ing be­hav­iour and are de­ter­mined to strike back.

The up­shot for the rest of us is that our gov­ern­ing party has now be­come in­creas­ingly side­tracked by petty, in­ternecine feuds that have drained it of all en­ergy and di­rec­tion. That has an im­pact.

It is hard to say with a straight face these days but, ac­cord­ing to Ms Stur­geon, her Gov­ern­ment’s num­ber one pri­or­ity is sup­posed to be ed­u­ca­tion.

Yet en­tirely di­verted by her own in­ter­nal dif­fi­cul­ties – and by her end­less at­tempts to use Brexit to push for in­de­pen­dence – the claim has be­come sim­ply ris­i­ble.

The SNP Gov­ern­ment has dumped an Ed­u­ca­tion Bill it claimed, only 12 months ear­lier, to be cen­tral to the im­prove­ment of stan­dards in Scot­land.

Noth­ing has re­placed it. The much-trum­peted plan to close Scot­land’s at­tain­ment gap be­tween the rich­est and poor­est chil­dren has been wa­tered down.

Last week, Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary

John Swin­ney was hu­mil­i­ated when it turned out he had sub­stan­tially mis­rep­re­sented aca­demics he claimed had backed his dis­cred­ited tests for P1 pupils but who, it then turned out, had done noth­ing of the sort.

Mr Swin­ney should have re­ceived a pub­lic skelp­ing for the out­ra­geous false­hoods he al­lowed to be spread in de­fence of his plans.

The only rea­son he did not is be­cause at­ten­tion was di­verted by the civil war be­ing fought by his cur­rent and for­mer boss.

And what of the rest of the SNP’s brief? On the econ­omy, Ms Stur­geon has de­cided to sting Scot­land’s mid­dle classes.

IN­DEED, last week we also learnt there will soon be a 50 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of work­ers pay­ing the top rate of tax, as more and more peo­ple are sucked into pay­ing. But while fam­i­lies pay more, they are get­ting less. In re­turn for pay­ing the high­est taxes in the UK, we are re­warded with a rail ser­vice that has be­come a na­tional joke and statu­tory NHS wait­ing time tar­gets that are missed as a mat­ter of rou­tine.

Put sim­ply, Ms Stur­geon’s Gov­ern­ment has now run out of steam.

She had hoped that by weapon­is­ing Brexit, she would per­suade Scots to re­turn to yet an­other ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence. She hoped this would be the story of her time in of­fice.

In­deed, this week it seemed she was set to have an­other go, as the Brexit de­bate comes to a head. But this plan has not worked.

It is clear most Scots do not want to dou­ble down on uncer­tainty by go­ing back to yet an­other in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

So now all Ms Stur­geon has is a do­mes­tic record that is be­com­ing a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment – and a very an­gry for­mer leader who ap­pears to want re­venge for the way he has been treated.

In­com­pe­tent where once it was pro­fes­sional, blind to its ar­ro­gance, riven by in­ter­nal party dis­putes and out of touch with most Scots, the SNP is sud­denly re­vealed as a creak­ing ship.

Ms Stur­geon has shown her­self, over two decades of pub­lic life, to be a for­mi­da­ble po­lit­i­cal cap­tain.

But, for the first time dur­ing her ten­ure as leader, there are real doubts over her abil­ity to keep the crew con­tent.

It is not only op­po­si­tion party lead­ers such as my­self say­ing this – so are her own back­benchers.

And all this at the very mo­ment Scot­land needs a fresh, pos­i­tive, con­fi­dent, for­ward-look­ing gov­ern­ment, one that is to­tally fo­cused on en­sur­ing that, out­side of the EU, we have a job-cre­at­ing, en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy, seek­ing and se­cur­ing ev­ery new op­por­tu­nity to en­sure our fu­ture suc­cess.

For 12 years the SNP has ruled over Scot­land supreme.

Last week might go down as the mo­ment when the ed­i­fice be­gan to crum­ble.

And the week when Scot­land be­gan to look else­where.

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