by Colin Campbell
THE Teflon coating is peeling off Queen Nicola, and before long there may be none of it left.
Yet another opinion poll has shown a drop in support for independence, the SNP, and Nicola Sturgeon personally.
This marks a clear downward trend. The latest poll for STV highlights a fall in independence backing from 58 to 56 and now to 52 per cent. And the inescapable fallout from the Salmond scandal isn’t factored in yet.
The heady days when SNP leaders could claim independence “is now the settled will of the Scottish people” and is as inevitable as the sun rising in the east are over.
The SNP will still be the largest party after the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. In Inverness, Fergus Ewing will be returned to continue his comfortable, cosy and lucrative 22-year career at Holyrood, while still somehow convincing his followers that he is eager to secure independence on their behalf.
But it feels like a turning point has been reached. And it began when Nicola Sturgeon brazenly announced at the height of the pandemic that she was prepared to hold an illegal referendum if necessary.
Support up till then for both the SNP and independence seemed to be riding fairly high, mainly because Sturgeon was – wrongly – perceived as having handled the coronavirus crisis better than the other countries in the UK. Having her own daily show on the BBC did her no harm either.
Even so, after an exhausting, draining year it defied belief that a majority of people were in favour of pitching straight into the turmoil and division of another referendum, and an illegal one at that, after the May elections.
“There will be a referendum in 2021”, bellowed Ross MP and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Was this odious, blustering oaf really the true voice of Scotland?
The UK Government has poured billions north of the border to support the furlough scheme. And throughout Sturgeon, Blackford, and novice finance minister Kate Forbes have done nothing but whinge and moan and incessantly demand “more, more, more”.
In December the UK became the first country in the world to secure the vaccine because of the foresight and spending power of the UK Government.
If they’d secured a cure for cancer Sturgeon and her acolytes would still have been scraping around for something to complain about. But not even these serial grievance-mongers could take the shine off the sense of optimism that spread across most of the land.
But events have moved on since then. Sturgeon now finds herself mired in a full-blown scandal with allegations from her mentor, Alex Salmond, that there was a conspiracy at the top of the SNP government to destroy his reputation and have him jailed for sex crimes. He was acquitted on all charges after trial.
The strain is etched on Salmond’s face. He looks 20 years older than he did when he was, until quite recently, hosting his own show on a Russian-backed TV station.
But at least he’s a free man. If the trial verdict had gone the other way he would now be locked up in Barlinnie for an indefinite period as the lowest of the low, slurping gruel for dinner and set up as a big, round target for attack by the most vicious thugs from Glasgow.
If Salmond is now hellbent on securing his own form of revenge, believing there was malicious intent against him, that is not altogether surprising.
The SNP as a result is split down the middle and internal feuding over hate crimes and the bizarrely dominant issue of transphobia threatens to shatter it into small pieces.
And as for Queen Nicola, she has moved from a position of being able to do no wrong to a place where it seems she can’t do anything right.
I watched her meandering and confusing “exit from lockdown” speech with a young, entirely non-political relative who was furious over her declaration that there would be a further 10-week delay even before some shops opened, and after which we’d be moved into “tiers”. It’s become clear since that her reaction mirrored that of many other people.
We are now required to keep tuning in at three week intervals to watch, with bated breath, Sturgeon announce what she has decided to “allow” and not to allow. She might have got away with that and retained public support if there was no vaccine. But with thousands more people getting the jab every day, this excessive caution makes no sense.
But is it caution based on science, or is she simply reluctant to relinquish the extraordinary, unprecedented power she has had for the past year over every single aspect of our lives?
It looks more like the latter. We’ve had a year of it. It would in itself be extraordinary if many people weren’t now getting sick of getting directives from “I want to be straight with you” Sturgeon.
A downward trend in the polls is just something else for her to worry about. Seething discontent among her more rabid followers who see their reckless quest for independence slipping away is another.
Sturgeon has never looked on shakier ground and could be heading for a very welcome and very heavy fall.