by Colin Campbell
IT might not have resulted in under-fire Nicola Sturgeon and her equally beleaguered husband Peter Murrell doing an exultant jig around their living room, but an SNP win in a Highland Council election would still have crossed their radar and been noted with satisfaction.
Any glimmer of good news must be welcome in the household of the First Minister and SNP chief executive Murrell these days.
But it seems nothing’s going right for them just now. When the result was announced yesterday, the SNP candidate in the Aird and Loch Ness by-election had ended up losing by just three votes.
That was the closest margin in a council election for quite some time.
And the embattled SNP were on the wrong end of it.
However, despite the closeness of the result, in elections only winners matter and losers are nowhere.
Independent candidate David Fraser won with 997 votes, beating Gordon Shanks of the SNP on 994.
Conservatives candidate Gavin Berkenheger gained 824 votes, followed by Martin Robertson of the Lib Dems (300), the Greens Ryan MacKintosh (272), and Labour’s Bill Moore (133).
Despite a creditable performance from their candidate, the SNP share of the vote was only 28 per cent.
It’s unwise to draw broad conclusions from a council election, even one where there was a relatively high turnout.
Even so, support for the SNP failed to set the heather on fire around Aird and Loch Ness.
A win of any kind anywhere would have been some kind of boost for Sturgeon and the SNP in these troubled times.
Their support in opinion polls is tumbling and the words most readily and frequently attached to them are cover-up, infighting, arrogance, triumphalism, lying and sleaze.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to add to Sturgeon’s problems on Sunday when he’ll tell the Tory Party conference in Scotland that he will veto another independence referendum regardless of the outcome of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May. The 2014 vote was “a once in a generation event” and that’s how it must remain.
The PM wants to make his stance crystal clear before the May elections rather than be seen to be responding to the outcome after they’ve taken their place.
Irate nationalists were still desperately insisting on social media yesterday that “the buffoon” will have to change his mind.
And it’s notable that two words which have now disappeared entirely from SNP dialogue are “untenable” and “unsustainable”.
How many times have Ian Blackford, Drew Hendry, Mike Russell, Mhairi Black, Angus Robertson and Sturgeon herself declared ad nauseam that Johnson’s opposition to another referendum would be “untenable” and “unsustainable”.
Their bogus claims to that effect have now dried up, in the same way that another assertion, namely that independence is now “the settled will of the Scottish people” has disappeared also.
They’ve given up on these mantras, partly because some among their own discontented followers have finally recognised these claims are patronising nonsense which do nothing to further the campaign for independence, and have signalled it’s time to face reality and accept that Johnson can and will veto another legal referendum for as long as he likes.
Nicola Sturgeon’s main challenge should still be the virus and the vaccine. But growing concern over falling support for the SNP amid vicious infighting and damaging sleaze allegations at both Holyrood and Westminster must loom large in her thoughts as well.
She might have had one ray of sunshine shafting down from Loch Ness to at least partly brighten up her weekend. But rays of sunshine for the SNP, as with sightings of that monster from the deep, are proving very elusive these days.