Nicola Sturgeon is still haunting Scotland

The former first minister’s scandals and failures are all coming home to roost.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams

Topics Politics UK

All eyes have been on Rishi Sunak this week, first as the UK prime minister appeared before the Covid inquiry and now as he struggles to get his immigration bill through parliament. But there’s another British politician who has had just as bad a week and yet somehow manages to evade scrutiny. Nicola Sturgeon, former first minister of Scotland and ex-leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), should also be making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The never-ending police investigation into the gaping hole in the SNP’s finances is now reported to be focussing on a luxury car, allegedly purchased by Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and the SNP’s former chief executive. The £95,000 electric Jaguar is believed to have been bought in October 2019 – right at the end of a two-year fundraising campaign in which the party raised £666,953. But at the end of 2019, the SNP’s accounts had under £97,000 in the bank and total net assets of about £272,000 to show for it. A car that looked like the Jaguar I-Pace SUV bought by Murrell was photographed outside the couple’s home in March 2021. The then SNP chief exec was later spotted at the Glasgow branch of We Buy Any Car, apparently trying to sell the high-spec motor.

The jag is not the only luxury vehicle that’s landed the Sturgeon / Murrell household in trouble. There is also the infamous luxury campervan. This £110,000 Niesmann+Bischoff motorhome was seized by police in April this year. It had been parked up outside Sturgeon’s mother-in-law’s house for two years and had never been insured. The police investigation into the missing SNP donations, Operation Branchform, is also looking at hundreds of Amazon purchases including top-of-the-range cookware and pens. (Sturgeon and Murrel deny all wrongdoing.)

The police probe over the missing donations isn’t the only financial scandal to have rocked the SNP. Back in the summer, it emerged that the Scottish government had spent almost £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on ‘VIP upgrades’ when the then first minister flew to London or on trips abroad. The money was spent with a company that promises to treat travellers ‘like royalty’ as they are escorted from their car to their flight. The largest individual spend was £1,605 on a ‘meet and greet’ at Dublin airport in October 2021, as Sturgeon flew on from there to Reykjavik to deliver a keynote speech on climate change. In between her travels, Sturgeon seems to have found time to compile a book of her collected speeches – multiple copies of which were purchased on government credit cards.

Serious though they are, these alleged financial scandals pale into insignificance when set against the devastating impact SNP policies have had on the lives of people in Scotland. Back in 2016, Sturgeon promised to make education her ‘number one priority’. She went on to pledge £750million to eliminate the attainment gap – the difference between the academic performance of children from poorer families and their better-off peers – within a decade.

Yet this past week has brought further proof that the SNP’s educational reforms have been catastrophic. Although Scotland was once well regarded the world over for its educational standards, the latest PISA results show Scottish schools plummeting in international league tables. Scottish children are now almost one whole year behind their English peers when it comes to attainment, with pupils from the poorest homes showing the biggest decline in performance on previous years. This is despite Scottish schools being better funded than those south of the border.

The blame for Scotland’s educational slide has been placed squarely on the Curriculum for Excellence reforms, introduced by the SNP in 2010-11 and later championed by Nicola Sturgeon after she became first minister. This new approach to schooling aimed to place ‘learners at the heart of education’. Essentially, this meant substituting the rigorous teaching of academic subject knowledge for a vague focus on skills, issues and ‘capacities’. According to Scottish education expert Lindsay Paterson, this has often meant neglecting ‘knowledge of the kind that students can obtain only from expert teachers’. Instead, as the Scottish Union for Education has revealed, Scottish schools teach highly politicised lessons that too readily confuse education with indoctrination in critical race theory and gender ideology. So wedded to these reforms were the SNP under Sturgeon that, even when evidence of declining standards began amassing, a spokesperson argued that the curriculum ‘is successfully meeting the needs of young people’.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, last week we witnessed yet another blow to Sturgeon’s legacy. This time last year, in one of her final moves as first minister, she introduced legislation making it easier for people in Scotland to change their legally recognised sex. If passed, men could expect to be treated as women and gain access to female-only spaces, such as changing rooms and prisons, simply by an act of self-declaration. It would have also allowed children to begin the process of legally changing gender before they turned 16. Even the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls warned that this self-ID law would have dangerous consequences, but this did not stop Sturgeon championing the reform. Thankfully, the UK government vetoed the new law in January this year. The Scottish government duly appealed but its case was rejected last week by the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Yet, despite repeated failure, the former first minister is spared the outrage routinely unleashed against Westminster politicians such as Suella Braverman. The double standards are everywhere. Whereas Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are taken to task for not being able to find their WhatsApp messages from the pandemic, the fact that Sturgeon’s messages from the same period were all manually deleted passes with barely a raised eyebrow. In part, this is down to Scotland’s strict contempt-of-court laws, which chill discussion of police investigations like Operation Branchform. But Sturgeon seems to have got a free pass for all her other failures, too – especially from England’s woke elite, which tends to reflexively praise the SNP, usually as a means to bash Brexit or the Tories.

Eleven months on from her resignation as first minister, it is now all too clear that Sturgeon’s reign was a catastrophe.

Joanna Williams is a spiked columnist and author of How Woke Won, which you can order here.

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