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Sturgeon has outsmarted BoJo and she knows it – and openly admits Covid-19 has been good for Scotland's independence campaign

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Sturgeon has outsmarted BoJo and she knows it – and openly admits Covid-19 has been good for Scotland's independence campaign
Nicola Sturgeon has impressed her domestic audience, appalled by Westminster’s missteps during the pandemic. Her acknowledgement that this has been a positive for the indy referendum confirms the motivation for her strategy.

The pandemic has not been kind to many, but one winner has been Scotland’s first minister, who has won a not-too-unexpected boost for her ambition of an independent Scotland; denied at the last attempt but now gaining ground like never before.

Some recent polls have support for Scottish independence at 54 percent, with even conservative estimates putting that at 53 percent. Not that the figures themselves are so surprising, but the impressive feat is that they are being sustained over time.

It’s not about Brexit. It’s not in the middle of an election campaign with fierce debate on both sides. It’s the belief taking root on a larger scale than ever that Scotland would be better as a separate nation, largely formed by Sturgeon’s performance throughout this crisis.

As the first minister herself acknowledged at the weekend, the opportunity to demonstrate leadership has served her well. She said: “The Yes movement possibly has something to learn about the fact that – as we have stopped shouting about independence, and shouting to ourselves about how we go about getting independence, and just focused on [dealing with the crisis] – it has allowed people to take a step back and say: ‘Well, actually that’s the benefit of autonomous decision-making’ and also ‘perhaps things would be better if we had a bit more autonomous decision-making,’ and to come to their own conclusions.”

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How has this happened? Boris Johnson announced the coronavirus lockdown on March 23, and although Scotland obediently followed suit, it wasn’t long before Nicola Sturgeon broke ranks with the PM and decided to handle the pandemic crisis in her own way. 

For it was on May 5 that Sturgeon announced she would be detailing her own “route map” for exiting lockdown, five full days before the PM was to announce his “road map” for the very same purpose. 

Road map, route map. To-may-toes, to-mah-toes.

Never mind that the route map didn’t appear for another fortnight, because when it did, Sturgeon’s 27-page document contained draconian restrictions on the basis that the Scottish coronavirus experience was not the same as England’s. Importantly, the overall message remained “Stay at home.”

It was at that point, that stubborn digging in, that it became clear the first minister had identified an opportunity to both distance herself from Westminster and simultaneously position herself as the only leader who could steer Scotland through the crisis.

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It wasn’t an entirely risk-free move. If Sturgeon miscalculated and Covid-19 took a firm hold and decimated the vulnerable and the elderly to a greater extent than her southern neighbor, then there could be the argument that safety in the numbers afforded by a united approach across all of Great Britain may have been a wiser decision, avoiding unnecessary deaths.

That is not what happened. 

Sturgeon cleverly allowed BoJo to take the lead and then would tweak things just enough to differ from the messages coming out of Downing Street, so it appeared she was following a different course altogether; a more deliberate, bespoke Scottish course.

Despite imposing its lockdown on March 23, the same day as England did, Scotland lifted the restrictions more selectively, keeping pubs closed a few days longer, requiring people to wear face masks in shops, and leaving Spain off a list of popular holiday destinations to which Scots could travel without isolating themselves upon return.

Meanwhile, Westminster has faffed about over air bridges, ever-changing lists of countries English people could visit, and made yet another embarrassing U-turn over a totally unenforceable quarantine for arrivals into English airports.

BoJo and pals looked like they’d lost the plot. They certainly lost the confidence of the public. But Sturgeon’s careful navigation paid off. 

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On the back of her wiles, and for the first time, the Scottish independence movement has built a sustained majority lead.

The first minister’s no-nonsense approach, accompanied by the firm rebuffs to Westminster, a ‘thanks-but-no-thanks, we have our own way of doing things,’ has worked. Sturgeon has used an elegant, nuanced approach in dealing with the pandemic and is poised to reap the dividends.

Sturgeon’s press conferences became a daily ritual that have impressed her audience. While they have been reduced to three times a week until the end of the month, they will return to five days a week in August. All this must-watch television featuring the well-groomed and businesslike first minister front and center.

It’s the best media any politician could wish for. Outside election time and in the grip of a public health emergency, there is no moaning about balance or the need for an alternative view. She has had the whole stage to herself and made sure she has been the one seen to be calling the shots.

So what next? In six months, we may finally have seen off Covid-19 and Brexit, for better or worse, will be complete, the arguments still simmering about what we did or didn’t agree to with our former EU partners.

It’s hard to imagine a better time for Nicola Sturgeon to head a resurgent independence movement.

New year. New Scotland.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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