Tactician Not Strategist – Scotsman Article – 29 June 2021


I’ve an old friend who spent many years in international affairs at the highest levels, often trying to broker settlements on very testing issues and mingling with all sorts of leaders. So, when he spoke I listened, and I recall him describing Nicola Sturgeon as a tactician not a strategist.

By that he meant that she’s very able in setting a short-term agenda and reacting to immediate events. But longer term there was neither vision nor planning. There’s no doubting her political acumen in courting popularity and reacting to issues as they arise but her ability to formulate a longer-term position’s lacking. Coronavirus in some ways appears to be confirming that as her much lauded articulacy in explaining events, is supplanted by questions about just what has been or is being done.

But it was especially brought to mind by Denis Canavan’s recent comments on Indy campaigning and planning. Or rather the almost complete lack of it, causing the old stalwart and former Chair of the Yes Campaign to speak out. His comments were measured but resonated amongst many frustrated at the soundbite but no substance position taken by the SNP.

What motivated Denis was the support for Yes slipping in the polls. No surprise some might say given that other than rhetoric the Scottish Government has done nothing to promote it, and even that’s been muted. But frustration’s growing and as the end of lockdown nears it’s becoming clear that leadership of the Independence cause will have to come through extra parliamentary action and be led by other organisations. Standing outside Holyrood last week I confessed to another old stalwart that I never imagined when I campaigned for its establishment and even sat in it that I’d be saying that. But that’s where short term tactics and zero strategy gets you.

In 2017 Nicola Sturgeon marched the Yes Movement up the hill, only to march them all the way down again. Since then its never been mobilised at all, they’ve simply been expected to vote SNP and action would follow. But it hasn’t and it won’t for there’s no strategy just short-term positioning for elections.

In that Nicola Sturgeon has for certain been remarkably successful. Though she’s benefitted from an appalling opposition in Scotland and Governments in Westminster that Scots loathe. As Labour did for years, she’s swept up the vote as folk sought protection from and the need to register opposition to whoever, whether Heath through Thatcher to now Johnson.

But as Denis Canavan said on planning and preparation for Indy there’s been nothing. In Parliament London or Edinburgh, they’ve huffed and puffed but delivered zilch. The opportunity to extract concessions in Westminster when votes were tight was wasted and in Holyrood there’s been little done other than basic administration. There’s been little action and certainly no vision.

The cause though continues and maybe what’s needed’ s for Denis to pull together the organisations, as its them that are going to have to drive the cause forward.