Alex Massie

2016 will be another great year for ‘The most dangerous woman in Britain’

2016 will be another great year for 'The most dangerous woman in Britain'
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Yesterday a new Scottish opinion poll reported that 58 percent of voters intend to endorse SNP candidates when the choosing time comes for next year's Holyrood elections. By any reasonable measure this is excessive, even extravagant. But there we have it.

As it happens, I would be surprised if the SNP polled that well on election day itself but we live in a time of astonishment so even the previously impossible can no longer be reckoned entirely improbable.

And, besides, what is the alternative? Nicola Sturgeon's greatest strength is that no-one else - or at least no-one outside her own party - can be thought a plausible First Minister. Everyone knows she and the SNP will win in May, the question is simply the margin of victory that will sweep the most dangerous woman in Britain (as the dear old Daily Mail described her, much to Sturgeon's amusement) back to Bute House.

So this creates a problem for anyone who toils on McGrub Street. How do you find new things to say? How do you change the story? The news business demands novelty but that's hard quarrying when there's nothing new to be said. And there is nothing new to be said because some things are certain, static, and dependable.

More than one thing can be true at the same time. Thus it is entirely possible for the SNP's actual record in government to be less impressive than the party would have us believe and entirely rational for voters to ignore the reality of those disappointments and shortcomings. Again, in the absence of a compelling alternative the status quo begins to seem something with which you can live. That's one of the lessons of September 2014 too, you know.

Labour isn't that alternative and nor, albeit for different reasons, are the Conservatives. Indeed, I suspect that the current opinion polls flatter Labour. If, as is generally assumed, turnout in May is something in the 60-65 percent region (up from 50 percent last time out) it's easy to see how this could be the worst of all possible scenarios for Labour. The Nats, after all, will be more keenly motivated to vote and so, perhaps, will the Tories. Labour's vote, sunk in depression, may just stay at home. What's the point of going out when you know you're cruising for a kicking?

The other point to be born in mind is that people are creatures of habit and voting patterns, once established, are hard to kick. By contrast, however, once those patterns begin to erode they crumble with frightening quickness. This is the position in which Labour finds itself.

In any case, it still stands to reason that if you voted Yes in September 2014 you are likely to vote for the SNP (and perhaps, on the list vote, for the Greens) in 2016. In that sense, the baseline level of support for the SNP is somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of the vote.

It bears remembering that if the SNP's support in the polls slipped to, say, 44 percent everyone would - blessed by this sweet novelty - rush to argue that the party is in trouble but that taking 44 percent would still be enough to win a thumping victory. As disappointments go, 44 percent would be peachy. A mild disappointment, given current polls, but hardly a disaster.

And, of course, Nicola Sturgeon has gone out of her way to argue that you don't need to believe in independence to back the SNP at a Holyrood election. So much so, in fact, that another referendum might amount to a breach of promise.

Some voters will be happy to go along with this even if, unsurprisingly, Unionist politicians grumble that these punters are Nicola's useful twits. But in the absence of a credible alternative government-in-waiting it's not so very surprising that some voters, though wary of independence, recognise that, if nothing else, Sturgeon looks like the kind of person capable of giving a decent account of herself as First Minister.

Those impressions matters. Why else do you think David Cameron was returned to Downing Street this year? And experience tells us that if a politician looks like they belong in office voters will forgive them any number of failures. Cameron and George Osborne, after all, have missed almost every economic target they set themselves and, guess what, they're still in power. Indeed, when it comes to deficit reduction Osborne has, by and large, ended up following the path suggested or forecast by Alistair Darling back in 2010. That, the Tories warned then, would lead to disaster. Now it's just common sense. Because the right people are in charge.

In like fashion, SNP voters can argue that even if the party's record on education, health, and policing isn't quite as good as it might be the right people are in charge and that allows for a greater possibility these matters might be addressed than would be the case if the wrong folk were in office.

And, of course, there is always a convenient escape clause: everything would be different if we were independent. That's the magic bullet, you see. (Everything would be different, though not necessarily better.) After independence, we'll be dealt kings and aces; at the moment the Scottish government must play sevens and eights as best it can. Give them some credit for that; give them a break too.

If you view these matters dispassionately it might all seem a nonsense. But voters are human, not calculating machines, and sometimes irrationalism can be perfectly rational.

Besides, standing up for Scotland is the kind of promise voters want to hear in these identity-driven times and the SNP is better-placed than any of its rivals to make an intuitively plausible case on those grounds. Sucks to be their opponents, but there it is.

Some things can be true but that doesn't mean those things must matter. The SNP's record is neither as good as its partisans claim nor quite as bad as some of its critics aver. It doesn't matter very much because it doesn't need to matter. Voters can understand that.

This has been Nicola Sturgeon's year. 2016 doesn't look like being very much worse for the most dangerous woman in Britain.

Happy Christmas.