Henry Hill

The shine has finally come off the SNP

This week is still going to be a bad one for Nicola Sturgeon. But it seems probable that we won’t know just how bad until May, after the Hamilton inquiry today found that she did not break the ministerial code.

By aggressively stonewalling two inquiries, the First Minister has managed to forestall calls for her resignation by casting herself on the mercy of the electorate, which still looks set to return the Scottish National Party in the May elections.

Attention has mostly concentrated on how Sturgeon and her ministers have obstructed the Holyrood inquiry. But as pro-Union legal blogger Ian Smart has set out, there were huge and unnecessary delays to James Hamilton QC’s inquiry into a potential breach of the Ministerial Code too.

What incentive does Sturgeon have to slog through years of factional strife, sex scandals and declining education outcomes?

The First Minister had recently become much more enthusiastic about Hamilton’s report, with some commentators wondering if her sudden change of heart suggested she might have known what Hamilton was going to say today. Regardless, his conclusions will take some of the pressure off Sturgeon. It will have created enough political cover for the Scottish Greens to stay loyal, which will doom the vote of no confidence planned by the Conservatives. The SNP leader will survive to lead her party into the next election and, almost certainly, out of it and into a fourth term in office.

That will be a remarkable political achievement, even if it also raises questions about the effectiveness of the checks and balances built into the current devolution settlement.

But it will nonetheless be true that Sturgeon will not return to Bute House as the old ‘Angel of the North’. After months in which it seemed as if no volume of bad press could touch the party, the shine has finally come off the Nationalists.

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