Sturgeon’s arrest should be beginning of the end for the SNP and independence

Nicola Sturgeon refuses to answer questions related to live police investigation

With the attention of Westminster and much of the London based media on the unfolding Tory psychodrama with Boris Johnson last week, two very significant developments in Scotland passed by with very little comment from south of the Border.

Both of them initiated by SNP First Minister Humza Yousaf – or Humza “useless” to his increasing number of critics inside and outside the SNP – suggested that the Scottish Nationalists had hit the panic button.

With the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon yesterday it is obvious now why they felt the need to have an overhaul.

The first thing was the appointment of Alex Salmond’s former righthand man Kevin Pringle to run communications for the First Minister in a special adviser role.

The second was to ditch the utterly disastrous bottle deposit return scheme which was extremely unpopular and threatened to wreck Scotland’s world-leading drinks industry.

Neither of these moves is enough to save the SNP from what is coming, but both show that their opponents, particularly in the Labour Party, should not be complacent.

The appointment of Pringle though was particularly interesting.

As a former Holyrood and Westminster correspondent for The Scotsman over almost eight years, I got to know Pringle very well.

He remains the best communications special adviser I have ever dealt with – Alastair Campbell in his pomp was an amateur compared to Pringle, although they have very different styles.

Pringle never lies, knows how to kill a story, is never angry, is always level-headed and gets the message over better than anyone.

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He was a big part of why the SNP won in 2007 and came close to winning the independence referendum in 2014.

But in 2015 when Sturgeon took over she wanted Salmond’s people out and so he left.

At the time I wrote: “The SNP are on a high at the moment and they may not miss Pringle immediately, but when times get tough, they might be begging him to return.”

That time has clearly come. But for the SNP it is not enough.

Anybody who watched Yousaf’s clumsy performance on Laura Kuenssberg’s show yesterday morning will see that even the best communications manager can’t perform miracles.

Nor is the process of starting to undo Sturgeon’s toxic policy legacy as they have in dropping the Deposit Return Scheme, a ridiculous idea spawned by the SNP’s Scottish Green partners.

Unfortunately, for many in the SNP Yousaf still clings on to Sturgeon’s “progressive alliance” of the left with the Greens.

Yousaf – who was essentially Sturgeon’s choice of successor – is also pushing the transgender bill which the UK vetoed and would allow male rapists self-identifying as women to go to women-only prisons, perhaps one where Sturgeon herself could end up if she is found guilty.

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But in the end, none of this tinkering or changing of personnel can help.

The allegations against senior SNP figures including Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell have drawn likenesses to the TV series “Breaking Bad” with the camper van and disappearing money.

The gallows humour, though, disguises a real problem.

If – and at the moment nothing is proven and people are innocent until found guilty in a court of law – but if it turns out money from ordinary Scots was used in some sort of Ponzi scheme pertaining to be about independence but actually lining the pockets of senior SNP figures then the trust will be broken.

It will say a lot about how the party which wants to govern an independent Scotland could abuse its new powers without the fail-safe of a British government.

True the fanatics will never give up but those in the middle will be much less inclined to support independence or the SNP.

Some SNP MPs privately point to the fact that they are still ahead of Labour in the polls.

However, that was before the police knocked on Sturgeon’s door and arrested her.

It remains before allegations are proven or otherwise.

But as this goes on support will melt away from the SNP and mostly go to Labour – although some will return to the Conservatives and some the Lib Dems.

It seems that Salmond’s Alba Party is incapable of gaining at the SNP’s expense.

Without the SNP as the driving force for independence, the project will be dead until new leadership can be found and the saga is distant history.

The one point where the pro-UK parties should not be complacent is that some in the SNP think they could have a fresh start with former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who narrowly lost to Yousaf after Sturgeon’s departure.

For now, things look bleak for the Scottish Nationalists.

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