At first, when I spotted it in the Perth branch of Waterstones, I thought it was a spoof. Selected speeches by Nicola Sturgeon? They’d need to be highly selective, I thought, as I struggled to recall a single soundbite or flash of oratory from her that was stirring, mind-stretching or in any way memorable. The Govanhill Address? I Have a Dream (of a fancy, globe-trolling role with the UN)? We Shall Fight Them in the Court of Session, the High Court and any Holyrood committee I can pack with a band of stooges? Naw, none of those among the list of contents, alas.
Instead, what leapt out were ‘60,000 Excited Little Minds’, presumably a speech about the SNP’s much depleted membership (which stood at double that figure shortly after she became party leader). Another one that caught my eye was ‘Historical Sexual Offences, An Apology’. A tortured soul seeking forgiveness for the cruel ordeal her longtime idol and mentor had (and still has) to endure – despite a (largely female) jury finding him not guilty of any criminality? Nope, no mention of Salmondgate.
Oh, almost forgot ‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’, the title of some suitably self-censored pap the FM delivered on a jaunt to Beijing. I should have remembered that as it is also the title of the book (Selected Speeches being merely the subtitle). Nicola nicked that line from Chairman Mao, who probably replaced Eck as her idol when she metamorphosed into a mini tyrant herself.
Someone who is a very big fan of the FM’s speeches is the Fife-born crime writer Val McDermid. In fact, fandom doesn’t begin to describe her level of cultish devotion to The One she evidently regards as Dreghorn’s version of the Dalai Lama. Taking a wee break from churning out her latest blood splattered page-turner, Ms McDermid penned a short foreword to the aforementioned book, drooling:
In these pages, we see Nicola Sturgeon’s passions laid bare. There’s no empty sloganeering here. Instead, we see a programme for government that’s underpinned by her aspiration for a fairer, healthier, happier nation. Of course, at the heart of it is her absolute conviction that the best route to achieving that is via independence.
Seriously, that is an authentic excerpt. But let me stress (just in case anybody out there is getting a bit too excited) the reference to “passions laid bare” doesn’t signal Fifty Shades of First Ministerial Grey. Mercifully. My favourite chunk of Ms McDermid’s encomium is this:
I’ve been fortunate to spend enough time in the company of Nicola Sturgeon to know that what we see is what we get. I’ve never seen the slightest sign of some ‘secret Sturgeon’ sneering behind her hand at the people she governs or engaging in Machiavellian intrigues for her own benefit. The woman who emerges in private is the woman we see through the lens of these speeches. Except that in private, she’s funnier than the political speech allows.
No matter how many sides she splits in St. Andrew’s House, the FM is nowhere near as funny as Val McDermid. If the paperback writer donned her Doc Martens and delivered the above lines at the Glasgow Pavilion (or, better still, the inaugural Alba party conference), she would be instantly vying with Susan Calman and Jane Godley for the status of Scotland’s favourite comedienne. Her reference to Machiavelli certainly had me rolling in the aisles.
The man whose surname has become a byword for cold-blooded power games couldn’t have been on the school curriculum in 1960s Kirkcaldy. Nor can I imagine wee Val encountering him when she was the first student from a Scottish state school background to read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Sadly, I wasn’t so fortunate: Niccolo Machiavelli’s most famous treatise The Prince was something I had to get my innocent, young mind around in the first year of my Politics degree at Glasgow University. I’m no expert on his writings but let me tell you this: the First Minister, to invoke one of the her favourite rhetorical rejoinders, doesn’t need to take any lectures from any 16th century Florentine philosopher on how to engage in political intrigues.
Scotland’s second best crime writer might not be able to detect anything Machiavellian in how her idol operates but others among us assuredly can. In fact, I think Nicola should take a leaf out of old Niccolo’s book and pen her own philosophical manual on the art of political survival and self-aggrandisement. The perfect title would be The Princess. To maximise sales of this short volume in her native land, I suggest our glorious leader selects choice quotations from old Niccolo and offers up her own personal interpretations of these in a mix of the mither tongue and Glasgow patter. Here are a few examples of how this could be done:
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
See if somebody’s growling at you like a dancing bear on a Russian TV channel, sort him oot the Putin way. Dinnae jist try tae pit him in a cage.
The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.
The glaikit are aye taken in by the sleekit, and they dinnae come ony mair glaikit these days than the average delegate at an SNP pairty conference.
How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.
The mither o’ the nation shouldnae really be bidin wi’ the clan chieftain but, if ye dinnae dae that, you could be a goner sooner.
Benefits should be conferred gradually; and in that way they will taste better.
Even if hauf the population are queuing at fid banks, dinnae rush tae relieve their plight; they’ll be mair grateful if you pit aff introducing welfare changes within your pow’r tae deliver.
He who becomes a Prince through the favour of the people should always keep on good terms with them; which it is easy for him to do, since all they ask is not to be oppressed.
Jist keep chantin’ ‘We arra peepul’, safe in the knowledge that the peepul are the sheeple and the Scottish press are mair like sheepdugs than watchdugs.
Alright, that’s enough deep philosophical meditations in the vernacular for one day. Rest assured there are many more pearls of Machiavellian wisdom suitable for practical application in the cesspit of Scottish politics. Should the FM ever free herself up sufficiently from Holyrood intrigues to reflect upon these, I stand poised to pen a wee foreword.