Marina and Hyde are the only two reasons I still bother with the Guardian. When it comes to skewering the buffoons who are ruining this country, she is incomparable. But even marvellous Marina suffers from metropolitan myopia, alas. Hence only semi-delight when I read her most recent column headlined ‘A dangerous cult now runs Britain – the worshippers at the Temple of Johnson’. Cult singular? What about the Temple of Sturgeon? Hasn’t she heard about the dark and sinister sect that has brainwashed half the population north of the Border? Clearly not. Yet, if you just substitute the word ‘first’ for ‘prime’ and ‘her’ for ‘his’ in the ensuing standfirst, you have a perfect summation of the state of our nation: ‘No matter what the prime minister does, no matter the consequences, his devotees line up to heatedly excuse it.’
If I was vulgar like that goblin George Galloway, I might describe Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon as he once described Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – “two cheeks of the same arse” – but Jaggy would never stoop to such juvenile abuse. Besides, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. Just give the voters a vaccine before they go to the polling stations and re-election is guaranteed. Nothing else done in Downing Street or St Andrews House mattered a jot at the May 6 elections. These sham contests only went ahead so the Scottish and English electorates could express their gratitude to their governments simply for still breathing.
It’s no longer sufficient to talk of the Teflon FM. What we have here is the sort of non-stick frying pan even NASA couldn’t invent. I actually felt sorry for Anas Sarwar the other day when he tried to hold the SNP chieftains to account for what he called the “worst scandal since devolution” – two children dead and more than 80 others infected because of the water supply at Glasgow’s flagship hospital. Save your breath, pal, I thought. Nicola could order a Herod-style slaughter of the innocents, the length and breadth of Scotland, and her supporters would just say it was so nice of the Scottish Government to send the grieving parents a free baby box. Even as these were converted from cots to coffins, the FM would remain the Mammy of the Nation.
Ms Sturgeon did, of course, preside over a slaughter of old folk in Scotland’s care homes during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, just as the PM did south of the Border. Yet she had the brass neck at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday to state the following:
Sometimes, I’m afraid, in the interests of health and human life, it is necessary for people in leadership positions like me to take very quick decisions because, as we know from bitter experience over this pandemic, it is often the failure to take very firm and quick decisions that leads to loss of life. Anybody who was in any doubt about that only needed to listen to a fraction of what Dominic Cummings outlined about what he described as the chaotic response of the UK government at key moments in this pandemic.
No mention of the fraction where the FM’s new best friend Dom described her repeatedly sabotaging Cobra meetings during the Coronavirus crisis by “babbling” about these high-level discussions at media briefings. Those babbles included – although Mr Cummings wasn’t clued up enough to mention it – the Covid press conference used by the First Minister of Scotland to effectively question the jury’s decision in the Alex Salmond trial. Not only the victim of her vindictiveness “looked on in astonishment” at that, yet Nicola’s acolytes heatedly excused it.
The reality is that, throughout this unprecedented public health emergency, Boris and Nicola have adopted exactly the same approach, constantly scanning the opinion polls before deciding what to do about the death tolls. All she ever did was wait a few days before hanging a kilt on whatever new measures he announced. And it’s always she personally who applies a bit of plaid to these identical policies, of course, dominating almost every public briefing in order to hog the headlines. At times I seriously feared the health secretary Jean Freeman might have perished from the virus but no one in St Andrew’s House had even noticed her absence.
Note how even I slip into saying Nicola. This is something the first minister and the prime minister both benefit from – even many of their fiercest critics refer to them, almost affectionately, by their first name. Not many political leaders achieve that level of chumminess with their opponents and electors.
There are a few other things they have in common, starting with spouses who have more say in the governance of the nation than would be found in any healthy democracy. In fairness to Boris – not a phrase you’ll read often in this blog – Carrie Symonds is no longer director of communications (or anything else) at Conservative Central Office. Nicola’s alleged husband has remained chief executive of the SNP throughout her 14 years as deputy FM then FM. While Carrie is just selecting designer wallpaper for their dingy Downing Street flat, Peter is probably trying to work out how the Murrells might bury their political enemies beneath the floorboards in Bute House. Or maybe that’s where he stashed the £600,000 supposedly ring-fenced for fighting indyref2? Dangerous cults do tend to take advantage of their followers in every way possible.
Both the PM and the FM surround themselves with credulous sycophants, especially when making Cabinet appointments. That is why anything that can possibly go wrong gets monumentally screwed up their administrations. I have only three words to say about the recent Scottish ministerial reshuffle and one of them is hyphenated: Shirley-Anne Somerville. Why?
The reality is that Johnson and Sturgeon are a pair of political fraudsters. Pace Samuel Johnson, patriotism isn’t the last but the first refuge of these scoundrels. Phoney patriotism, of course. Just as Boris prepared two alternative columns for the Telegraph on Brexit – one pro-leave and one pro-remain – I’m sure Nicola is endlessly swithering between pressing or not pressing for indyref2, depending completely upon what she perceives to be in her own personal interest at any point in time.
There are two big differences between Johnson and Sturgeon. Firstly, as Marina Hyde observed in her Guardian column (when she compared the current PM with Jeremy Corbyn), “Johnson is the much more classic cult leader. His decisions have led to the deaths of large numbers of people, and he’s got a lot of women pregnant.” No one could ever accuse Ms Sturgeon of such a sin. Also, in fairness, she probably does believe in social justice a little more genuinely than he does. But only a tad. Her government was quick to devolve social security powers back from Holyrood to Westminster when she feared the minster charged with implementing the changes might screw it up and hence damage her party’s popularity. The minister in question? You guessed it, Shirley-Anne Somerville.
But who cares about poor people not having their plight alleviated? Certainly, no one in the Scottish mainstream media, it seems, which brings me to probably the biggest difference between the FM and the PM: Nicola is constantly given a far easier ride than Boris ever gets. Never has the FM had to face the sort of contemptuous question Eddie Mair famously put to the PM: “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”
It’s only in the blogosphere you’ll ever find anyone spotlighting Nicola’s nastiness. Consequently, the Crown Office – led by chief state prosecutor/loyal Cabinet member James Wolffe QC – has been doing everything in its power to silence Scotland’s dissident bloggers, short of the Belarusian state terror tactic of hijacking planes and diverting them to Prestwick. So that’s why my favourite metropolitan columnist thinks there is only one dangerous cult running Britain. Obviously reliant upon the Scottish press (now financially subsidised by the SNP Government) for her knowledge of Scottish politics, even marvellous Marina has never heard about the House of Sturgeon.