Sturgeon’s successor will face reduced support for the SNP

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Good morning. Good morning. With Stephen still away, the latest edition of Inside Politics comes from Scotland where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was hoping to put recent troubles behind her and once again defy predictions of her imminent political demise.

This newsletter was written before Sturgeon’s resignation, which has just been announced. Follow our live updates here.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and send gossip, thoughts and comments to

Mixed messages

During my time as Scotland correspondent, a consistent theme I have picked up from Nicola Sturgeon’s critics is the contempt they have for her communication skills.

They may not have rated her highly in the day-to-day work of Scotland management, but they also don’t dispute that she was a champion of Scotland, if not of the UK. A Labor supporter once told me that Sturgeon’s personality and charisma were so central to the SNP’s overall appeal that Labor was just biding its time and hoping the independence push and the SNP’s popularity would wane afterwards her recently announced retirement from politics.

That’s why it was such a surprise to many to see her struggle to answer a seemingly simple question about whether a convicted double rapist, who converted after committing the crimes, was male or female. But how has Sturgeon managed the day-to-day duties of the Scottish administration?

The health service, one of Britain’s most famous institutions, is a good place to start. But judging the performance of the NHS across countries in the UK is difficult. Each region has a set of metrics and targets to measure the performance of its health services that are not exactly comparable, so administrations can choose the ones that make them look good.

A poll by Lord Ashcroft, the former Tory party treasurer, was the latest to show that the health service, rather than independence, is seen by Scottish voters as the most important issue. This is in line with the findings of other polling firms, including the Edinburgh-based Diffley Partnership, which runs a regular Understanding Scotland survey with think-tank the David Hume Institute.

But negative perceptions of the SNP’s priorities in government still haven’t (yet) translated into a loss of support during the election, much to the dismay of its rivals, including Sandesh Gulhane. I interviewed the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow health secretary for our deep dive into the state of Scotland’s health service. While the GP may be politically biased, his criticism of the SNP’s running of the health service is not out of touch with public opinion.

A recent Ipsos survey found that around one in five SNP supporters did not trust the party to manage the NHS effectively. By contrast, earlier in the winter, when the crisis over patient waiting times dominated the headlines, the pollster found in a separate survey that 51 per cent of respondents would vote for the SNP in favor of independence in a UK general election. There may have been a decline since then, but the SNP remains the most popular party in Scotland and the only question is whether it will get the 50 per cent share of the general election vote it wants to use as a mandate for independence.

Labor Scotland

Labour, riding high south of the border, will be hoping to take center stage in Scotland this week with Keir Starmer to address the Scottish Labor conference in Edinburgh this weekend.

Improving Labour’s record in Scotland, where it has been reduced to just one MP, appears to be less urgent given its success elsewhere in the UK. Scottish Labor voted alongside the SNP on legislation to reform Scottish transgender rights, so they are unlikely to benefit from Sturgeon’s plight over the controversy.

It was the Conservative Party that appeared to have a slight lift in spirits despite the electoral annihilation it is widely expected to suffer in Scotland. Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labor leader, will be hoping for an injection of momentum this weekend.

Now try this

During the various periods of quarantine, Tom Kitchen, one of Scotland’s most recognizable chefs, was often seen in my neighborhood in the south of Edinburgh. He was there overseeing work on his newest venture, Kora. My birthday coming up later this month is a good excuse to give it a try. Don’t let the pictures in the Michelin Guide fool you, I’m told the brasserie also has a delicious children’s menu.

After reading this column by Jemima Kelly in December, I decided to be disciplined and force myself to read more. The sturgeon too happened to share her favorite books of the year at about the same time. I spotted Glory from Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo on the list, which I am currently reading. History is full of stories about revolutions being betrayed and this story inspired by George Orwell is especially moving to read as a South African. Her debut novel, We need new namesis one of my favorites.

Top stories today

  • The price goes up easily | UK inflation slowed more than expected to a five-month low in January, adding to growing evidence that price pressures have peaked.

  • Labor suppression of anti-Semitism “satisfies” the watchman | Labor has successfully introduced reforms to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, according to the equalities and human rights committee, marking what leader Keir Starmer called “an important moment” in the organisation’s history.

  • Agreement to end strikes? | After weeks of deadlock, Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are considering giving workers a lump sum by backdating next year’s pay rise, which will take effect from April, possibly as early as January 2023, according to officials briefed for the discussions.

  • ‘Very close’ | Rishi Sunak is set to meet EU leaders in Bavaria this week in a final push for a Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, amid warnings of a revolt by Tory MPs if they see the UK prime minister as ceding too much ground to Brussels.

  • Dimbleby: Sharp must ‘fall on his own sword’ | Pressure is mounting on Richard Sharpe to step down as chairman of the BBC after some of the UK’s biggest media outlets warned that conflict-of-interest claims against the former Goldman Sachs banker had made his position untenable.

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