In 1990 society was fully informed about sexism, racism and bullying. It is not that we didn’t know, we simply had different levels of tolerance.
In that setting, the young Nicola Sturgeon was adopted as Alex Salmond’s sidekick. Everyone knew the SNP leader to be a difficult man, of short temper and abrasive argument. It would have been unthinkable for a 20-year-old woman to challenge that behaviour.
She and John Swinney rode the Salmond rollercoaster to success, aware they were being tolerant of a personality many would describe as difficult. By the late 1990s they had surely acquired the status and confidence to challenge their mentor. They didn’t.
This matters because the popular mood has changed. It’s not just sexism and racism that is intolerable, but all levels of bullying based on entitlement.
In that context, the Sturgeon SNP may have survived a battle, but it looks embarrassingly at odds with the times.
Yesterday in parliament she declared: “If you think you can bully me out of office you are mistaken and you misjudge me.”
To which those who heard her words may have thought – that sounds like a bully.
So was their behaviour in this battle symptomatic of how she and Swinney had not only normalised their old boss’s excesses, but absorbed them into their own characters? In the jargon, had they become damaged and behaved as such?
Sturgeon had long before adopted Salmond’s aggressive style. She carries an air of menace as convincing as any hardman. Is that a good manner, a sign of strong leadership, or a flaw, a tic adopted from Scottish male culture? In a few years, will we be calling out Sturgeon’s style, as Salmond’s behaviour has now been challenged?
Sturgeon’s debating tone is equally pugnacious. But is it in the manner of other successful parliamentarians, or outdated intimidation?
Certainly anyone who has interviewed her knows you don’t get reasoned argument on awkward points, but dogmatic assertion and a narrowing of the eyes.
I don’t mean to focus on the character of Sturgeon, nor imply she has some exceptional but hidden past of poor behaviour. Just to tease out what exactly is meant by the new standards.
If bullying is part of the problem, then the SNP has nowhere to hide. Scotland has been politically bullied over the past decade. It’s not poverty, the NHS, education or economic growth that matters, but the universal fix of indy.
Try to engage on a documentary, substantial level, and there’s nothing there. There is no reasonable content to be had, thus no reasonable conversation to be held, about what indy means.
The great lesson of the Salmond fiasco is how bullied Scotland looks, its institutions and procedures all running scared in the face of two rival titans of the public stage.
Frequently the issue looked more like rival gangs in a street fight than a sincere effort to seek justice for the complainants.
I’m grateful that Sturgeon and her cabal found the nerve to pursue the case of women bullied in the old regime. But spare me the self-righteousness.
It suited many of these people to stay silent to get where they are today. It then suited them to point the finger at Salmond in the Me Too era. As it now suits them to pose as champions of decency. But Scotland as a model of fair and reasonable public discourse, of balanced democratic debate, of equitable government? Aye right.
Sturgeon gets to stay on and fight an election, which she’ll probably win, but the whole episode shows Scotland to be in a rotten state.
Loyalty to the first minister trumps the values of accountability and responsibility. The gang ethos prevails.
To the central matter of whether women feel more comfortable coming forward with complaints against Cabinet ministers, the answer has to be no. The problem a 20-year-old Sturgeon may have wrestled with in 1990 is alive and kicking.
Yet Sturgeon says top civil servant Leslie Evans will stay on and Sturgeon’s husband will remain as head of the SNP. What was a clear conflict of interest when she became first minister and Peter Murrell was chief executive of the party continues.
To the supporting cast of officials, special advisers, people in the Crown Office, Police Scotland and so on, there shall be no recriminations, so long as they all stay loyal to the firm.
And to the core legacy of Salmond’s dominant style, that we don’t need details on indy, just to know it will all be fine, there is still not a squeak of a challenge.
This is government by gang. Scotland the victim.