The leader of the Scottish National Party (SDP) has become the most targeted politician in the General Election Campaign. She must be doing something right
The Guardian captured the awakening mood in the mainline UK political parties to the danger coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP:
According to Boris Johnson she’s King Herod. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Attila the Hun.
Piers Morgan in the Mail is more circumspect. For him, Sturgeon is merely “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. This, says Sturgeon, is “possibly one of the nicest things the Mail has ever said about me”.
The newspapers that carried these gentlemanly hysterics, agree that Sturgeon is a kidnapper, warning the UK on their pages that she is holding the country “to ransom”. The Times eschews such hyperbole, suggesting only that she is only going to hold the UK’s defence to ransom.
Gosh. Even if the SNP takes every seat in Scotland – and that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility – it will still only have one in every 13 Commons votes. If Westminster really is this vulnerable, then, really, it’s brought its troubles on itself.
The Evidence from the Manifesto launch
Your editor settled down to review the launch of the SNP manifesto [20th April 2015]. As there would be many reports of the manifesto, I decided to concentrate on the style of the new political star of the Election Campaign. What follows is my unexpurgated notes, (minor corrections for clarity only).
Strong, clear, uncluttered content. Unusually easy to understand. Compared with other high profile figures in the GE, least evasive. Not shackled by the need to stay on message.
Like all public speakers, had to speak both to supporters, and a wider constituency at the same time. How to please the former yet deal with different possibly conflicting views of the important ‘distal’ audience?
Not either or, but both and
As I have argued elsewhere, effective dealing with dilemmas is often a matter of seeing through a block imposed by either or thinking. Sturgeon demonstrated to process frequently, both in her prepared address, and in the subsequent Q & A.
The launch of the manifesto is taking place before an audience of her supporters, plus a regiment of journalists. The supporters are there to provide the evidence of their own unconditional commitment to leader and what she had to say about the manifesto. The journalists want good ‘exclusive’ copy, revealing something suited to their own ends about the leader and her party.
As indicated above, the SNP has been increasingly been presented by opponents including most of the press, as a fifth column, intent on winning seats to gain power in Westminster by propping up a minority Labour government and dishing the Tories. This in turn is intended to achieve another Referendum for Scottish Independence, and to a break-up of the United Kingdom.
It would have been a popular move to say to the faithful, ‘you bet your last bawbee I’m goin’ta stuff it to ’em.’ (‘Hell, yes’ as Ed Miliband put it). She also needed to reassure those who were paying attention to Boris and The voters that her opponents wanted to scare off enough to turn away from the SNP needed to hear quite the opposite message. ‘We won’t cause any trouble and only vote on Scottish matters.‘
There are various ways of dealing with the dilemma. Nicola Sturgeon neatly put emphasis on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and unto the Scotland their entitlement. The effect was to suggest a win-win process helping Scotland and the entire UK towards a socially acceptable and prosperous future.
More Yes Anding
A second example of Yes And framing came at the start of the Q & A.
Sturgeon introduced the session by saying in effect: These journalists have their job to do. (Pause, as if to calm an easy-to-arouse border terrier sniffing out an intruder). They should not be badly mauled if you don’t like the questions… Then a neat punch-line. Of course, feel free to applaud my answers as loudly as you like. (They did).
The Q&A went well. The press vipers were pretty much defanged.
Beyond the style
I refocused on the substance behind a pretty impressive presentation style. Overall, it seemed to occupy the policy space Labour would like to have found itself in, but had chosen to retreat from.
Her answers for the most part remained clear and convincing. Her dealing with the costing of her fiscal measures was perhaps less sure-footed.
Her emphasis on opposing and even ending austerity was obviously hugely popular for her supporters.
For all the clear victory in this battle, leaving the enemy in some disarray, the war is far from over.