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Sensemaker: A brutal business

Sensemaker: A brutal business

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Qatar said it was sending 10,000 mobile homes used in the World Cup to earthquake-hit areas in Syria and Turkey. 
  • British Gas owner Centrica reported record profits of £3.3 billion, helped by high energy prices. 
  • A man is facing jail after admitting to stealing almost 200,000 Cadbury Creme Eggs from a Telford warehouse. 

A brutal business

After Nicola Sturgeon stunned the UK yesterday by announcing her resignation as Scotland’s First Minister, she was asked about a police investigation into a £107,000 loan from her husband to her party. She declined to comment. 

So what? The resignation after eight years in power will be as consequential as it was unexpected. It’s also something of a mystery. 

  • The Conservatives called it a “generational boost for unionism” – the end, for now, they hope, of Scottish dreams of independence.
  • Labour hopes it means the end of the Scottish National Party’s gorilla grip on Scottish representation in Westminster, opening up a path to a parliamentary majority at the next election that doesn’t depend solely on wiping out the Tories in their own backyard. 
  • SNP leaders were launched straight into a succession contest with no household names, no strong favourites, existential jeopardy for their party and a back-to-the-drawing board challenge on independence for the winner.

But why did she go? The answer could help determine the outcome of the leadership battle and there’s no shortage of theories. 

In her own words: the “brutality” of modern political life “takes its toll on you and on those around you,” she said. Only recently had she started to comprehend “the physical and mental impact of it.”

In a supporter’s (per Politico): “She’s completely and utterly f**king exhausted.”

Trans rights. Sturgeon nailed her colours to a new Scottish law that would have let transgender people get new birth certificates without a medical diagnosis, but the law was blocked by Westminster. Public support for it was undermined by the case of a trans woman convicted of rape before her transition and placed in a woman’s prison pending sentencing, and critics seized on the episode as evidence Sturgeon had lost her touch.  

Public services. NHS Scotland waiting lists are at near record levels and this was a buck that stopped with Sturgeon. She also failed in eight years to keep a promise to close a yawning attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in Scotland’s schools. 

Independence. She blew it. Brexit was roundly rejected by the Scots but for all her charisma and hard work she couldn’t parlay that into a sustained poll lead for full self-rule. Her bid for a new independence referendum without Westminster’s approval was deemed unlawful by the UK’s Supreme Court and her position that the next general election should be considered a de facto referendum north of the border is seen by the moderate middle as a stretch.  

The money. Where did it go? After the 2016 Brexit referendum the SNP’s chief executive, Peter Murrell, who is also Sturgeon’s husband, set up a fund that raised £482,000 specifically for an indyref2. Party accounts for 2019 left unanswered questions about whether that money had been spent on other things. In 2021 Murrell loaned the party £107,000 from his own sources, but didn’t declare it for a year, and police are currently interviewing witnesses about £600,000 raised for independence campaigning and allegedly spent inappropriately. 

Sturgeon didn’t want to talk about the money yesterday, and it’s a testament to the esteem in which she’s held by friends and rivals alike that her own explanation for her departure – that she’s knackered – is being taken broadly at face value. 

But contenders to succeed her may have more to say about the money and much else. They include:

  • Kate Forbes, the SNP treasurer and a devout Christian thought to oppose the blocked trans law, who didn’t have to vote on it because she is on maternity leave.
  • Angus Robertson, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture, and an early favourite.
  • Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health and social care secretary.
  • Ash Regan, an SNP member of the Scottish parliament who quit last year over the trans law and wants an “independence convention” before the next leader is chosen.
  • “Don’t know”, the favourite according to polling by the Sunday Times at 69 per cent.

Whoever wins will have to build a new base for the independence argument if the SNP is to survive as the dominant force in Scottish politics. One way or another, Brexit will loom over that effort. Might Scots now stand a better chance of rejoining the EU by staying in the UK? It’s not a crazy question.


Russia grows
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reckons the Russian economy will return to growth – by 1 per cent – in 2024. Although it will take a 3 per cent GDP knock this year, the forecast indicates global sanctions intended to decimate Moscow’s economic standing after it invaded Ukraine are not working hard enough. Ukraine’s economy is expected to contract by 30 per cent this year. The centrality of Russia’s oil and gas revenues to the resilience of its war economy is familiar. Less frequently noted is the size of its internal market and the self-sufficiency in all things – when pushed – of a landmass spanning 11 time zones. As for Ukraine, its main vegetable-growing zone around Kharkiv is partially evacuated and most of its eastern industrial base is a war zone. No one said there was any justice in this war.


Not-so level playing field
Twitter’s Elon Musk reportedly asked engineers to alter the social media platform’s algorithms to prioritise his tweets. According to Platformer, a tech news site, the billionaire asked for the change after his Super Bowl tweet saw less engagement than a similar one from Joe Biden. The reported changes meant Musk’s tweets were artificially boosted by a factor of 1,000. Musk didn’t respond directly to the claims, but posed a meme suggesting his tweets were being force-fed to users. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As recently as last month, Musk discussed how to make the social media site a “level playing field” in a meeting with US speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Jengba win
The Jengba campaign group (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association), with support from Liberty, won a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service yesterday. The outcome: the CPS agreed to a pilot scheme monitoring data on the age, sex, race and disability of those prosecuted under joint enterprise – when an individual is convicted of the crime of another if the court believes they knew the crime was likely to be committed. Jengba says joint enterprise prosecutions are racist and deliberately target marginalised groups – particularly young Black men. But until the CPS starts recording data, as it’s now be ordered to, the extent of this bias can’t be known. Further listening: our Slow Newscast, Wrong turn, which covers the joint enterprise doctrine in detail. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Malpass to quit
David Malpass will leave his post as head of the World Bank a year early after a four-year tenure marked by a distinctly retro approach to climate change. Asked last year if he accepted that humans were contributing to global warming, he couldn’t bring himself to say he did. This endeared him to the denialist wing of the Republican Party (which had applauded his appointment by Trump) but proved a problem at a global development bank that’s meant to help countries cope with the economic effects of drought, crop failure and rising sea levels.


Brianna Ghey
Two 15 year-olds, a boy and a girl, have appeared in court charged with murdering 16 year-old Brianna Ghey, who was transgender. Ghey was found stabbed to death in a Warrington park last Saturday. Although Cheshire Police are still investigating all lines of inquiry, including whether the incident was a hate crime, the transgender community and its allies have come out in force across the country to mourn the schoolgirl’s death. Thousands held vigils in Dublin, Lancaster and London last night including a crowd that gathered outside the Department for Education to hear speeches from attendees – many of them trans themselves – who spoke of their anger and hurt over politicians’ lack of action and perceived discrimination by media outlets in reporting the case. The two 15 year-olds are due to appear in Liverpool Crown Court this morning. 

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Jess Winch and Steph Preston.

Photographs Getty Images

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