Heid bummer – the qualities needed

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Photo by Stephen Noble on Unsplash

By Molly Pollock

Nicola Sturgeon has announced her decision to leave office once her successor is in place. We are left facing a blank canvas, unsure who will follow, and the kind of person we need. No obvious successor parrot the tabloids and journalists intent on a clickbait headline followed by a few slimy quotes from has-beens. Sturgeon failed in her aim of independence is the mantra rolled out in person and in print. Yet we should take heed of this tweet from Billy Kay:

“A common MSM conclusion to the pieces on @NicolaSturgeon is that despite her undoubted talent, she failed in her core mission of gaining Scottish independence. What they never say is that that situation prevails only because ‘democracy’ in the UK has failed the people of Scotland.”

It is not Nicola Sturgeon who has failed us, failed to achieve independence, but the skewed imperialistic system of a Westminster government determined never to allow Scots a say in their own future. UK democracy has totally betrayed us because in a so-called voluntary union of equals there is no legitimate way for Scotland to leave or even have a say in whether or not it wants to leave the arms of the UK.

One or two brave folk have already, without knowing who is standing or hearing their pitches for leadership, stuck their heads above the Twitter parapet and indicated their chosen one, sometimes on the basis of a steady performance over the years, sometimes perhaps based on less.

Choosing a party leader is tricky. Choosing one destined, a few days later, to become the new First Minister is even trickier and deserves some careful thought. What are the qualities we want in a new leader? Some may want a replica of Nicola Sturgeon, others something entirely different. We need to think of the challenges we expect a new leader to cope with. Whether those most favoured have the depth and breadth of experience to handle the arduous position.

Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady of the United States during her husband’s four terms in office, knew a bit about good leadership:

‘A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt

So having raked around in the recesses of the mind and had a trawl through Twitter, what abilities does a leader require. 

EXPERIENCE

Firstly, as well as performing well during FMQs a First Minister is expected to shine in many more spheres, so needs a solid background of experience in politics. Nicola Sturgeon, before becoming First Minister, spent a ten year apprenticeship under Alex Salmond during which she was the SNP’s shadow minister for education, health, and justice, depute party leader, an MSP, leader of the opposition in Holyrood, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities.

She oversaw the legislative process for the 2014 referendum and was in charge of the SNP’s referendum campaign. She also campaigned and participated in numerous meetings around and outwith Scotland in the lengthy run-up to the first independence referendum. This provided her with wide, almost unequalled, experience, giving speeches, answering questions, taking selfies, shaking hands, dealing with exuberant fans as well as hostile media, and mingling with probably hundreds of thousands of people.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Good communication skills is another essential. Lack of them did for Liz Truss. Nicola became adept at communicating. Her replacement needs to show real aptitude, appealing to a broad spectrum of the electorate. Good communication means reading piles of reports and briefs, plus going through speeches and being prepared for questions. To communicate effectively a leader must have facts at fingertips.

The ability to engage in both a statesmanlike manner with other politicians and foreign dignitaries, and in a relaxed manner with constituents and the general public. Increasingly the ability to engage with hostile journalists and deal with them in either a serious or flippant manner is also a required tool in the politician’s toolbox. Putting aggressive journalists in their place without damaging a leader’s reputation with the public is a skill that can take time to hone. Remember the way Nicola could, without breaking sweat, bat away a disgusting question or comment with a flippant remark and a twitch of an eyebrow.

EMPATHY AND COMPASSION

Empathy and compassion may not be requirements to become Westminster government ministers (or even PMs) but our resigned FM had them in spades and it is unlikely the Scottish people will now be happy without them. Leadership has many facets. The hard-headedness necessary to lead a country and the softer attributes that forge a long-term link between leader and others, whether that be the general public or members of their own government or party teams.

This is the level of abuse female politicians are subjected to. Alex Dick @Rdbisgod describes himself as
“Skoliosexual, writer, comedian, pimp, Rangers and Chelsea.” He lists his place of residence as Mexico.

CLEARSIGHTEDNESS

Clearsightedness many not be necessary these days in a Westminster party leader, but is an essential for the SNP. We want a leader with clear goals – achieving independence as well as improving lives, especially of those less well off – and an understanding of how that is achieved and the obstacles en route. Not always what we want to hear, but independence isn’t achieved by flicking a switch. A tortuous path lies ahead as Westminster parties continue to stymie our desire.

ABILITY TO LEAD

The ability to lead – listening to colleagues, advisors, party members and the public and discussing with them, determining (with colleagues) how policies will be implemented. A leader needs to be able to deal with problems and disputes amongst colleagues and to resolve them as best possible. A leader needs to engender trust on a personal as well as political level, forging good relationships even with colleagues who may sometimes be difficult.

A good leader needs to be a person people can relate to as well as a politician. Also required is the confidence to promote policies and stand firm against other politicians, hostile journalists and members of the public, able to explain without flannel why a certain policy/stance is being taken. A certain Westminster politician was known for his bluff and bluster, but that does not go down well in Scotland.

ENTHUSIASM AND ENCOURAGEMENT

An ability to enthuse and encourage, to inspire and patiently explain is part of the toolkit. A continuing determination to achieve independence does not always flow easily when Westminster keeps repeating No. So a positive outlook and demeanour must be forefront whilst at the same time pointing out opposition weaknesses and policies that harm people in Scotland. Too much negativity turns off the electorate which needs liberal waterings of hope to grow.

‘A leader is a dealer in hope.’ – Napoleon Bonaparte

STAMINA

Stamina is essential, the ability to keep going through long days irrespective of how ill or tired you feel, smiling, shaking hands, working endlessly, travelling, talking at meetings, arguing, disagreeing, compromising because that is in the greater good. First class people around a leader, and the ability to chose them, are essential, both at government and constituency level. People a leader can rely on, trust.

DIPLOMACY

Embracing diplomacy – telling others where to go in no uncertain terms must often be a first impulse for any leader, but diplomacy is essential to achieve aims.

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY

Honesty and integrity – politicians should be able to admit getting issues (like Brexit) wrong. Some mistakes should not necessarily be judged too harshly. Politicians are human and we all, even with the best of intentions and advice can get things wrong.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” – Theodore Roosevelt

This is a cartoon showing a decapitated Nicola Sturgeon that appears in the Independent. Twitter apparently banned it. Racist, mysogynistic, disgusting, inciting violence – what makes a newspaper, its readership and an English cartoonist think this is acceptable? https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/nicola-sturgeon-uk-scotland-independence-b2282874.html a

AN IRON HIDE

And finally, even if a candidate has all the above attributes in spades, few last long under the invasive tentacles of the media, the lack of privacy, threats of harm or death, lies, constant stories of misdeeds and wrongdoings twisted and hyped to increase their sensational and damaging impact. Press, broadcast media and social media are all awash with outrage and bile. As polls have shown an increase in support for independence the fury has been ramped up accordingly. Unionists and their organisations have a long reach and the media is no friend of Scottish independence or the SNP. Now that they have a scalp under their belts the levels will not be decreased, rather success will encourage even greater levels of abuse and denigration. A new leader and First Minister will need an iron hide to survive.

THE CIRCUS AND WESTMINSTER POLITICS

As I put this together the image that came into my mind was that of a circus with a Prime Minister as ringmaster/ringmistress (with or without a whip to discipline, prod to wakefulness and encourage), surrounded by jugglers (soundbites, policies, directions); a lion tamer who struts and loups but keeps his distance from the beasts; a magician with a top hat, rabbit, endless coloured scarves to distract attention, and a large gaily-coloured trunk or wardrobe to stuff things into so they can be forgotten; a few big-mouthed clowns with shoes to trip over and firecrackers to jolt us in our ringside seats; a bareback horse rider stretching to show off; a trapeze artist always swinging and dangling but usually landing safely; a swaggering dagger thrower aiming at a scantily-clad woman; and an ice cream and sweetie seller to make the less palatable more acceptable. The circus of politics in the UK.