Report by Harry Chapin of the Cincinnati Times
Dateline January 15, 2025.

I HAVE just ended the first interview she has granted with the newly appointed head of Unesco, Nicola Sturgeon. We are speaking in her New York penthouse apartment with its magnificent views over Manhattan.

She gave me her reaction in moving from being prime (no longer merely “first”) minister of a new independent Scotland to her present position at the UN – leaving the hurly burly of day-to-day politics behind her.

“I don’t think any of us believed it might happen,” she explained. “We felt that winning the referendum was the main task. And we did it. It was what happened afterwards that was so unexpected.”

Clearly, she has not quite come to terms with the appointment of the new prime minister, Tom Adamson, the populist conservative who has taken the newly independent Scotland down the road to authoritarian nationalism.

For those unfamiliar with Scottish politics, it is worth explaining that Mr Adamson moved from hard-line Unionist to ultra-patriot in one easy step.

Many SNP supporters were exhausted in the fight for Independence while others felt their main goal had been achieved. Adamson rebranded the Scottish Conservative Party as the National Progressive Party and brought together Thatcherites, Brexiters and sundry disaffected reactionaries to win an unexpected majority in the first post-independence elections.

“But didn’t you foresee that you might lose a post-independence election?” I asked. “After all, you are an avid reader and most plotlines are predicated on twists and turns.”

“Of course I did”, she replied, “but not as rapidly as it worked out. When the first election came along hard on the heels of Independence Day, we were unprepared. We assumed we would win. But we lost – badly.”

Once in office, Prime Minister Adamson moved quickly to sign a free trade deal with Washington and a “bases for bucks” military deal with London. To “secure a more stable economic footing for the new country”, Adamson abolished inheritance tax and cut the corporate tax rate by 5%. Fracking licences were issued.

Many of the SNP’s hard-won social policies were abandoned. No more baby boxes. No more publicly funded university tuition. In came prescription charges and GP visit fees. These decisions were not without strong opposition. In a few days what began as a student protest over tuition fees developed into a series of mass marches.

“Things went wrong so fast,” Ms Sturgeon lamented. “A lot of people who had supported independence for a long time felt that Adamson was betraying their vision. We had independence, but we were not seeing the fruits of it.”

The situation was made worse by the Adamson Government’s decision to respond to peaceful demonstrations in a heavy-handed way. Only later did it emerge this escalation was part of a deliberate plan. A new Public Order Act was rushed through Parliament. Scores of protesters were arrested.

“But surely you could have enshrined democratic values and principles in a constitution that would also have put your achievements beyond the reach of any future prime minister?” I asked.

“Well, as you know, Harry, we did try,” she explained. “We formed a Citizens’ Assembly which did look at a draft constitution – including socio-economic rights.

“However, it was beset by difficulties and perhaps we tried to control things too tightly, and maybe we recruited the wrong people to handle it. It didn’t work out.

“It wasn’t until after independence that the lack of a constitution really hit home,” Sturgeon continued.

“We had intended to introduce a written constitution, but there was just so much to do that it slipped down the agenda. Before we knew it, the election was upon us – and then it was too late.”

The lack of constitutional constraints meant that the Adamson Government was able not only to eviscerate Ms Sturgeon’s socio-economic policies, but also to uproot basic human rights and civil liberties. The Judicial Reform Act made it possible for the Prime Minister to remove judges for “unsatisfactory performance”. Then came the civil service – in the absence of constitutional safeguards, a “loyalty test” has been introduced.

I asked Ms Sturgeon what she would have done differently.

“Obviously with 20-20 hindsight, I should have prioritised the constitution”, she said.

“I ought not to have left it to others. I should have made it my top priority. We did so many good things for our people and it is a crying shame to see all of these achievements cast aside.”

As we ended our conversation, Nicola Sturgeon cast a wistful eye over the New York skyline. It seemed to me that she was relishing her new job at the UN, but what she really wanted was a second chance to constitute a democratic Scotland.