Iain Macwhirter has been providing analysis and insight to Herald readers with his bi-weely column for years, and has seen us through some turbulent times.

The columnist and author has shared his thoughts on Scottish independence, Nicola Sturgeon and what will come in the next few years in Scotland.

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What's been the highlight of your career?

I was a BBC lobby correspondent and political TV presenter in Westminster and in Holyrood. I have written for a wide range of publications from the New Statesman to the Guardian; Big Issue to Public Finance. I have written several books including “Disunited Kingdom”. But I would have to say that the highlight of my career has been writing twice weekly columns for the Herald and Sunday Herald during the most tumultuous and fascinating years in Scottish politics.

Where do you most like to visit in Scotland?

Scotland has so much to offer that, like your children, it is hard to choose a favourite. But the area I keep coming back to is Assynt, in the North West, above Ullapool where I used to spend summer with my parents when I was little.

My favourite Scottish mountains are Suilven and Stac Pollaidh and the beaches, like Achmelvich and Clachtoll are magnificent - another world.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was “Empireland" by Sathnam Sanghera about the lingering impact of the British Empire. I review non fiction books for the Herald so I get a lot of politics. The last fiction I read was “Hamnet" by the Edinburgh author Maggie O’Farrell, about William Shakespeare’s lost child of the same name.

What do you write about in your column?

I write about politics in the broadest sense, not necessarily tied to Holyrood or Westminster. I’ve written a great deal, for example, about the long term impact of the 2008 financial crash, about “culture wars” and the merits or otherwise of “woke” politics, as well as about the big constitutional questions like Scottish independence. I’m also interested in the moves to rein in and regulate divisive social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, without sacrificing freedom of speech.

What will be the biggest stories of 2021 and the next decade?

The biggest political issue in Scotland this year and for many thereafter will be independence. Will there be a referendum, how will Scots vote, and what does independence mean anyway in the 21st Century? The cultural and political divide between Scotland and the rest of the UK is likely to deepen as the impact of Brexit works itself out. 

What do you makle of the Scottish and UK governments' response to coronavirus?

The responses of the Scottish and UK governments to the pandemic were not significantly different. They made the same mistakes: delayed lockdown, halted community testing in March, failed to protect old people in care homes. This not surprising, since Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson were following broadly the same scientific advice.

Where Sturgeon won was in presentation: Scottish voters on the whole think she did a good job and that Boris Johnson did not. That was down to her skill in explaining her actions and expressing a degree of empathy with Scottish people during her daily press conferences.

Who do you think is going to win the Holyrood election?

There is little doubt that the Scottish National Party is going to win a landslide in the May Scottish parliament elections. This is mostly down to Nicola Sturgeon. She is thought to have handled Covid well and to have articulated Scotland’s opposition to Brexit. The Scottish opposition parties have had poor leadership and have failed to hold the Scottish government to account for failings in areas like education and hospitals. Support for independence is rising.

What will happen with indyref2 after the election?

I don’t expect a referendum on Scottish independence in the near future. Nicola Sturgeon is a cautious politician and doesn’t want to risk the fare of Quebec nationalists in the last century, who lost two referendums in a row.

Support for independence is still only marginally higher than in 2014, and some of that has to do with recent hostility to Brexit and Boris Johnson. I don’t think she will risk an unauthorised or ”wildcat” referendum, because of what happened in Catalonia.

Why should people subscribe to The Herald?

People should take out a subscription to The Herald because is great value for money. It is a quality publication with excellent news coverage, not just of Scotland but the world. It also has the best columnists and sportswriters and perhaps most important of all, in an age of clickbait and cancel culture, it is a safe space for freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. Culture without the wars.

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