NICOLA Sturgeon gave a victory speech after the election results on Saturday and told us that her message to the people of Scotland had been endorsed by the people of Scotland and that the people of Scotland had put their trust in her and that she wanted to thank the people of Scotland for doing so and no one had the right to stop the people of Scotland from choosing their future.

You got that? It’s about the people. Of Scotland. The people of Scotland.

But who are the people of Scotland and what did they say exactly? In her speech, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP’s re-election for a fourth term was extraordinary and she was right. All the precedents tell us that, after 10 years or so, people get fed up with the party in power and give the other guys a try, and yet the SNP, after 14 years, and a persistently poor record in office, has attracted nearly half the vote. It’s not supposed to happen this way, and yet it has.

However, in acknowledging the SNP’s achievement, we should also look a little closer at what the First Minister said in the speech because that’s how we can compare it to what actually happened in the election. The differences between the two – what Ms Sturgeon said, and what happened – reveal some of the linguistic techniques the First Minister and the SNP use. But they also reveal what needs to change if we’re ever going to break the current deadlock.

First, the “people of Scotland” stuff. I’m assuming Ms Sturgeon bases her right to speak for the people on the pro-independence majority at Holyrood. As the First Minister pointed out, the SNP won a record number of the constituency seats (85% of the total) and, even after the adjustment for the list votes, the SNP and the Greens have 72 of the parliament’s 129 seats, or 55% – a majority.

However, the SNP and the Greens have a majority of the seats based on a minority of the votes. The SNP won 47.7% of the constituency vote and the Greens took 1.3% – or 49% combined. The Tories, the Lib Dems, and Labour, on the other hand, took 50.4%. You might see this as just nit-picking over a clear win for the nationalists – and they did clearly win under the current system – but the result means two things. First, when Nicola Sturgeon claims to speak for the people of Scotland, she’s really only speaking for 47.7% of them at most. And second, we need a better system, based on how people actually vote.

The need for a better system, I hope, would be obvious to any fair-minded voter. For a start – although it ultimately failed – at one point Alba looked like it might be able to do a bit of jiggery-pokery with the list vote to artificially boost pro-independence representation. But the other lesson of the election is that many pro-UK voters felt they had to vote tactically, and many did so with positive results. Some unionists see that as good news, but unionists shouldn’t have to vote tactically to get fair representation. It is another argument for a better, more proportional system, ideally single transferable vote.

Similar problems apply to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks about another referendum. A referendum, she said, was the will of the people and anyone who tried to stop it would be standing in direct opposition to the people (oh my, she does like the p word). But the assertion is based on the same logical flaw that 47.7% represents a settled will (even assuming all the 47.7% want a referendum). You might also assume the 50.4% that voted Tory, Labour or Lib Dem do not want a referendum. In any case, the idea that another vote on independence is the will of the people is a distinctly dodgy claim.

Perhaps the change that’s needed here – on top of a better system – is a referendum that ensures the result does actually reflect a settled will rather than the SNP’s version of it. The SNP is demanding a referendum on 47.7% and would claim a victory in the referendum on 50.000001%, but both, to some extent, are a distortion of what’s going on. One way to stop it would be to require two-thirds for a referendum win – at least, that way it would ensure talk of “will of the people” had a better basis in reality.

But even that’s not the end of the changes we need because Ms Sturgeon also talked a lot about the Tories (she likes the t word almost as much as the p one). Scotland, she said, was facing many more years of right-wing Tory governments and could choose a more progressive alternative. These are familiar comments and part of an attempt to portray the border with England as an unbridgeable gulf. The Scots, she says, are utterly different from the rest of the UK, therefore the SNP, therefore referendum, therefore independence.

But the SNP’s argument runs into the same old “people of Scotland” problem. Ms Sturgeon speaks about anti-Tory Scotland in the same way she speaks about the will of the people, as if Scotland were one entity that speaks with one voice. But Scotland is Liberal Caithness where my mother grew up and Tory Aberdeenshire where I grew up and it’s old-school Labour Ayrshire where I live now. Yes, the SNP dominates, but perhaps Ms Sturgeon’s speech could have acknowledged that Scotland is not one thing and that half of the country didn’t vote for her. Such an approach would have shown more subtlety, reality, and – dare I say it – humility.

But what did we get instead? A speech based on a logical flaw and fuelled by anger, arrogance, and, I suspect, a bit of disappointment that she didn’t get an outright majority. But then maybe that’s the last thing that needs to change: Nicola Sturgeon herself. The talk before the election was of building momentum and an SNP majority that Boris Johnson couldn’t say no to, and the SNP certainly needs such momentum before it can achieve another referendum and win it. A stand-still election like the one we’ve just had will not do.

But to achieve such momentum, Nicola Sturgeon will need to convince voters who didn’t back her – the 50.4% – and they are unlikely to be chuffed by talk of the “will of the people”. They might be impressed, though, by something more realistic and honest. There is no “will of the people”, there is only a people divided, and if Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that, and started talking about it, maybe she would have a better chance of changing it.

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