LIKE Withnail and his companion, I went on holiday last week by mistake.

Discovering I had some paid leave due (youngsters, ask your grandparents) we piled into the car and drove till the fuel ran out. Never again, not least because I missed so much going on in the giddy whirl of Scottish politics.

Let me see if I have this right. In the space of a week, Scotland has gone from a democratically ruled nation to an oppressed colony; the First Minister has turned into Donald Trump; and the entire population is to be enlisted in a mass democracy movement the likes of which has not been seen since the crumbling of the Soviet empire.

Or at least that is what half the country reckons. The other half disputes this version of events, or doesn’t care much. Happily, there is one thing on which we can all agree: it is Nicola Sturgeon’s fault. Again.

For all her party’s continuing popularity in the polls, there is something about Scotland’s First Minister that so sticks in the craw of her critics that they rush to predict her demise at every turn.

Scroll through the headlines or social media and it is hard to keep count of all the times it was meant to be all over for her, bar the shouting.

Even before she became First Minister the commentariat, those dedicated readers of tea leaves, shook their heads and muttered. Looking back through the history of the Scottish Parliament, it is hard to see any other First Minister, or party leader, who has been written off so often by so many to so little effect.

Ms Sturgeon has learned over the years to turn attacks to her advantage. At times she has seemed to almost revel in her ability to stay the course, as when she greeted each new Conservative leader recently as the latest in a long line she had seen come and go.

She took being called “a dangerous woman” as a badge of honour. “When we are ‘dangerous’ we can change the world and our place in it,” she wrote in an introduction to a collection of essays on feminism.

Even so, insist the ranks of Sturgeon watchers, this time it is different. This time, the weight of events is an irresistible force about to shift a previously immovable object.

Is there any more truth in this than all the other predictions that turned out to be false?

Looked at from a certain angle, and taking into account recent history, it would seem that Ms Sturgeon is heading into the eye of a perfect political storm.

The first factor against her is that very longevity of which she is so proud. She is Scotland’s longest serving First Minister, overtaking her predecessor, Alex Salmond. Eight years in the top job in Scottish politics, and many more leading up to that point, is a tough paper round. In America they would be planning her library by now.

It is not as long a stretch as Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair’s, but their last years in office were no advertisement for sticking around. At 52, Ms Sturgeon easily has time for another career, two if she gets a move on, and she has done a good job getting her face known on the international circuit.

The next entry in the debit column is what every leader does not want: a scandal that refuses to go away no matter how many times the air freshener is deployed. The ferries shamble fits the bill perfectly. There is the added attraction that it is easy to understand. Who wouldn’t be furious at being overcharged for something that never turns up? It’s hardly arms to Iraq.

A bad winter in the NHS might once have been enough to end a First Minister’s career but between Covid and her expendable Health Secretary, Ms Sturgeon has cover on this.

For some time now the First Minister has enjoyed one great advantage over her rivals: no obvious replacement. There is no unity candidate waiting to lead her fractious party.

She has had a great run with a succession of useless Opposition leaders, but even Scottish Labour had to get it right eventually. With every week that passes, Anas Sarwar looks more and more like a First Minister in waiting.

For a long time, Ms Sturgeon’s personal standing with the Scottish public has seemed high and unassailable. Even if you did not share her view on independence, or anything else, she represented the country well.

She was never a Trussian embarrassment, never likely to be left red-faced in an encounter with the public. She could go anywhere and give a good account of herself, and us. When it mattered she could rise above the petty political fray. But here, too, her luck is running lower.

There is the obvious public fatigue in some quarters about another referendum. There is something else though, something right in front of her, and she cannot see the danger it poses. With Mrs Thatcher it was the poll tax and Europe, with Blair his deadly foreign adventures. With Ms Sturgeon it is gender recognition reform.

Not only has her bill provoked unprecedented upheaval within her party, the opposition to it is becoming more obvious and widespread by the day.

The latest example of this can be seen on a video doing the rounds on social media of the First Minister being heckled by an opponent of the bill. “Shame on you,” says the protester. “You’ve fomented this culture in Scotland that tells women we’re bigoted for standing up for women’s rights.”

Making things worse was a note sent round before the event by the organisers, the charity Zero Tolerance, asking attendees not to bring up the subject of single-sex spaces, the definition of a woman, or anything else to do with gender recognition reform.

It did not take long for JK Rowling, the unofficial leader of the opposition on this issue, to respond. “The First Minister has been accidentally exposed to some freedom of speech,” she tweeted. “Heads will surely roll.”

I don’t know about heads rolling, but regardless of where you stand on gender recognition it is hard to watch the video, and Ms Sturgeon’s obvious discomfort, and not conclude that something has gone badly wrong here.

Whether the First Minister has the willingness to put it right, or the time, is something we are all about to find out.

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