Simpler to waffle in California sunshine than slog at Holyrood

IT began in 2004 when Jack — now Lord — McConnell turned up in New York wearing a much-mocked pin-striped kilt.

Then Alex Salmond spent nearly £6,000 of taxpayers’ money staying in a luxury hotel in the city with his wife Moira during the Scotland Week celebrations in 2014.

Now it is Nicola Sturgeon’s turn for another stateside ego trip, and no doubt her coterie of media handlers are already busy trying to engineer a selfie with Hillary Clinton.

The First Minister’s itinerary includes a slot at the Women in the World gathering in New York where likely guests, apart from Mrs Clinton, include Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson.

On a previous junket two years ago, Miss Sturgeon missed First Minister’s Questions to appear on The Daily Show with US satirist Jon Stewart, where she was tackled on all the tough questions (such as ‘what is haggis?’)

These costly excursions pander to super-sized political egos and have allowed leaders of successive Holyrood administrations to strut on the international stage, leaving behind the humdrum business of, you know, governing.

Granted, encouraging tourism and investment in Scotland is a worthwhile venture.

But this latest foray aims to present globe-trotting Miss Sturgeon as something more than the head of a devolved government of a substate UK region.

During the tour, she will speak at the United Nations and at Stanford University in California, discussing ‘Scotland’s place in the world’.

The online biography for the talk today (TUES) gushes that Miss Sturgeon ‘was ranked as the 50th most powerful woman in the world in 2016 and 2nd in the United Kingdom by Forbes magazine’.

Can there be any doubt that the First Minister will exploit these events to drive home Scotland’s supposed desire, and indeed urgent need, for independence?

It may prove easier to bamboozle a US audience, rather than a UK one, into thinking of Scots as an oppressed minority.

(The independence-supporting journalist Ruth Wishart tweeted at the weekend about her loathing of “colonial governesses” — also known as the UK Government).

When she comes back, her ego bolstered, it will be back to business as usual for the First Minister — you might have thought this would involve the pedestrian business of running the country.

But in Sturgeon’s Scotland, this is a passé concept, given that no legislation apart from the Budget has been passed at Holyrood for a year.

That said, Miss Sturgeon needs as much distraction as she can get: on every front, her government is failing abysmally.

Her radical education ‘reforms’ are falling apart while the NHS is in the grip of a staffing crisis.

Indeed, former Health Secretary Alex Neil, now a backbencher, unilaterally launched his own blueprint for NHS reform yesterday: hardly a vote of confidence in his bosses.

No, the real priority will be getting on with the task of demanding a second referendum, the one that was rejected by Prime Minister Theresa May, that arch ‘colonial governess’, only days ago.

In a political and legal cul-de-sac, the First Minister has hinted at the possibility that she may pull a rabbit out of the hat to put pressure on Mrs May after the Easter recess (a well-deserved holiday for parliamentarians tired of all this non-legislating).

Jack McConnell in his much-ridiculed kilt, in 2004

Whatever flimsy gimmick it is, it won’t be enough, and Miss Sturgeon knows it — but the charade must continue and we should be in no doubt that her US trip is all part of the act.

An intellectual, a stateswoman, a titan of international affairs: this is the image that the First Minister and her advisers want so desperately to project — forgetting the inconvenient reality that Miss Sturgeon’s approval ratings have slipped below Mrs May’s in Scotland.

Yesterday Miss Sturgeon signed a climate change agreement with the Governor of California, an avowed enemy of Donald Trump’s.

Incidentally, don’t expect any summit with Mr Trump, not least because the SNP’s newest friends, the Greens, would be enraged, and the Nationalists need the support of their co-convener Patrick Harvie for their referendum campaign.

Mr Harvie never tires of shrilly reminding us of his visceral loathing of the US President.

Far better to court an enemy of Mr Trump’s — to placate the powerbase back home and keep Mr Harvie happy — than to attempt a meeting at the White House.

It is unlikely Mr Trump, erstwhile bosom buddy of Mr Salmond’s, would sanction one — and if he did it would be even frostier than his recent tête-à-tête with Chancellor Merkel.

Miss Sturgeon is fond of her jaunts: back in October last year, she was in Reykjavik to address the Arctic Circle Assembly.

She announced a £1million fund to support developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change (never mind that the police force in Scotland is so cash-strapped that some officers’ cars are held together with duct tape).

‘Scotland may not geographically be part of the Arctic Circle,’ Miss Sturgeon grudgingly conceded, ‘but we are committed to acting on climate change and limiting global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees.’

Oafish Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who took £5,300 from public coffers to learn Icelandic, accompanied Miss Sturgeon on the trip (in case you wondering, the Icelandic for ‘idiot’ is, appropriately, ‘hálfviti’.)

Yet even if Miss Sturgeon manages a hurried selfie with the janitor at the United Nations this week, it will count as a diplomatic coup, given some of her previous disasters overseas.

Remember her meeting back in August last year with a junior German minister, Michael Roth, to discuss her abortive plan to keep Scotland in the EU?

The crunch summit was actually held in a restaurant, described as a ‘backstreet brauhaus’ by the Scottish Tories’ deputy leader Jackson Carlaw.

Also an advocate of foreign jollies, Mr Salmond jetted off to Iran, accompanied by Nationalist MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, for ‘trade talks’ in 2015.

This was despite the Tehran regime being described by the US as ‘an active state sponsor of terrorism’ (and Mr Salmond had no power to authorise any trade deals either).

Bumptious Mike Russell, Miss Sturgeon’s Brexit minister, also enjoyed playing the part of a kind of ‘Scottish foreign secretary’ yesterday, welcoming Spanish support of EU membership for Scotland.

With an apparently straight face, Mr Russell condemned ‘mis-information which has been coming from a range of sources’.

This is despite the SNP arguing for years that Scotland’s membership of the EU would automatically continue after an independence vote — a prospect the Spaniards, in between goading Mrs May over Gibraltar, have also thrown out.

Meanwhile, for Miss Sturgeon, a gruelling few days of glad-handing lie ahead.

After all, distraction is the oldest trick in the book when government is unravelling — or has ceased to function.

But it is also deeply insulting to voters, increasingly fed up with Miss Sturgeon’s endless game-playing as the problems pile up at home.

They may well be in unforgiving mood at the council elections in a month’s time — so the First Minister should enjoy her ego trip while she can.