WHAT she lacks in MPs, Nicola Sturgeon more than makes up for in chutzpah.

Some leaders, having mislaid half a million votes and 21 parliamentarians, would probably pause for reflection and ponder the electorate’s fickle affections.

Some, having bet the farm on a second referendum and won a turnip, might even peer into the mirror and consider whether their party’s future was looking back at them.

Loading article content

But while their personal chemistry is wanting, the First Minister and Theresa May share a common bond.

When the going gets tough, when the odds are stacked like the Old Man of Hoy against them, when a pitch-perfect plan is called for to lead their people onward, they can both just pretend everything’s tickety-boo. “Setback? What setback?” they cry.

“Life is good. Life is beautiful. Life is really, really not a vortex of black cosmic horror.”

They might even give a jolly whistle. Like a tyre sucking a nail.

So it was that the SNP leader came to her party’s conference, flushed with failure, and declared she intended to govern for another decade. Or longer, if she could be fussed.

“Over the past 10 years, we have led the way,” she declared.

“Our focus now is on the next ten years and beyond.”

Surprisingly, there were no shouts of “Ten more years”, although there was a man in the audience prone to periodic outbursts of “Yeargh!”, so she had to make do with him.

Ms Sturgeon suffered none of the Prime Minister’s recent calamities.

There was no prankster, no coughing, and the conference sign – Progress – stayed intact.

Just as well, or she’d have been hailed as an ogress. Ms Sturgeon was also tooled up for germs.

“At the risk of tempting fate, I’ve come prepared,” she said, waving a box of Strepsils.

Then it was straight into an orgy of self-love worthy of a teenage Alex Salmond.

“The SNP is polling higher today than we were at this point in the honeymoon days after our 2007 win or our landslide in 2011,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Our lead over the second placed party now is twice what it was in October 2008 - and is five times that of 2012.

“Ten years into government, the verdict of the Scottish people is clearer than ever.”

The audience loved it. “Yeargh!” said the Yeargh man, as was his wont.

There was ritual humiliation of the opposition.

“Scottish Labour is having its seemingly annual leadership election. Hypocrites, plotters, betrayers, barrel scrapers. No, that’s not what we’ve been calling the candidates…."

Drumroll, please.

“That’s what they’ve been calling each other!”

The Tories got it worse as Ms Sturgeon demanded Ruth Davidson find some backbone and “kick the bigots and racists out of her party”. As if. The coffee morning circuit would collapse.

She ticked off a list of bridges and roads and big concretey things she’d built, more or less personally, since 2007. She cooed over baby boxes, pledged more money for childcare.

Then came the rabbits. First out the hat was a tax break for young care leavers. Then a low emission zone in Glasgow. A not-for-profit energy company. It was an impressive bunch.

“I can announce today,” seemed to overtake Progress as the official slogan. It went on and on. A community buy-out of the island of Ulva, £6m for tourism, petty cash for EU citizens.

But it really hotted up at the end with the Brexit Bill and Westminster’s “blatant power grab”.

Ms Sturgeon dropped an octave.

“Our message to the Westminster Tories is clear. Hands off Scotland’s Parliament!”

There was a standing ovation and a double Yeargh from the Yearghster for that one.

On independence, there was a tactical muddle, but the audience didn’t care.

Folk must be patient for the next referendum, she said, but there would be one along at some point, you could bank on that, she just didn’t know when. A small detail among friends.

“This is the time to put ourselves firmly in the driving seat of our destiny,” she said.

“Yeargh!” Just don’t turn on the engine quite yet.