Sturgeon Exposed – 29 December 2022

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been driven through the Scottish Parliament but at a heavy price for Nicola Sturgeon.

The minor SNP rebellion solidified, and she now has a group within her parliamentary party with neither loyalty to her, nor anything to lose from further revolts. Those may be only a handful but they’ve a great deal of sympathy amongst a significant section of the party and wider public opinion.

All politicians build up capital over years in office. Those savings provide some comfort when mistakes are made, or circumstances get rough. Then you need to draw down on them. The First Minister, rightly or wrongly, had amassed a small fortune.

But she’s been facing turbulence for quite some time as austerity bites and failures mount. Simply not being Boris Johnson isn’t enough and patience’s wearing thin. She was already requiring to dip into those savings. And on an issue that, the more it’s exposed, the greater will be public opposition, she’s emptying the political ‘piggy bank’.

The vehemence with which she’s pursued this has exposed her. Timing in politics, as in comedy, can be everything. Perhaps, in fairer times, this would be less of an issue or at least generate less heat. But we’re in the midst of an austerity and fuel crisis with the constitutional issue ever present as a backdrop.

Why this of all issues to make your stand and make your defining issue? Whatever happened to closing the educational gap, let alone “judge me on education”? This Bill wasn’t in the SNP manifesto, which suggests the deal with the Greens was predicated on this, not environmental actions or independence.

But it’s clearly something she feels passionately about and has abandoned her usual cautious and calculating judgement to risk all for it. It has support from a vocal minority but, more widely, it’s going to bomb.

She’s also hoisted by her own petard over interference from Westminster. Leaving aside the fact that trans rights is hardly the rallying call to ignite the independence cause, especially when her push for that, let alone shouts for “freedom”, has been missing, she has by her actions ceded the argument on legality to Westminster and failed to press for Scottish sovereignty.

For sure, this Bill has been passed through Holyrood. But legal arguments over its impact on reserved UK equalities legislation have been well known. Why her Lord Advocate felt it possible to sign off this Bill, but not the Referendum Bill only they can explain? But the similarities are there. Sturgeon’s meekly accepted the outcome of the Supreme Court and failed to convene a convention or indeed take any action at all to seek Scottish sovereignty.

If she and her cohorts think that trans rights is the defining issue to make the independence case, they’re going to be sadly mistaken. They’ve ceded the high ground to unionist opponents, who have now got the legal entitlement that Sturgeon conceded, as well as public opinion on trans issues behind them. Talk about charging uphill? UK minister Kemi Badenoch needn’t even intercede and can leave it to legal challenges by individuals or groups. Given the fast-track referral of the referendum question, why not here?

Sturgeon’s boxed herself in and is fast running out of capital.