Steerpike Steerpike

Terf war grips Scottish government

Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

It is said in Westminster that Boris Johnson likes to surround his 5ft 6in Chancellor with tall ministers to make him feel small. And up at Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has clearly taken a leaf from the Prime Minister’s book, judging by the ministers with whom she surrounds herself. After suffering a reversal at last year’s elections, Sturgeon was forced to take the Scottish Greens into government: a marriage of political convenience but one that no doubt reaffirms Humza Yousaf’s faith in his own intellectual prowess.

For the Greens are led by a duumvirate of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie, a man diminutive both in size and in stature. The devolutionary double act serve as the comedic foil to Nicola Sturgeon’s straight man routine, making the First Minister loom like a titan over her administration of pygmies. Yet while the Greens undoubtedly have their uses for Dear Nicola, they do retain an irritating habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst possible moment. Sort of like the Chuckle Brothers, without the laughs, if you will.

In recent days, this has been the sensitive issue of transgender rights: one of the few fault lines liable to split the usually pliable band of Scottish nationalists. The Greens take a much keener stance on this issue than the SNP and are pushing for sweeping changes under the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. If passed, this legislation will reduce the time a transgender person has to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months, followed by a three-month reflection period. Opponents warn that self-identification could impact women’s rights – such as access to safe single-sex spaces like refuges, toilets and changing rooms.

Predictably this has sparked something a backlash in Holyrood, with even Sturgeon’s loyal finance minister Kate Forbes among those voicing concern. It was just last year of course that SNP frontbencher Joanna Cherry was sacked in Westminster after speaking out. And recent events suggest few signs that tensions have calmed over the issue. On Sunday Lorna Slater gave an interview likening opponents of the new measures to racists and antisemites, saying:

We wouldn’t put balance on the question of racism or antisemitism. But we allow this fictional notion of balance when it comes to anti-trans [views]. The whole thing is disgusting.

It prompted a furious SNP backlash led by Cherry who declared ‘Scotland deserves better than this.’ Then on Thursday, it was Patrick Harvie’s turn to cause outrage by arguing that a ‘significant’ number of SNP members had been allowed to ‘get away with promoting transphobia’ and that the issue had been left ‘to fester’ under the leadership of his, er, coalition partner Nicola Sturgeon. Now the First Minister has been forced to intervene, arguing that it is ‘absolutely not’ the case that transphobia is tolerated within her party and suggesting that such spats were a normal part of coalition government. One to remember next time a Labour-SNP deal is mooted at Westminster, perhaps.

In the battle between Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie, it’s a shame that whoever wins, Scotland will lose.


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