There are days when I despair of Scottish politics. Today is one of those days. In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a government minister launch an astonishing attack on gender critical feminists. And we’ve learnt that our esteemed political leaders think teenagers should be able to stand as MSPs. These incidents serve to illustrate a malady at the heart of governance in Scotland.
On Sunday, Green MSP Lorna Slater, who was handed a ministerial position last year as part of an SNP-Green pact, hit out at critics of gender recognition reform. In an interview with the Sunday Herald, the Canadian-born politician launched an incredible diatribe against women’s groups that oppose GRA reform, comparing them to racists, antisemites, and climate change deniers, and accusing them, baselessly, of being funded by right-wing US entities.
Women are, quite understandably, outraged. Placing those with legitimate concerns about the erasure of sex-based rights and women-only spaces in the same category as members of the Klu Klux Klan is preposterous, and hardly befitting of a Minister of state. Scotland’s Ministerial Code demands that government officials be “professional in all their dealings” and that they treat all people with “consideration and respect”. Slater’s remarks clearly fall short of this.
It’s not the first time the MSP has been in hot water either. Earlier this year, she received a barrage of criticism when she suggested that opposition to reform of the Gender Recognition Act puts the lives of trans people at risk. Critics pointed out that the hysterical remark would do little to calm an already febrile debate and could inspire some of the more ardent activists and internet trolls who support GRA reform to up their campaign of abuse and intimidation against women.
Placing those with legitimate concerns about the erasure of sex-based rights and women-only spaces in the same category as members of the Klu Klux Klan and Adolf Hitler is preposterous
As I write, Lorna Slater is facing calls to resign, and two separate letters have been written to the First Minister demanding that she discipline her errant Minister. Responsibility for the behaviour of the Cabinet ultimately rests with Nicola Sturgeon, who has thus far failed to pass comment on the episode. Given the offensiveness of Slater’s remarks, which also betray a lack of maturity, respect, and understanding in the MSP, Sturgeon should be asking for her resignation.
If the First Minister does not ask Lorna Slater to resign and be replaced by another Green MSP, or at the very least apologise for the remarks made by this member of her government, she risks sending a message that the Scottish Government does not care about offensive and demonstrably untrue remarks. Or worse, she suggests that Slater’s cruel characterisation of women’s groups opposing GRA reform is one that is shared by others in the highest echelons of Scottish politics.
Today, it also emerged that the SNP Government believes S4-aged children are capable of being politicians. A consultation will be launched later this year on plans to allow 16-year-olds to become councillors and MSPs. The plans, which are “expected to gain cross-party support” according to the Scottish Daily Mail, would see young people who are too young to drive, drink alcohol, and get married without parental consent allowed to help run the country.
I agree that 16-year-olds should have an interest in politics, and get involved to some extent. But it’s nonsense to suggest a 16-year-old is ready to be a councillor or an MSP. Elected politics is one of the most stressful and demanding vocations out there, and it involves huge responsibility. The country is best served by politicians who have significant life experience under their belt before they enter politics. Sixteen-year-olds do not have the experience, nor the resilience required. This should be obvious.
The country is best served by politicians who have significant life experience under their belt before they enter politics. School children do not have the experience, nor the resilience required.
The problem is, such things aren’t obvious to the Scottish Government. It appears to have little understanding of the differences between adults, teenagers, and children. For evidence of this, take its recent GRA proposals, which would allow hormonal 16-year-olds to make the life-altering decision to change legal sex. Or the school survey that included questions for underage 14-year-olds about sex acts. Or the official guidance for schools saying five-year-olds should be affirmed as the opposite sex if they say they identify that way. If one thing’s clear, it’s that the current administration shouldn’t be trusted with policy making concerning children and young people.
I mentioned a malady at the heart of governance in Scotland. This illness involves various symptoms: a lack of empathy and respect towards women, impaired judgment, low levels of integrity, and illusions about one’s own moral character. All, unfortunately, are observable in the episode with Lorna Slater. The government that blasts moral failings by ‘the torays’ is happy to court the likes of Slater and operate a policy of radio silence when she issues hateful smears. Our government is not healthy.
Another major symptom of the malady is incompetence. The kind of incompetence that suggests school-aged children who have just sat their standard grade exams are able to participate in the governing of a country of six million people. It’s a ludicrous idea, from a government that is utterly bereft of ideas after 15 long and often disastrous years in power. The SNP is forming its policy ideas against all common sense.
The cure for the malady currently afflicting good governance in Scotland is straightforward. Ministers need to inject a strong infusion of humility, honesty, integrity, accountability, and respect. If they can pursue this treatment, and do it properly, the government may rally sufficiently to achieve something good in the next four years. If not, the symptoms will grow worse and, eventually, prove fatal.