Updated: Nov 23, 2021
“There was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.”
It is late 2020 and Nicola Sturgeon is riding high. Her daily public broadcasts, where she controls the pandemic message, give her the credit for keeping us safe. Sturgeon is the mammie of the nation, adored and with record approval ratings.
And politically things are also going well. Joanna Cherry, the woman Sturgeon fears, has been blocked from standing for Holyrood in the upcoming spring election. Instead, Sturgeon loyalist Angus Robertson has been given a clear run in the seat where Joanna Cherry would have stood. The fly in Sturgeon’s ointment is the acquittal of Alex Salmond on all charges earlier that year, the repercussions of that are yet to be felt.
But beneath the surface in the grassroots of the independence movement trouble is brewing. Despite a mandate and a firm promise of a second independence referendum if Scotland was taken out of the EU, Scotland has been taken out of the EU and Sturgeon and the rest of her party sat by and did absolutely nothing to prevent it.
Meanwhile, Sturgeon insists that the ‘gold standard' route to independence is by obtaining permission from the Westminster parliament via a section 30 order. Many within the independence movement believe gaining this permission is unlikely. MP Angus McNeill and councillor Chris McEleny have been battling to get a discussion on different routes to independence on the SNP Conference Agenda, and it is probable that if the discussion made it on to the agenda that the majority of SNP delegates would likely support an alternative route. To avoid the immediate issue, Sturgeon promises a National Assembly to discuss independence policy early the next year.
The movement and the SNP are also in the grip of a toxic and divisive fight over the conflict between women’s rights and gender ideology. Sturgeon’s power base within the activists of the party is dominated by gender ideologues and proponents of Queer Theory. Gender ideology prioritises gender over sex, and this has clear implications for women’s sex-based rights. But SNP women are wakening up to the danger and the SNP Women’s Pledge has been formed under councillor Caroline McAllister, supported by MPs Joanna Cherry and Neale Hanvey, and MSP Joan McAlpine.
There is also disquiet over SNP policy not being radical enough: of particular concern is the neo-liberal growth commission and lack of action on tackling poverty.
The trouble manifests via online campaigns: the ‘Good Guy’ campaign; the SNP Women’s Pledge and the SNP Common Weal. The campaigns first focus on the SNP MSP selection contests where they have some success. Many of Sturgeon’s favourites lose and the gender ideologues mostly fail to win selections, although some prevail due to lack of choice or uncontested seats. It is the first sign that Sturgeon lacks authority with the party activists.
Then a major setback for Sturgeon. Following on from their reasonable success in MSP selections the Good Guy campaigns were stepped up for the NEC and committee elections. The campaigns focus on prioritising independence, a radical policy agenda and on maintaining women’s sex-based rights. It results in the ‘good guys’ winning around half the NEC positions and dominating the committees. Many Sturgeon loyalists are defeated including outgoing Women’s Convener Rhiannon Spear, outgoing Equalities Convener Fiona Robertson and the biggest scalp outgoing Policy Convener Alyn Smith. And worse for Sturgeon her rival, Joanna Cherry, totally dominates the vote in the elected politician category. It is a sign that Sturgeon’s grip on the party is a lot weaker than her grip on the country.
Sturgeon loyalist Alyn Smith, licking his wounds in an article in the National takes a swipe at both Joanna Cherry and Alex Salmond before he states; “To the observers and pundits of Scottish politics, I would suggest that it is premature to read too much into these results”. And so it would turn out. But before that Sturgeon’s authority is to suffer yet another blow.
The Forensic Medical Services (Victim of Sexual Offences) Bill has almost completed its journey through the Scottish Parliament. At the committee stage representatives of the Survivors group had told the committee their priority was that survivors of rape and sexual assault should have the right to request a female examiner. This point had been accepted by the committee, but the gender ideologues within the Scottish government rejected the request as it did not fit their ideology. In response, Johann Lamont, Labour MSP, put forward an amendment to the bill which would restore the right to request a female examiner. The Sturgeon Government has initially rejected this amendment and is planning to vote against it.
Time is very short and a campaign is launched, known as the ‘six words campaign’ due to the Lamont amendment being only six words long; ‘for the word ‘gender’ substitute ‘sex’. The six words campaign is led by a grassroots women’s campaign group: For Women Scotland. The campaign is brutal and quick. MSPs are deluged with e-mails demanding they support the Lamont amendment. The survivors, waiving anonymity, bravely take to social media to detail their trauma and face down the gender trolls. Women and men rail against any politician that would deny a traumatised woman this request. The SNP MSPs, some out of genuine respect for women and some worried about their seats in the forthcoming Holyrood election, rebel and force a government climb down. The amendment is passed. Sturgeon now knows exactly how far she can push MSPs on destroying women’s rights, and this will inform her actions post Holyrood elections.
Sturgeon ends the year with her authority dimmed, her rival Joanna Cherry endorsed by an overwhelming conference vote, and the parliamentary enquiry into her government’s handling of complaints about the former First Minister Alex Salmond just getting started.
Sturgeon needs to reassert her authority within the party. When a leader stops being able to deliver positions and seats to her careerists and is unable to deliver policies to her ideologues, her time is short.
Find out how Sturgeon recovers the situation in Part 2.
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