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I thought of that production when I switched venues the following day – to the political theatre at Holyrood.

Inevitably, the discourse featured a quote from the play. Nicola Sturgeon described comments from an opponent as being full of “sound and fury”.

No doubt her innate politeness prevented her from using the full quotation – the bit about “a tale told by an idiot.”

However, in a different context, she is facing substantial levels of both sound and fury with regard to the legislation designed to ease the process of changing gender.

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No idiocy here either. Serious arguments, serious concerns. Plus understandable emotion on all sides.

You will recall that, for six years or so, Holyrood has been consulting upon and then legislating for a measure designed to enable self-identification, without a medical certificate, for those who wish to live in another gender.

You will recall too that the legislation was carried by a large majority in the Scottish Parliament – then blocked by the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack on the grounds that it clashed with UK equalities law, specifically the protection of women.

It is, thus, uniquely challenging for the FM. She set out to help the trans community. But she has now infuriated some women’s organisations. And, to cap it all, she has a constitutional battle to pursue.

At Holyrood this week, it was not difficult to discern the tension – and the inchoate disquiet within the SNP group.

As one told me: “The recess can’t come soon enough.”

To add to it all, there is the issue of a double rapist who now presents as a woman but, after initially being housed in Cornton Vale, has been shifted to a male person.

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Douglas Ross, who leads the Scottish Conservatives, repeatedly challenged the FM to state whether she considered this individual to be a man or a woman.

No doubt seeking to influence her choice, he reminded Ms Sturgeon that the person in question “has a penis.”

In vain did Nicola Sturgeon appeal for calm. In vain did she note that her legislation had not been enacted – and therefore had no immediate bearing upon the case cited by Mr Ross.

The issue has gone beyond such niceties. It now has its own momentum. It is occupying a considerable proportion of Ministerial and Parliamentary time. Hence those glum SNP faces.

To some extent – I stress, some extent – I am reminded of the row in the very earliest days of devolved governance over Section 28.

This was a measure which was designed to prevent the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, most particularly in schools.

There had been no prosecutions. The law was virtually unknown. Until, that is, Wendy Alexander and the Labour/LibDem coalition proposed scrapping it, believing it to be self-evidently hateful and otiose.

Then, witness the row. Brian Souter, of Stagecoach, led a campaign against abolition, declaring: “We didnae vote for it and we’re no havin’ it!”

Eventually, the row subsided and the clause was scrapped.

And this current dispute? Once again, there was minimal public discussion of trans issues – until, that is, the process for changing gender came up for reform. Cue significant controversy.

There are, however, two big differences here. Firstly, the concern among some women’s groups is deep-seated and will not easily be addressed.

Secondly, any possible solution is not solely in the hands of Holyrood, let alone the Scottish Government. Westminster has intervened.

So what does Nicola Sturgeon do? She could challenge the UK ruling in the courts. Presumably in Scotland but, possibly, in the UK Supreme Court.

That remains very definitely on the table and may be pursued, if only to exhaust all avenues.

However, senior Holyrood insiders are decidedly sceptical about the prospect of success. One said to me that, thus far, the courts had tended to accept the doctrine of the sovereignty of Westminster which lies at the heart of the legislation which founded the Scottish Parliament in the first place.

So could the First Minister reform the legislation, as carried by Holyrood, in order to attempt to satisfy the concerns expressed by Mr Jack?

Two immediate problems. One, Nicola Sturgeon is intuitively reluctant to underline the limits to Holyrood’s devolved remit in this way.

If you like, it would be a “de facto” acceptance that Westminster is sovereign – and superior.

Indeed, Scottish Government insiders believe that thwarting Holyrood is now a generic Westminster tactic, beyond this individual controversy. That is denied by UK Ministers.

Secondly, what would have to be done to the Scottish legislation to placate Westminster? Mr Jack has declined to say, arguing that it is up to the Scottish Government to ensure that its laws are UK compliant.

As one source said, how exactly do you handle that? Scrap the plan to extend certification to those aged 16? Make special provision for sex offenders?

Each change has its own legislative and implementation problems. And, on the available evidence, such limited change would fail to satisfy the UK challenge.

So does Nicola Sturgeon scrap the Scottish legislation after six years of trying? Perhaps blaming obstruction by the UK Government?

In terms of simple arithmetic, that might seem politically astute. To be blunt, there are far more women than there are members of the trans community.

But think. That arithmetical calculation is the very definition of minority status. It would, arguably, add to the sense of isolation and exclusion felt by trans people.

Precisely the problems Ms Sturgeon was seeking to address in the first place.

Another element was mentioned to me. The Greens are particularly zealous in defence of the trans reforms.

They would not take at all kindly to the measure being dumped. As one SNP source told me, it might have an impact upon other shared Scottish Government objectives, such as the budget.

Difficult, challenging. Not made any easier by entrenched attitudes, on both sides, which show little sign of slackening.

Macbeth style, Ministers may screw their courage to the sticking place. But, right now, no obvious solution presents itself.




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#Brian #Taylor #Nicola #Sturgeon #silence #row #gender #reform

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