It’s not just that that same government cannot make the trains run on time, properly educate our most vulnerable children, or even count its people. Nor is it even the malign influence of the worst Prime Minister in living memory that taints the body politic across our nation.
No, the stench of corruption that infects almost every aspect of Scottish life comes from civil society. That once proudly independent gathering of organisations that campaigned for a Scottish Parliament, that stood alongside striking miners and their families, that did not shirk from speaking truth to power. That civil society is no more.
Instead we have a craven collection of organisations, from advocacy groups to cultural institutions, trade unions to churches, that pay homage to the court of Bute House and the First Minister’s courtiers in Holyrood.
A small but powerful elite that, instead of holding government to account on behalf of the people, offers law-makers unconditional support in exchange for an illusion of influence and a three-year grant. Insider Scotland: Sturgeon’s New Model Army.
And right at the heart of this coterie of insiders sits the Church of Scotland, or that is how it seems after this week.
Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee is currently taking evidence about the government’s plans to reform the 2004 Gender Recognition Act by allowing anyone over the age of 16 to change their legal sex by declaration – self-id for short.
Let’s set aside for the moment the arguments for and against this major societal change. Suffice to say that, if passed, the bill will, in the words of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, extend “the ability to change legal sex from a small defined group, who have demonstrated their commitment and ability to live in their acquired gender, to a wider group who identify as the opposite gender at a given point.”
The impact on society – and individual lives – of the legal change will be significant, which is why the committee’s role of scrutinising the bill, word by word, line by line, is so important.
Traditionally, a parliamentary committee will invite a range of experts, campaign groups, independent institutions, and individuals – civil society in fact – to help MSPs properly examine draft legislation without fear or favour.
However, the Equalities Committee appear to have mostly invited their friends, or at least those who support self-ID or are in some way beholden to government.
There have been a few honourable exceptions. Campaign groups For Women Scotland and LGB Alliance and the policy collective MBM gave evidence last week, but in the main the witnesses are drawn from insider Scotland.
Take the session on data. Self-id will have significant implications for the analysis of data that is used to inform public service delivery and resource management. A government needs to know how many males and females there are in the population. It’s basic stuff.
But the committee declined to hear from data experts who have concerns about the bill, like leading social scientist Professor Alice Sullivan, who submitted written evidence to it. Instead, it invited only Paul Lowe, head of the National Records of Scotland and the man who took the sex question out of the 2022 Census, and Kevin Guyan, author of Queer Data.
Then this week, the committee heard from faith groups, or at least Christian churches. There was no sign of representatives from the Muslim or Jewish communities, some of whose members have expressed deep concerns about self-id. The parliament press office was reluctant to confirm whether they had been invited. “A wide range of faith and non-faith groups were invited [other] than those on the agenda but not all were able to appear,” it said.
Never mind, the Church of Scotland’s Faith Impact Forum was there in body and spirit to give the government’s plans its full-throated support. On the eve of the hearing, David Bradwell, the forum’s associate secretary, wrote giving the Kirk’s backing for self-ID. A position which was underlined the next day by Reverend Karen Hendry, who gave evidence to the committee.
This is even though only a few weeks ago, the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland considered the issue and did not come to any decision. The forum’s report to members about gender reform stated only that it “will seek to consult and engage constructively on the issues that will soon come before Holyrood and where the views of the public will be invited. We urge individual ministers, elders and members to consider the ideas for reform themselves, and if they are so moved, to make representation to their own MSPs.”
Clearly Rev Hendry and Mr Bradwell were so moved. Whether they speak on behalf of the church’s 300,000 members or their own luxury beliefs will soon become evident, but for the moment the Church of Scotland is firmly a member of insider Scotland.
Increasingly, it seems that the views of the Scottish people are immaterial. All that matters are the beliefs of a tiny activist elite who are on first name terms with government ministers and backbench MSPs. It is irrelevant if their activism damages society or harms individuals. All that matters is that an increasingly authoritarian First Minister has enough cheerleaders to give the impression that she is the “most relatable politician” in the UK.
Meanwhile, anxious teenage girls are risking infertility by being force-fed puberty blockers, homosexual boys are being persuaded they are girls because they like satin and tat, and women fear the loss of their hard-won sex-based rights and protections.
Who will speak for them? Not civic Scotland it seems. They speak only for themselves.