SNP leadership contest: Democratic outrage of Westminster blocking Scotland's Gender Recognition Reform Bill reduced to culture war clickbait about JK Rowling – Laura Waddell
In response to interviewer Beth Rigby’s question of whether or not they believed the celebrity author to be a “national treasure”, the candidates jockeying to carry forward the torch of the independence movement did not so much as glance back to Rowling’s much-publicised £1 million donation to the anti-independence Better Together campaign in 2014.
Questioning the candidates’ commitment to cultural funding would have been more relevant to the 70,000 employed by Scotland’s creative industries, many of whom have struggled to recover post-Covid. But regardless of what they, or you or I, or the SNP trio think of JK Rowling, her “national treasure” status has already been asserted by royal arbiters of such matters, having received an Order of the British Empire in 2001 and, in 2017, being presented by Prince William with the even rarer a Companion of Honour medal.
In more recent times, the author has made political headlines for speaking about gender recognition reform, last year posting a picture of herself wearing a T-shirt printed with the words “Nicola Sturgeon: destroyer of women’s rights". Markedly, none of the candidates interpreted a question about the author as about literary merit or juggernaut profit – or even about arts and culture.
Between the three of them, Regan, Forbes and Yousaf cobbled together answers referencing “the issue of transgender rights” and – from Ash Regan – praise for “bravery” in voicing (as ever, unspecified and vague) “legitimate concerns”. From this question, nothing new was learned about any of the candidates, all of whom have previously made clear their views.
Followers of Scottish politics frequently complain when they perceive UK-wide coverage to show shallow understanding or naivety about domestic issues at play. Now they must contend also with complex subjects reduced to culture war controversies. The more cynical and craven politicians lean into it.
They know that, when a televised debate is filtered down to coverage on other news outlets, the culture war angle makes for compellingly clickable headlines, that it can easily be snipped into short video clips to be dispersed online in any manner of contexts and, eventually, as so often now happens, stripped of context entirely amidst the confusion of social media with all its insidious pushers of propaganda for one thing or another. While it often seems no one is driving the car, when poisonous particles of hatred and conspiracy theorising spread, the far-right are adept at capitalising upon and manipulating the chaos.
A more illuminating question for any would-be leader of Scotland would have been to ask the candidates directly about the historic blocking of Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform bill by Westminster. Falling in line with the unionist parties, some within the SNP who opposed gender self-identification have themselves been shamefully quiet about this democratic outrage, seemingly placated by a short-term win for anti-transgender causes while ignoring the constitutional ramifications of Westminster steamrollering Holyrood.
The landmark moment of Westminster undermining Scotland’s parliament has been largely overshadowed by endlessly stoked culture war noise and furore, questions addressed to those who would take the mantle of leader of Scotland reduced to abstractions about fantasy authors. Effectively, our democracy is being signal-jammed.
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