New First Minister will need to ‘eat humble pie’ over gender reforms – SNP MP

The new leader of the SNP will have to “eat humble pie” over the Scottish Government’s controversial gender recognition reforms, a leading figure within the party has insisted.

Joanna Cherry KC said Nicola Sturgeon, the outgoing First Minister and SNP leader, had refused to do this – citing this as one of the policy “headaches” Ms Sturgeon has left the party.

With Westminster also having blocked the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Ms Cherry – a lawyer as well as an SNP MP –  made clear that even if a legal challenge to this from the Scottish Government was “by some miracle” successful, the legislation could still face another court challenge.

She spoke out on an online event looking at the future of the SNP and Scotland after Ms Sturgeon’s resignation – with gender recognition reform having already become a dividing line in the leadership battle.

Humza Yousaf, one of three candidates vying to become the next SNP leader, has made clear he would challenge the Section 35 order which the UK Government used to veto the Bill – but the two other leadership hopefuls, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, are both opposed to the legislation.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry has been an outspoken critic of the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms(Lesley Martin/PA)
SNP MP Joanna Cherry has been an outspoken critic of the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms(Lesley Martin/PA)

Ms Cherry, speaking at a Reform Scotland event, said: “Whoever becomes leader will have the eat the humble pie on this that Nicola Sturgeon refused to eat and move us on from it.”

Mr Yousaf, currently the Scottish Health Secretary, has branded the UK Government’s blocking of the Bill as being an attempt to “undermine the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament”.

But Ms Cherry warned that even if a legal challenge to the UK Government was successful, there could be other courtroom challenges to the legislation.

She said: “Even if by some miracle the Scottish Government won the case on the Section 35 order, and remember the British Government only have to show they exercised the power reasonably, the Bill would then be open to a human rights challenge.

“I would be absolutely astonished if there wasn’t a human rights challenge for the impact on women’s rights.”

Her comments came as she claimed Ms Sturgeon had “left behind her some major policy headaches for her successor”.

She said the SNP had “nearly won” the 2014 independence referendum because Scots at the time believed the party to be a “very effective government”.

But she added: “I don’t think that is any longer the case and I think the new leader needs to address that.”

She highlighted the attainment gap in education, issues within the NHS, “inadequate proposals” to reform the social care system, the “ferry fiasco”, and the failure to dual the A9 road between central Scotland and the highlands within the timetable set out as being some of the “headaches” Ms Sturgeon’s successor will have to deal with.

She argued her party was in need of a “major reset”, with fellow MP Stewart McDonald saying the SNP should “embrace the opportunity for a massive shift” brought about by Ms Sturgeon’s departure.

Ms Sturgeon’s resignation means the SNP is facing the “proper sunset on the Salmond/Sturgeon era of 20 years”, he said, arguing that it now needed to be given an “upgrade” similar to when Alex Salmond became leader in 2004 with Ms Sturgeon as his deputy.

Mr McDonald said: “What the duo back in 2004 understood was the need for the party to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, given a modernising upgrade and polish.

“It’s that level of upgrade we need now in 2023.”

He also stressed the importance of the party uniting behind its new leader after they are elected.

Mr McDonald said: “Whoever wins, whether it’s the candidate we like, the candidate we don’t like, the SNP is at its best when we are united and disciplined. We have lost that over the past few years and we need to get it back.”