Despite her denials, there can be little doubt that the virulent campaign of transphobic hate manufactured by Tory ministers, the media and their allies in response to the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill played a significant role in forcing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation on 15 February. For the preceding fortnight Sturgeon was barely able to appear in public without a journalist or Tory politician popping up to demand whether or not she thinks convicted rapist Nicola Bryson is a woman.
The GRR furore, however, was only the latest in a succession of crises revealing the bankruptcy of her government’s ‘strategy’: attempting to straddle the ever widening gap between lip-service to Scottish workers’ struggle for economic, political and social rights and the SNP’s refusal to breach the bounds of capitalist austerity.
Power of education strikes
Indeed, as Sturgeon addressed her hastily convened press conference, the Executive of Scotland’s largest teachers union, the Education Institute of Scotland unanimously rejected their latest pay offer from Ministers and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. After six months of insisting there was “no more money”, Education Secretary Shirley Anne Somerville pulled £156 million out of her pocket. But in teachers’ view, this was too little too late, and it came with a lorry-load of strings attached.
EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley explained:
“The 6% offer for this year is only 1% less of a pay cut than that previously offered, twice. The suggested year two component of 5.5% hasn’t been negotiated. By tagging on next year’s pay settlement, they are attempting to tie the hands of all public sector unions.”
The teachers’ strike, moreover, is about working conditions and the state of education as much as it is about pay. Sturgeon’s speech brazenly referenced her commitment to “close the ‘attainment gap” between working class pupils and affluent schools, despite performance on this manifesto pledge lagging massively behind target. It can only be further sabotaged by cuts planned by SNP-led councils. Scotland’s largest authority, Glasgow City Council, threatened to cut school hours and slash 800 teacher posts to ‘balance the books’.
SNP fails to deliver for working people
Similar crises pervade Scotland’s public services. The British Medical Association’s Scotland Chair has warned that the “NHS is crumbling” in the face of failures on pay, working conditions, workload and staffing numbers. Health is becoming semi-privatised for those who can (in many cases, barely) afford it. There has been a 68% post-pandemic increase in private treatment to jump NHS waiting lists.
Above all, the vultures have come home to roost on Sturgeon’s failure to deliver the SNP’s central policy, indeed its raison d’etre: independence. As Socialist Alternative have explained, the SNP’s refusal to mobilise the growing struggle for political and economic change to build mass action for independence leaves them impotent in the face of successive Tory governments’ undemocratic stonewalling over a referendum.
Sturgeon has instead made a lame proposal to make the next general glection a “de facto referendum”. Her resignation is principally designed to avert, or more likely diffuse, a rebellion against this at the SNP’s emergency conference in a month’s time.
Break with the capitalist class
However, as long as the SNP (and its pro-independence allies in the Green Party) refuse to challenge the power of the capitalist class and play by rigged rules laid down by the UK Supreme Court, Sturgeon’s successor will be equally unable to deliver independence, or the social change Scottish voters want it to deliver.
The only force able to guarantee independence, economic security or an end to the oppression trans people, women and people of colour increasingly face in Scotland and across Tory Britain is the working class fighting for socialist change. To achieve this we need to build a new party of class struggle able to fight for a socialist independent Scotland as part of a voluntary socialist federation with workers in England, Wales and Ireland.