Why Sunak blocked Scotland’s gender recognition law

Right now Sunak calculates his affront to Nicola Sturgeon is more problematic for Keir Starmer. Credit: PA

In blocking the Scottish Government's Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Rishi Sunak has simultaneously made a statement of "thus far and no further" for devolution and for transgender rights.

Which defines him as a more conservative Conservative than is perhaps his public image.It slams down the portcullis on those who hark back to the Tory party of David Cameron and believe that without modernisation one day that party dies.

But right now Sunak calculates his affront to Nicola Sturgeon is more problematic for Keir Starmer and his party than it is for himself, or even perhaps for Sturgeon.

She'll challenge Sunak's veto in the courts and ramp up the case for independence.Whereas Starmer's most important policy at the moment is to devolve more power all over the UK, including to Scotland, and his electoral success depends in part in proving to Scottish voters that devolution represents meaningful control over their own lives, including - presumably - how gender is recognised in law.But if Starmer backs Scotland's right to define gender, which was supported by Labour's leader in Scotland Anas Sarwar though not by all Labour members of the Scottish Parliament, he knows the Tories will accuse him of undermining the rights of biological women.They will see an opportunity to woo socially conservative erstwhile Labour supporters (the so-called Red Wall vote, in a slightly misleading paraphrase).So Starmer will feel a need to tread and speak carefully on this, though when it comes to wars on cultural identity, gender identity and national identity such ambiguity is often where toxic innuendo and smears proliferate like weeds.I suspect he will have to make a choice that he can express as the principled or moral position, because if he is seen to be making some kind of pragmatic judgement that traditionalist English views of gender somehow weigh more for his electoral ambitions than Scottish liberal ones, he risks alienating almost everyone.

This is a relatively dangerous moment for him.

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