IT is possible to be someone who wants independence for Scotland while still caring passionately about devolution.

In 2023 we marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Scotland Act 1998. In the spring of 2024, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the new Parliament.

This is a good time to reflect on how our devolved parliament is working but it is also a good time to reflect on the limits of devolution and to remind ourselves why we want independence.

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I shall never forget the hair standing up on the back of my neck as Winnie Ewing announced: “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707 is hereby reconvened.”

Winnie could always be relied upon to make the most of any occasion and she struck just the right note.

However, the harsh truth was and is still that this devolved parliament is a creature of statute with limited power and not the full expression of the sovereign will of the people of Scotland which could only be restored with full independence.

And indeed, as you would expect, Winnie acknowledged this in the speech she gave on that historic day on May 12, 1999 when she said; “It is no secret that, to members of the Scottish National Party, this parliament is not quite the fulfilment of our dream, but it is a parliament we can build a dream on.

“Our dream is for Scotland to be as sovereign as Denmark, Finland, or Austria – no more, no less. However, we know that that dream can come true only when there is total consensus among the people of Scotland, and we accept that.”

She also pledged to make the parliament work and to make it a “showpiece of democracy”.

There will be much reflection next year on whether our parliament has lived up to Winnie’s hopes.

It should also be a time for reviewing SNP strategy on how we best use the devolved parliament to create the consensus which Winnie correctly identified is needed for independence to happen.

We are not there yet and no amount of impatience from independence supporters can gainsay the fact that public opinion is currently split down the middle on independence and that is the very definition of there being no consensus.

When the SNP took power as a minority government in 2007 the Scottish Government was not even called a government. It was the Scottish Executive.

Alex Salmond’s decision to rename it a government was not just a symbolic gesture but part of a strategy to push devolution to its limits and to govern well, confidently, and boldly so as to raise confidence in Scotland’s ability to govern itself and so grow support for independence.

This was the right strategy and that is why it is still being followed today. However, whether it is being followed well or successfully in all respects is another matter.

The whole sorry episode of the GRR Bill does not reflect well on our government or indeed our parliament. There are lessons to be learned and if they are not learned, support for independence will not grow and sectors of our population will feel isolated from the democratic process.

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I opposed the bill, not because I oppose trans rights, I don’t. I support equal rights for all. I opposed it because, whilst Nicola Sturgeon said “the bill does not give any new rights to trans people”, instead, it gives the right to anyone, any man, to self-identify as woman with next to no safeguards.

The case of the rapist who styled himself “Isla Bryson” and was thus destined for a woman’s prison was a stark illustration of the risk that such a policy poses for the rights of all women and girls to safety, dignity, and privacy.

Trans people in Scotland and across the UK have the same rights as everyone else. Their equality and right not to be discriminated against, harassed or victimised is enshrined and protected in the Equality Act. This Act gives them legal remedies if such discrimination, harassment, or victimisation should occur. Those who suggest otherwise are irresponsible and misrepresenting the law.

They are also underestimating the importance of the Equality Act which although passed by a Labour government is legislation which the SNP has rightly supported enthusiastically.

In 2014 when Nicola Sturgeon published proposals for a written constitution for an independent Scotland, she proposed that it would incorporate the protections in the Equality Act for sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, religion and belief – as well as the human rights in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Had independence happened in 2014, and an independent Scottish parliament gone on to pass the GRRB, I am confident the bill would have faced a legal challenge under Scotland’s written constitution because of its adverse impacts on the safety, dignity and privacy of women, girls, and those with a same sex attraction.

Such a challenge would have had excellent prospects of success, particularly given the derisory level of scrutiny afforded to concerns raised by feminist and LGB activists during the passage of the bill.

This was a failing on the part of the whole parliament and any suggestion to the contrary does not reflect the reality of what actually happened. SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens all whipped their MSPs to vote for fundamentally flawed legislation. Even the Tories had cheerleaders for the bill. Therefore, it is a failure which the whole parliament should own.

To say that the bill was the most scrutinised in the history of the parliament does not tell us anything about the quality of that scrutiny. The reality is that government funded lobby groups mainly led by male voices had privileged access to the legislative process while women’s and LGB lobby groups were left out in the cold. They had to fight for years for what minimal access they were eventually given.

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Most of the committee that scrutinised the bill had made up their minds to support it before any evidence was heard. Indeed, many of them were loud cheerleaders for the bill and, worse still, had publicly attacked and demonised those who dared to critique the policy of Self ID. They treated the (female) UN Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women and Girls like a hostile witness while fawning over the (male) UN Special Rapporteur for Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.

Things got so bad that at one point a woman was ejected from the public gallery of the committee for wearing a scarf in suffragette colours. This is the sort of episode more in keeping with what passes for democracy in Hungary or Russia. Hardly the “showpiece of democracy” that Winnie wanted.

One of the issues most raised by those to whom our parliamentarians gave short shrift was the potential impact of the GRRB on the Equality Act. Yet this is exactly what gifted the Tory UK Government the basis for blocking the Bill under section 35 of the Scotland Act.

If you read the judgement of Lady Haldane, you will see that in order for her to uphold Alister Jack’s block on the Bill she had to find that it was reasonable for him to anticipate adverse effects on the operation of the Equality Act.

That is why the Scottish Government lost their legal challenge. Those suggesting that this finding was not integral to the legal judgment are misleading you and you should ask why they might want to do that.

Sometimes the rights of different groups may compete or conflict. Our legislative process should be geared to bottoming out difficulties and tensions when that happens. MSPs should not band together cross-party to demonise those who raise valid concerns about legislation and then rush to mischaracterise the legal judgment which vindicates those concerns.

If Holyrood wants to be the showpiece of democracy Winnie hoped for it will have to do a lot better.

And those within it who want independence need to question whether their behaviour during and after the passage of the GRRB has helped or damaged the process of building the consensus needed for indep