I HAD hoped, I must confess, that the back end of 2022 would also bear witness to the back end of Scotland’s debate on gender recognition.

This whole matter has not shown Scotland at its best, to put it mildly. Indeed, as someone with a deep interest in Scotland, its Parliament and its national debate being seen as an international exemplar, I have found myself spending most of the year hoping that nobody’s watching.

Should you find yourself searching The Herald’s archives for the Friday columns I’ve written about the now-passed Gender Recognition Act, you will be searching for a long time. In truth, I have assiduously avoided the topic on these pages, and in my commentary on television and on radio.

You may think me weak, or neglectful of my duty, and you’d probably be right about both. However, in the decade or so that I have been a public commentator, I felt for the first time that, on this topic, there was no safe space for me to offer my views without soliciting unwanted attention in return.

My views on gender identity are nuanced. They also extend beyond the scope of the Act to how we deal with younger children who are unsure of their gender identity. But Scotland is increasingly no place for nuance. And on gender recognition, Scotland is increasingly no place for contrary views and open debate.

So, I’m sorry, but I decided long ago that writing about this issue was a hassle I did not need.

But, alas, it seems that the debate will not be over when tomorrow night’s bells signal the start of 2023, for the UK Government wishes to have its say.

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There will be a constituency of people who think it is a simply fabulous idea for the UK Government to seek to overturn this piece of legislation (as a clue, they are the 15-or-so per cent of the electorate who have comprised the Tory core vote during the devolution years). To some degree, I understand where they are coming from. The Scottish Parliament has, over the years, tended towards "show" legislation rather than the type which makes a genuine difference to the lives of the people.

Earlier this week, we found out that every single day in Scotland, four children are referred to an obesity clinic. That’s nearly 1,500 children every year who, statistically, are unlikely to ever be healthy in their lives, which will impact on their performance at school, their ability to fulfil their potential in the workplace and therefore contribute financially and socially to the country, and to their lifelong mental health.

That is a weighty problem in both senses of the word, and yet we are doing precious little about it outside of the usual national strategy with a completion date far enough into the future that nobody pays any attention. Gender recognition is a major issue for a relatively small group of people, and it may meaningfully improve their lives or harm the lives of others, depending on which side of the debate we sympathise with. But it cannot, surely, be regarded as being on the same priority level as childhood obesity or other fundamental weaknesses in Scotland’s ability to build a healthy and wealthy nation.

None of that, though, is an acceptable reason for the UK Government to contemplate using the Scotland Act to block this legislation, far less actually doing it. To do so would be both an act of constitutional vandalism, and simultaneously hand Scottish nationalists another tranche of soft unionists on a silver platter. Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, should return from the Christmas holidays to tell his Cabinet colleagues Kemi Badenoch and Rishi Sunak to focus their energies elsewhere.

The truth is that the reasons being highlighted by Downing Street – that the legislation could contravene the Equality Act and that we should not have different rules across either side of the Border – whilst having some credibility at the margins, are largely phoney. They are reverse-engineered justifications for a desire to involve themselves in an issue which they think could create a wedge between Nicola Sturgeon and the million-plus people who vote for her.

Westminster is picking a fight but, not for the first time, the Tories are failing utterly to understand the foundational principles of the very large group of soft unionists whom they need to continue to vote No (or at least indicate their preference for so doing). These are people who don’t always love the UK, but don’t want to leave it either. They are unlikely to go on marches or be members of political parties. But they put Scotland first, and they become deeply irritated when London tells Scotland what it can and cannot do.

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We have seen this over, and over, and over again, and it is only the blinding emotion of unionist politics that stops the Tory Party from understanding that every time they hint that they might interfere, or block, or overturn, they throw people into the waiting arms of the SNP and Scottish nationalism.

If they block this Act, just watch as polling in favour of a Yes vote at a future independence referendum shoots up. Strategically, the better play for them would be to let this happen and, perhaps, reap some of the benefits of middle-ground SNP voters, particularly women, being concerned enough about the legislation that they might rethink their politics entirely.

What we are seeing is the very worst of Westminster. What we are seeing is Westminster’s superiority complex in overdrive, keeping a watchful eye over the Scots and correcting us when we get it wrong.

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Time will tell whether we Scots have got the Gender Recognition Act wrong. It may be rather a long time. But time has already told in respect of what lies within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

If we have made a mistake, it is our mistake to make. You keep out of it.

Andy Maciver is founding director of Message Matters and Zero Matters