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Nicola Sturgeon rebrands as free speech champion

Nicola Sturgeon speaks in Edinburgh last night. Credit: Getty

May 17, 2024 - 11:50am

We live in a world of perpetual reinvention. Tory MPs can become eager supporters of Sir Keir Starmer, it seems, and men can turn into women. But surely there must be limits? I’ve certainly reached mine now that one of the most divisive women in contemporary politics expects us to believe she’s been transformed into a champion of tolerance and free speech.

Yes, I’m talking about Nicola Sturgeon. In the last few weeks, Scotland’s former first minister has emerged from a period of lying low with a newly minted set of concerns: the need for civilised debate and, er, calling out misogyny. “The culture, at times, in politics is downright unpleasant,” she said in a speech at the University of Edinburgh last night.

According to Sturgeon, politics is now a more “toxic, hostile environment”, particularly for women and minorities. She should know, after smearing women who disagree with her on gender ideology as “deeply misogynist, often homophobic […] possibly racist as well”. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I realised that the new, “kind” Sturgeon was up to her old tricks.

In her conversation yesterday evening with Lord Wallace, she raised the spectre of opposition to same-sex marriage, saying she doubted whether it would be legalised in Scotland today. Gay marriage became legal in Scotland 10 years ago, with huge public support, and I’m not aware of anyone suggesting it should be repealed.

But conflating opposition to gender woo-woo with homophobia is a core tactic of trans activists. Linking causes that have nothing to do with each other, and which are actually opposed in many people’s eyes, is not an honourable way to conduct politics. It’s one of many reasons why Sturgeon’s reinvention of herself, after a bruising year in which her successor Humza Yousaf has had to resign and her husband Peter Murrell has been charged with embezzlement, is about as shameless as it’s possible to imagine.

Reviewing Salman Rushdie’s memoir Knife in the New Statesman last month, Sturgeon argued that abandoning concerns about free speech “in favour of the protection of the sensibilities of vulnerable groups has allowed its weaponisation by the far Right”. Hmm, “sensibilities of vulnerable groups”: I wonder who she might be referring to.

Trans activists in her own party and in the Scottish Greens, perhaps, who refused to listen to women who wanted to explain the disastrous impact of allowing men charged with rape to “identify” as women. I’ll give a shout-out here to the newly-appointed equalities minister, Kaukab Stewart, who claims she didn’t notice when she was standing in front of a banner with the legend “decapitate terfs” at a protest in January last year.

But Sturgeon’s most brazen piece of reinvention is as an opponent of misogyny. Earlier this month, at the launch of Val McDermid’s latest book, Sturgeon complained that women’s rights are under threat and “misogyny seems to be on the rise again”.

She’s right about that, if nothing else. But much of it is inspired by gender ideology, which has unleashed the biggest wave of woman-hatred I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. She may have forgotten the events that forced her out of office, but the rest of us haven’t.


Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She was previously Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board. Her book Unfortunately, She Was A Nymphomaniac: A New History of Rome’s Imperial Women will be published in November 2024.

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R K
R K
1 month ago

She should go on a podcast with Alistair Campbell

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago
Reply to  R K

Don’t give them any ideas.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 month ago
Reply to  R K

Alistair’s taken – Rory Stuart has first dibs on him. But if she needs a partner to tag-team with for a podcast show, I hear Natalie Elphicke is free.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
1 month ago

After all the damage Sturgeon did when she was in office, so confidently calling women homophobes, transphobes & racists for our concerns about women’s & children’s safety, it takes some breathtaking brass neck on her part her to be banging on now about ‘toxicity’ of debate.
All the bile & viciousness came from her, the ‘trans’ lobby & the genderborg. The evidence is all extremely well documented.
She’s about as shameless as it’s possible for a person to be.

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane Awdry

Remember this is the woman who stated she ‘hates’ Tories. Hardly a kindly and tolerant statement. What a ghastly individual she is.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane Awdry

I’ve always thought there was something fishy about that woman. And her predecessor too, for that matter.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

… and something useless about her successor.

Rory Cullen
Rory Cullen
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

I do enjoy a good dad joke about the sturgeon and salmond fishy surnames

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Nominative determinism indeed. Pond life spring to mind too.

Douglas McCallum
Douglas McCallum
1 month ago

This is the woman who as First Minister rammed through the notorious Suppression of Free Speech Bill (mis-labeled as something to do with hate speech). She personally insisted on giving the Scottish Government more power to suppress speech, not only in public but even in private, than would be tolerated in any other civilised nation. It is indeed jaw-droppingly absurd for her to claim in any way to be championing free speech. Interesting that her comments strongly implied that anything which she considers misogynist should also be suppressed. What part of “Free Speech” does she not understand?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

What part of “Free Speech” does she not understand?
The part where “free” can and often does mean speech that she does not agree with.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
1 month ago

Sturgeon is clearly desperate to rehabilitate her now crashed and burned reputation. She hasn’t taken her eye off that cushy UN job in NYC that she felt was deservedly (and inevitably) coming her way. So certain was she that no doubt she’d even made a pre-appointment visit to Macy’s to select the furnishings. That dream disappeared with her disgraceful resignation and subsequent police investigation. But she clearly believes (undoubtedly under advice from some expensive PR firm) that she can reinvent herself and that everyone will forget what she’d done. I have news for her – they won’t. She’s now radioactive to the Davos/UN set, not for her trans views, which they no doubt applaud, but for that pesky and inconvenient police raid.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

That hobgoblin has some nerve, taking the moral highground when all she did was insult and endanger women.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Hobgoblin
Spot on!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

When a person who epitomizes the problem pretends to now offer the solution, mockery is in order. Whatever negative results Sturgeon now clutches her pearls over were foreseeable when she was pushing a narrative and attacking anyone who recognized how it would end.
At least old soldiers had the good grace to just fade away. Pity that old politicians are incapable of that.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 month ago

” … a period of lying low …” Don’t you just mean “a period of lying”?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago

Lying AND low?

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

What an absolutely disgusting hypocrite.
I find it hard to recall a politician who went in for hostile personal abuse and name calling more than Nicola Sturgeon. Whilst pretending that her Scotland was a nicer, kinder, gentler place than south of the border.
Nothing has changed.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
1 month ago

I saw that headline and thought I had mistakenly opened the Babylon Bee site.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips
1 month ago

Brass neck is an important qualification for political life but this is something else. Maybe in her own little world, she believes she is the wronged one in all this and doesn’t really understand how her tenure as FM ended.

Michael Lipkin
Michael Lipkin
1 month ago

She is a chatGPT politician. Every manoeuvre, every twitch is programmed for maximal political advantage, there is nothing inside.
Using Rushdie’s misfortune as an opportunity for rebranding. The article is probably written with the aid of chatGPT.
The young man who attacked Rushie was a jobless wastrel who played video games all night, he hated himself. When the opportunity came to obliterate himself by becoming an Islamist he took it. How many such are we creating?

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
1 month ago

I’m actually enjoying seeing this soulless hack attempting to suck up to the same people she made a career out of persecuting. The reek of desperation is sweet indeed to savor.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
1 month ago

Shameless is right.

When I mess up, do something stupid, I keep my head down for a while and hope, eventually, people forget.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago

“Gay marriage became legal in Scotland 10 years ago, with huge public support, and I’m not aware of anyone suggesting it should be repealed.”

Well I am a nobody so not an “anyone” but I think it should be repealed. Marriage always was, and still should be, between a man and a woman. Civil partnership gave them equal rights but without corrupting our language or culture so much.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob N

I am still fascinated by how gay marriage was rammed through without public support in so many places by governments that never even had them in their manifestos and then retroactively pretended like it was an act of popular will.

It is somehow more socially acceptable in 2024 to believe in white nationalism than to openly call for the repeal of gay marriage. It just shows how culture is downstream of politics and not vice versa. In ten years everyone has entirely forgotten the gay rights saga and moved onto the next “Current Thing”.

Davy Humerme
Davy Humerme
1 month ago

This is exactly the trick that Arden played and Trudeau is attempting. After all victimhood, narcissism and hypocrisy are the operating system of “progressive” authoritarians. Sturgeon relished the lockdown, seeking to send Scotland deeper into a public health police state. She covered up her own mistakes in allowing a conference to go ahead because she craves the spotlight. She is deep as her stiletto heels in the scandal of SNP finances and has acted as the handmaiden for the rejected policies favouring the trans cult. A bit like the Bourbons she understands nothing and forgets everything when convenient. She presided over the worst policy failures of any Scottish government. That she used her midwit reading hobby hijacking the genuine hate crime against Rushdie, is all too risible . When she bleats about misogyny while allowing her trans cult followers to threaten violence and rape to Joanna Cherry and JK Rowling, it reminds me of Winnie Mandela and her evil followers. Mind you she will end up with a top job in the corrupt interstices between academia, NGO’s and government.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
1 month ago

Fandabidozi!

Harry Child
Harry Child
1 month ago

When are the scottish police going to conclude their investigation and in the meantime please don’t give this women the oxygen of publicity. To quote the most popular comment on here today “She’s about as shameless as it’s possible for a person to be.”

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Harry Child

At about the same times as the complete their investigations into Ms Rayner’s domestic arrangements.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
1 month ago

In a week when a European leader survived an assassination attempt by a far-left assailant, it’s reassuring to be told by Nicola that the far-right are dangerous. The media will assist her in the airbrushing of her past, after all these are their pet causes and their previous sycophancy would look a bit silly now if they were seen to turn on her.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago

Maybe she can get a job doing reviews for Campervan Monthly.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago

Unherd’s resident anti-trans fanatic spews her usual bile against the most vulnerable people in society and the leaders who try to support them. I see she is now taking aim at marriage equality too. No great surprise – these bigots hate anything that doesn’t conform to their grotesque Victorian hypocrisies.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

Get lost

Jessica Oh
Jessica Oh
1 month ago

Do you have evidence for ‘most vulnerable’? Because I’m pretty sure that women as a sex class (of all socio-economic classes) are the most vulnerable.
Also I’m curious as to why you think that ‘grotesque Victorian hypocrisies’ are *not* the ideas of gender ideology that say ‘if you perform stereotypical feminine behaviours – you are a woman’.
They also say that a lesbian – a female human solely attracted to other female humans – is a bigot if she refuses to be attracted to a man who claims to be a lesbian.
You may do well to interrogate your position on gender ideology, in particular ask yourself why you think that a misogynistic, homophobic ideology is something good.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

You’re becoming seriously unfunny, CS. Perhaps less champagne, m’lord?

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

Suitable this hypocrite should have been at the launch of trans supporting Val McDermid’s book.
I wish she’d reinvent herself as an obscure wifey instead.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

She caused hatred between the Scottish people and the Tories,she divided Scotland and England during COVID,she helped the trans activists with pushing there lies on to the Scottish people while slagging off anyone who believes in truth and freedom of speech Braveheart Will be turning in his grave

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

“Freedom for me, but not for thee,” is what she means. 🙂