Mandy Rhodes: Rush to close gender gap may have led to oversight by Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon takes a selfie with the new junior ministers, including Gillian Martin (Twitter)

NICOLA STURGEON’S long-awaited reshuffle has, in the end, proved less interesting for who she has brought in and more for who she has now had to keep out.

Less than 24 hours after posing with the First Minister and her colleagues on the stairs of Bute House, Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin, the new education minister, was unceremoniously dumped from the Scottish Government. The snub came about after opposition parties refused to back her appointment because of blogs written by Martin more than 10 years ago.

In one of her online musings, Martin, then a college lecturer, began by quipping that what she was about to write could get her fired and then graphically made a mockery of the trend for political correctness in higher education.

She talked of an EU “tranny trove” of cash and “hairy-knuckled, lipstick-wearing, transitional transgender Laydees” and disturbingly claimed that college public relations staff lasciviously “froth at the mouth with excitement if anyone in a wheelchair does anything that can be remotely described as an achievement”.

What is most surprising is that the blog that has got her sacked now didn’t get her sacked then.

The fact that Martin had made those remarks was not new. The comments hit the front pages in 2016. But then Jackson Carlaw, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, revealed further racist posts by Martin about black Americans and Jews.

What is interesting is why, ahead of a reshuffle, the First Minister didn’t probe a little deeper? Not least because for a party that was so quick to make a judgement on the former SNP minister Mark McDonald’s inappropriate behaviour, it would seem hypocritical not to apply the same scrutiny and condemnation of a woman whose behaviour has been found wanting.

The whole debacle raises questions about the First Minister – her judgment of character and, more worryingly, who Sturgeon can trust.

The ladies-in-waiting has been a well-worn phrase on the SNP backbenches, used to describe some of those women who came in at the 2016 election, many fired up by the referendum and impatient for change.

In a zeitgeist which, quite rightly, aspires to gender equality and with a First Minister equally determined to promote women, the opportunities to move up quickly have always been clear. But perhaps in a rush to close that gap, there has also been a carelessness.

After 11 years in power and with 42% of the SNP MSPs in government, and with others now sacked from it or not promoted to it, there will be malcontents.

It is managing that ahead of an important election that could be the real challenge of this reshuffle.

Mandy Rhodes is editor of Holyrood magazine and was last week named Magazine Columnist of the Year at the PPA UK magazine awards for her ‘visceral, engaging and often genuinely moving writing’.