INDEPENDENT 2024-07-09 14:08:59

JK Rowling attacks new women’s minister over gender comments

JK Rowling has criticised the new women and equalities minister over previous remarks she has made on gender.

The Harry Potter author called past comments made by Anneliese Dodds on gender “nonsensical” as the Labour MP’s new appointment was announced, after Ms Rowling previously accused Labour of having “abandoned” her and others campaigning for women’s rights.

The novelist has frequently argued online that trans women are not women and criticised Scottish Government proposals to introduce self-identification for transgender people.

Shortly after Monday’s announcement, Ms Rowling tweeted part of a transcript from an interview Ms Dodds had taken part in for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in 2022.

According to the posted transcript, when asked for Labour’s definition of a woman, Ms Dodds said there are “different definitions legally around what a woman actually is” and, when pressed again, said: “I think it does depend what the context is.”

Ms Rowling tweeted: “And if you happen to be wondering how I have the transcript of that Woman’s Hour to hand, it was sent to me by Dodds’ office after I publicly criticised her prevarication on the programme. They seemed to think I’d find her comments less nonsensical if I saw them in print.”

Last October, speaking at Labour’s National Annual Women’s Conference, Ms Dodds said a Labour win in the election would see her “become the UK’s first ever Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, with a seat at the top table, dedicated to advocating for women in all their diversity in every Cabinet conversation”.

The Government is facing criticism from a coalition of campaigning organisations for not following through on that dedicated position, accused of offering a “diluted alternative” and “bolt-on ministerial briefs”.

Ms Dodds has been appointed a minister of state – Minister for Women and Equalities – in the Department for Education, serving under Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson who was named also Minister for Women and Equalities.

However, the prime minister’s spokesperson said Ms Dodds will be the lead minister, with Ms Phillipson having also been named a minister for “constitutional purposes” as she is a Secretary of State.

The spokesperson said: “Anneliese Dodds will be the Minister for Women and Equalities and will be, as I understand it, attending Cabinet but for sort of constitutional purposes you also need someone who’s a full Cabinet member having the brief as part of their role, but for all intents and purposes, Anneliese Dodds will be the lead minister.”

Ms Dodds, in her time as shadow women and equalities secretary, affirmed Labour’s commitment to “trans people and women” and criticised the demonisation of vulnerable people.

Last year she said Labour is “committed to modernising the Gender Recognition Act”.

In an article for The Guardian, she added: “Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating. So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.”

Meanwhile, Ms Phillipson has previously warned against “picking fights, seeking headlines” on issues around gender.

During the election campaign, Ms Phillipson said she wanted to take the heat out of the row over transgender guidance for schools.

“Let’s stop this being a political football,” she told the BBC. “This is our children’s lives, their wellbeing, it’s too important to make this a culture wars issue on the front pages of newspapers.”

Draft guidance, published before the election was called, stated that England’s schools should not teach about the concept of gender identity.

Asked if she would ditch the proposed ban, Ms Phillipson said trans people’s “existence should be recognised” before saying discussion on the issue “drifts sometimes into a slightly bizarre conversation”.

She has also previously said “statutory guidance” on single-sex spaces would be set out by a Labour government.

Last month, she said: “I do believe in the importance of single-sex provision, but I also believe that trans people have the right to appropriate care as well. I don’t think it is about one or the other.”

The Conservative government had, before the election was called, announced plans to overhaul the NHS Constitution to “ensure that biological sex is respected”, referring to proposals to ensure hospital patients in England have the right to request to be treated on single-sex wards, with transgender people placed in rooms on their own.

Separately, Agenda Alliance, a coalition of organisations representing women and girls with unmet needs, said it was “an early missed opportunity” not to put in place a dedicated Secretary of State for Women and Girls.

Indy Cross, chief executive of the alliance, said: “We’ve been really clear that only a dedicated Cabinet post will have the political clout to bring about change.

“The letter we at Agenda Alliance sent to our now Prime Minister, with over 60 signatures from key specialist support organisations, showed the urgent need for a champion at the top table to fight the corner of women and girls, especially those at the sharpest edge of adversity. Not some diluted alternative.

“Bolt-on ministerial briefs will not cut it. We know women and girls deserve better. A fully-fledged, dedicated secretary of state is what we’ll continue to argue for. We look forward to working with the new government to achieve this.”

UK warned over treating child asylum seekers as adults

United Nations experts have warned Britain is at risk of breaching international law over allegations of child asylum seekers being placed in adult detention centres after crossing the Channel on small boats.

At least 1,300 child refugees who arrived alone in the UK were wrongly identified as adults by border officials in the 18 months from January 2022, with nearly 500 placed in adult detention or unsupervised accommodation, a report by the Refugee Council and other charities found.

The situation was described to The Independent as “a safeguarding crisis on an unprecedented scale”, with January’s report also revealing at least 14 children had been criminalised under new migration laws and held in adult prisons after the Home Office wrongly assessed their ages.

Now five UN special rapporteurs have intervened to highlight their concerns over the report in a letter to the UK government, warning that Home Office age assessment procedures appeared to allow for potential breaches of international law.

Warning that detaining children in adult settings, including at asylum accommodation, is prohibited, the letter states: “The current age determination procedures seem to allow for such a chance, and therefore would place the UK in violation of its responsibilities” under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In the letter, sent in April and made public last month alongside the Home Office’s response, the UN human rights experts urged the previous UK government to take “all necessary interim measures” to “halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence”.

In its response, the Home Office claimed it was “unable to confirm the statistics” uncovered by the Refugee Council and other charities in January via freedom of information requests to local authorities, because they “cannot be usefully compared” to the department’s own data.

According to the Home Office’s data, nearly half of almost 12,000 cases in which asylum seekers’ ages were officially marked as disputed – and who were therefore provisionally treated as children – were later found to be adults.

But the charities’ figures relate instead to hundreds of children who were given only minimal age assessments at the border – in which two Home Office staff judge that their appearance and demeanour “very strongly suggests they are significantly over 18” – before being detained or housed in adult settings.

Under this procedure, the question over their age is not officially recorded, and they must request a further age assessment themselves from a local authority, which is not informed of their whereabouts, campaigners warn.

In its response to the UN, the former government insisted that reforms in its controversial Nationality and Borders Act sought to make assessments “more consistent and robust” to “ensure that age-appropriate services and care are reserved for genuine children”.

While Rishi Sunak’s government had warned that putting adults in child care settings poses “obvious safeguarding risks”, campaigners argue that the risk of placing a child in adult detention or accommodation is significantly greater than that of placing a young adult in a children’s care setting, where there are naturally more safeguards in place.

Furthermore, under those reforms, a child could have potentially been subject to deportation if they refused to undergo “scientific” age assessment methods explored by the previous government, using MRI and X-ray scanners – which campaigners had warned could amount to obtaining consent for such procedures under duress.

The Children’s Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Rachel de Souza, warned in April that her office was “deeply concerned” about both the introduction of these age assessment methods, and the “approach to treat children who refuse to consent to these methods as adults”.

Warning that the age assessment process must be “child-centred, age-appropriate and as non-invasive as possible”, Dame Rachel said: “Where a child’s age is disputed and they are awaiting a resolution, they must be treated as vulnerable children first and foremost.”

One 17-year-old boy was quoted by Dame Rachel’s office as saying: “I told them I’m underage but they didn’t believe me and put me with the adults. I didn’t feel safe there because people were drinking, smoking cigarettes and smoking hashish. They are older than myself.”

Labelling the situation “a child safeguarding scandal hiding in plain sight”, Kama Petruczenko, senior policy analyst at the Refugee Council, told The Independent: “It is no surprise that the UN has weighed in to raise serious concerns about children’s welfare and has questioned the UK’s protocols for age determination.

“It is inexplicable that the Home Office does not report on the number of children it has deemed as significantly over 18 and treated as adults, who then had to be rescued from adult settings and taken into care.

“We have had to fill that gap by going to local authorities to get these figures and start to uncover the extent of this crisis.

“The new government must act quickly by resetting Home Office culture and putting child welfare at the heart of policy-making, so that every refugee child who comes to this country is kept safe from harm.”

It is understood that the new home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will now decide on the future of current Home Office policies after a Labour government was elected last week.

Scientists delighted to find distant planet stinks of rotten eggs

Scientists have been delighted find that a distant, horrifying planet stinks of rotten eggs.

The achievement not only fills in our understanding of the intensely hot world, but could help our search for alien life.

The exoplanet HD 189733 b, a Jupiter-sized gas giant, has trace amounts of hydrogen sulphide, the researchers in the new study found.

As well as giving off a stench, this molecule offers scientists new clues about how sulphur, a building block of planets, might influence the insides and atmospheres of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system.

The planet is about 13 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun and takes only about two Earth days to complete an orbit.

It has extremely high temperatures of around 927C and is known for vicious weather, including raining glass that blows sideways on winds of 5,000mph.

Guangwei Fu, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in the US, who led the research, said: “Hydrogen sulphide is a major molecule that we didn’t know was there.

“We predicted it would be, and we know it’s in Jupiter, but we hadn’t really detected it outside the solar system.

“We’re not looking for life on this planet because it’s way too hot, but finding hydrogen sulphide is a stepping stone for finding this molecule on other planets and gaining more understanding of how different types of planets form.”

The new Johns Hopkins University study of data from the James Webb Space Telescope is published in the Nature journal.

At only 64 light-years from Earth, HD 189733 b is the nearest “hot Jupiter” astronomers can observe passing in front of its star.

Since its discovery in 2005, this has made it a key planet for detailed studies of exoplanetary atmospheres.

The new data from the James Webb Space Telescope also ruled out the presence of methane in HD 189733 b.

“We had been thinking this planet was too hot to have high concentrations of methane, and now we know that it doesn’t,” Mr Fu said.

Next the researchers hope to track sulphur in more exoplanets and figure out how high levels of that compound might influence how close they form near their parent stars.

Additional reporting by agencies

A four-day working week would help those who need it most – women

The largest public sector trial of the four-day working week is now complete, and the results are in… and it’s a triumph!

Last January, when South Cambridgeshire District Council rolled out a shortened working week for hundreds of desk-based staff, as part of an experiment to see if service levels could be maintained while improving the work-life balance of employees, it was much to the chagrin of Tory MPs. They clutched their pearls in dismay at the very notion.

One called the workplace trial “an ideological crusade”, while a Conservative minister told the Lib Dem council leader, Bridget Smith, to “end your experiment immediately”.

Wow. Who’d have thought the idea of a change to the standard working pattern mutually beneficial to employee and employer – staff retention is notoriously difficult in the incredibly competitive local employment market – would provoke so much fear? And what exactly were they scared of?

The premise of the trial, led by academics at the universities of Cambridge and Salford, was simple but radical: 100 per cent of work was to be completed in 80 per cent of the time, for 100 per cent of pay. The concept of resource efficiency must have become so alien to the Tories that it seemed like a threat.

Here, I think, is the basic misapprehension – that longer hours equals higher productivity. It’s a false equivalence, as Greece is likely to discover after a few months of the roll-out of its six-day working week. A four-day week isn’t “less work for the same pay”;  it’s just a more flexible, more appealing working pattern that’s been shown to have a host of benefits, including reduced risk of employee burnout, increased productivity, and reductions in sickness and absence. I mean, seriously, what’s not to love here?

A four-day working week is also more inclusive for those with caregiving responsibilities – and, let’s face it, that’s usually the womenfolk – and can help families save on childcare costs. I know lots of women who’ve gone part-time to four days a week because of caring responsibilities and have ended up working a full-time job for less pay. Going the way of South Cambs could help even up those hidden workplace gender inequalities.

In my experience, most organisations could easily allow for a four-day week. I’ve had a few jobs over the last 30 years – from brewery sales rep to business owner, teacher to academic – but no matter how different the jobs, they all had one thing in common: pointless, time-wasting bureaucracy.

I remember once going into a four-hour meeting – A. Four. Hour. Meeting. – about some new strategy. We sat in silent, collective resentment while two blokes competed over who could speak the loudest for the longest, and then had an awkward group lunch of corporate catering: you know the kind, those woeful, clammy sandwiches that have sweated in clingfilm overnight, and tepid tea that tastes of stewed metal.

What happened at the end of the meeting? We were split into “action groups”, and another set of meetings was arranged before we all met again for another four-hour meeting to report back on our smaller meetings. After this endless discussion, did the earth shatter with our radical decision-making? Did it hell.

I’m sure that experience of wasted work time is shared across organisations and sectors. Just think what could be done with those squandered hours – and money. I’m not saying that meetings are always useless, but most are – and, in my experience, with proper organisation and efficient chairing, they are most effective when taking less than 45 minutes.

Some of you will be scoffing into your wilted cheese and pickle sandwich, and that a four-day working week is bonkers idealism. It’s not. It’s about raising productivity, using time efficiently and retaining employees.

Yes, it’s true Asda scrapped its scheme allowing managers to work 44 hours over four days for the same pay because the early starts and late finishes weren’t feasible for employees reliant on public transport to get them to and from work. That says more about the country’s faulty infrastructure than the viability of a four-day working week. Other companies, like the UK digital bank Atom, implemented a four-day week in September 2021; by November 2023, it reported that 95 per cent of employees felt it had improved their work-life balance.

Some people may not care about other people’s work-life balance. Maybe they’re stuck in some hellish Gordon Gekko “sleep is for wimps” and “greed is good” mentality but, for the rest of us, who want to do a good job for our employers and still have the capacity to live a life outside the workplace, a four-day week sounds like common sense.

Wimbledon, watch out: You just made Novak Djokovic angry

“I’ve played in much more hostile environments, trust me, you guys can’t touch me,” Novak Djokovic assured the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon on Monday night. Even after winning in straight sets, he had the bit between his teeth. Holger Rune couldn’t touch him either, you see, so the seven-time Wimbledon champion had a little more energy to expend.

But we’ll come back to the cutting coda on Djokovic’s straight-sets victory. In tennis terms, this might have been the perfect match for him at the perfect time. There is a sense that the Serb’s powers are waning this year, if only slightly, and if only due to the looming presence of Father Time – one of the few figures in sport with a greater record than Djokovic.

Make no mistake, the 24-time grand slam champion can win Wimbledon this week. He remains among the favourites, and rightly so. But after his walkover exit from the French Open, and with that compression sleeve still hugging his surgically-repaired right knee, and with his movement a little laboured, it is fair to suggest that he’ll welcome this straight-sets win.

Djokovic, now 37, was dominant against Vit Kopriva in the first round, before qualifier Jacob Fearnley offered a surprisingly stern test in the second. Still, there was no cause for concern in Djokovic’s camp. Even after the third round, when Djokovic lost the first set but fought back to beat Alexei Popyrin, there was no reason to panic. But there was reason to wish for a more straightforward test. Still a test, of course – something to keep Djokovic alert as he bids to regain the Centre Court crown – but a simpler one.

And for a few reasons, that’s what he got against Rune. In part, this was down to Djokovic’s enduring qualities. Endurance itself is one of them, and the experience and maturity that come with that were on full display under the roof. While Rune looked like a deer in headlights in the early games, losing the first 12 points, Djokovic was calm behind the wheel. And truthfully, Rune’s own, early panic was a key reason for the manner of Djokovic’s win here. But again: the veteran’s ability to capitalise was crucial.

It took Rune more than three games to even register a point, and that moment was greeted by a warm, sustained cheer. But Djokovic continued to exert greater control over the points, and when he has his rhythm, he looks more in control of a point than any athlete to have ever played the sport. The former world No 1 took the first set with such ease, in fact, that it almost seemed this would not be enough of a test. Could it fall into the sweet spot?

Eventually, yes, as Rune transformed into a different player over the latter half of the first set and the start of the second. Still, at 3-3 in the second frame, Rune was left to rue an overly ambitious drop shot at 40-30. The 21-year-old went on to give up break point, and though he saved it, Djokovic converted the next.

And speaking of different versions of these players: evidence of an older Djokovic arose intermittently. Early in the second set, one rally sent both men from side to side, time and again, with Djokovic eventually hitting into the net. It’s the kind of stroke he’d have made in the past, but this time he could not, and he was left wincing and clutching his abs. And twice in the third set, just two points apart, the Serb slipped. The first time, he got up a little slowly, a little gingerly – pondering the state of his knee? The next time, he was applauded for rising to finish the point, but he still took a moment to clutch his lower back.

What looked like it would be the most concerning moment, though, came in the second set, as Djokovic was sent sliding into the splits. Yet somehow, he climbed off the lawn again, seemingly unfazed. And that is evidence that, while Djokovic may be slowly slowing, he is still a physical force.

Rune, the 13th seed, would actually save five set points in that game, with part of the crowd growing louder in its support of the Dane each time. “Ruuuuuuuune” went the low croon, but there was more to it, according to Djokovic.

After he saw off Rune’s resistance late in the second set, and moved comfortably through the third, he told the crowd: “To all the fans that have respect and stayed here tonight, thank you from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it. To all those people who chose to disrespect a player, in this case me, have a gooooooood night. Gooooood night, goooooood night.

“They were [disrespecting me],” he insisted. “They were. I know they were cheering Rune, but it’s an excuse to boo. Listen, I’ve been on the tour 20 years, I know all the tricks. It’s fine, it’s okay; I focus on the respectful people who pay for their ticket, come tonight and love tennis, and appreciate the players and the effort the players put in. I’ve played in much more hostile environments, trust me, you guys can’t touch me.”

The question now is whether anyone can touch Djokovic on court. Next up, in the quarter-finals, is Alex de Minaur, who will face a different Djokovic than the one he was expecting. Forget an older Djokovic; this is an edgier one.

Truthfully, he might have a point about Monday’s crowd. Whether or not he needed to express that point is a different matter. Either way, Djokovic’s pursuit of an eighth crown just took a very, very interesting turn.

Brač: explore the classic sights and sounds of Central Dalmatia

Mention Brač and the first image that usually springs to mind is Zlatni Rat, the V-shaped beach of white pebbles surrounded by vivid turquoise waters. This beautiful spot on Brač’s southern coast has long been the poster child for Croatia’s beaches, but this Central Dalmatian island – the third largest in the country – has many more treasures to discover.

Brač’s craggy coastline is a sailor’s dream – so many pretty pine-fringed coves where you can drop anchor and dive into the Adriatic’s sparkling waters. If you’re travelling by land, as I am, you don’t have far to go to find a stretch of beach. In fact, as the ferry from Split drops me off at Supetar, I can see pebbly beaches straddling both sides of the port, while café terraces around the harbour make an appealing spot for a pre- or post-ferry coffee.

I head east along the winding coast road that curves around Brač’s coves towards Pučišća, which sits snugly at the bottom of a deep, two-pronged bay. Its sheltered harbour is delightful, lined with green-shuttered townhouses made of the same Brač limestone that went into Diocletian’s Palace in Split as well as countless other buildings around the world. Not surprisingly, Pučišća is home to one of only three stone masonry schools in Europe that still teach the art of manual stone-carving.

Another ancient tradition being kept very much alive is on show at the Olive Oil Museum in the interior village of Škrip. There’s been an olive-oil press in this lovely stone building since 1864, and I’m given a fascinating demonstration of how olives used to be manually pressed before the days of hydraulics.

After the demo comes the tasting, so I’m ushered upstairs to one of the chunky wooden dining tables and given a mini feast. This falls into the category of a marenda – a Dalmatian late-morning meal rather like a brunch that workers would have after a tiring morning in the fields. Plates of local cheeses, air-dried ham called pršut, olive tapenade, a spread of sun-dried tomato and chickpeas, plus homemade bread, accompany my tasting of deliciously peppery extra virgin olive oil.

Rather than return to work in the fields, I carry on my coastal exploration, stopping in the agreeably sleepy village of Sutivan. This is another good base for beach lovers, thanks to the paths that ring the coastline leading to one pebbly cove after another. It’s even easier to explore if you rent a bike and pedal from beach to beach.

On my way south I pop into the ferry port of Milna, another favourite of sailors making use of the village’s well-equipped marina. Like Pučišća, it’s set in a deep harbour ringed with beaches, with more coves tucked within the surrounding misshapen coastline.

But I couldn’t come back to Brač without seeing Croatia’s most famous beach again, this time it’s from a different perspective. Hovering over Brač’s southern coast is Vidova Gora, which, at 778m, is the highest peak in the Adriatic islands. From this vantage point I can see the white V shape of Zlatni Rat, with turquoise and blue waters fanning out from the pebbles. I can see Hvar in front and, in the distance, the islands of Vis and Korčula. Zlatni Rat’s shape changes constantly thanks to the winds that make this beach and the neighbouring town of Bol such magnets for windsurfers.

Bol is Brač’s buzziest spot, especially during the weekly Friday seafood festivals that take place throughout July. Sun, stone, sea and the sizzle of fish on the grill – the classic sights, sounds and scents of Central Dalmatia.

Want to follow in the footsteps of our Croatia travel expert? You can discover more about Central Dalmatia and start planning your trip here

Reeves offers a bold and commendable blueprint for rebuilding Britain

Britain’s first female chancellor of the Exchequer made an assured debut in her first speech in her new role. We congratulate Rachel Reeves on her appointment and welcome the tone and the content of her words.

She repeated the election campaign rhetoric about economic growth being the “mission” of the new government. This ought to be a statement of the obvious, but it will help to push ministers, as they make thousands of decisions over the next few years, in the right direction.

Most significantly, it should push the government towards adjusting the terms of Britain’s trade with the European Union. Nick Thomas-Symonds was appointed on Monday as the minister responsible for the rolling negotiation with our neighbour and most important trading partner. He is a pragmatist and has a good understanding of history, which are useful qualifications in that role.

More immediately, Ms Reeves set out two of the big policy changes she intends to make as chancellor – to reform planning law to make it easier to build things, especially homes, and to lift the effective ban on new onshore wind turbines. Both of these are welcome and necessary.

The first is a big and complex undertaking. Central government can change planning law to try to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects, and it can put pressure on local councils to allow the building of more homes. Ms Reeves is still at the words rather than actions stage on that, but she used the right words and they expressed the right sense of purpose. “The question is not whether we want growth,” she said, “but how strong is our resolve.” She insisted that she is willing to “risk short-term political pain to fix Britain’s foundations”.

She had better mean it. We are not naive about the difficulty of building homes in the places where people want to live, but a government that tilts the presumption in favour of growth, and therefore in favour of building, could make a noticeable difference in the four or five years of a parliament.

Better than that, though, the words of her speech were backed up by formal changes in policy. Angela Rayner, as levelling-up secretary, will review decisions to refuse planning permission for two data centres in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, Ms Reeves said.

Similarly, on onshore wind power, her words were backed up by a statement issued jointly by the Treasury, the levelling-up department and the energy department. These are words that will affect actions: a welcome change after years of official nimbyism.

In answer to questions, Ms Reeves was reluctant to call herself a yimby – “yes in my backyard” – but she has done something more important, namely to start to tilt the machinery of government in a different and better direction.

She said something else spikily important, too. “I know that many of you aren’t used to hearing this after recent years,” she said, “but I believe that the promises that a party is elected on should be delivered on in government, and we will do so.”

This is a tough message on several levels. She aimed it explicitly at those “who will argue that the time for caution has passed”, and who urge her to spend, tax and borrow now that the votes have been counted. That she will not do, and rightly so.

But it is a tough message, also, for those who might nod along to the idea of building more houses but object to it when diggers start digging. That is when the Labour government will need to hold its nerve.

The chancellor’s speech was a clear statement that she intends to see the manifesto commitment to build more houses through. She will have The Independent’s support in that endeavour.

Scottish independence is dead… and good riddance

The dream shall never die” – that was the claim by former first minister Alex Salmond after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Ten years on, after the SNP’s shellacking at the general election, the dream of Scottish nationalists may not be dead, but it is certainly on life support.

With the SNP having lost 38 seats, and its Westminster delegation reduced to single figures, its much-vaunted claim to a mandate from the electorate for independence is over.

The failure of the nationalist movement in Scotland is a boon for those of us who want to move on to more practical, serious government across the UK – but it should also be a reminder that even the most impregnable political forces can be brought low, and sooner than might be expected.

For more than a decade, the SNP rode a run of good fortune that was scarcely believable. They reaped the benefits of unpopular and antagonistic Tory governments, ineffectual opposition and a nationalist movement that marched in lockstep behind one party. You really could not have asked for a better set of circumstances for the nationalists.

And yet now, their unity and their energy have been frittered away to nothing. What changed?

It would be dangerous to ascribe nationalism’s decline to a single factor, but step by step, it has become less and less of a priority for voters across Scotland. Whatever the varying fraction who might support independence in the abstract, in practice people care more about the cost of living, the state of the NHS and myriad other challenges. They want action on the issues which impact their lives right now.

There will always be people who want independence, and there will always be those who want independence before all other issues. The electorate as a whole, however, has now declared that it needs to take its place in the proper order of things. Voters want less of the blame-shifting and “symbolic” politics – and more practical action and localism. Less identity – more ideas.

Whether or not that lesson is taken on board by the SNP and the wider nationalist movement is another matter entirely. They are not really equipped to deal with a politics where independence is no longer the answer to all questions. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

That is why I was somewhat amused but not entirely surprised to hear the former SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon argue on election night that the SNP should have made the campaign more about independence. It was a bit like the pot saying that the kettle really ought to be more black.

Independence was “page one, line one” of the SNP manifesto, in 20,000-point font. It was “page one, line one” because one Nicola Sturgeon had put it there. I am not sure how much more central it could have been to the SNP campaign short of some Ed Davey-level stunts to raise awareness of their monomania.

The irony, of course, is that it is Nicola Sturgeon’s own failure to move on from independence when she took office in 2014 which led to this gradual disintegration of the nationalist movement.

Imagine that, when she entered Bute House, Nicola Sturgeon had told her troops that, however much she wanted it, the case for independence would be put on to the backburner. She could have taken on her own party much as Tony Blair did in relation to Clause IV, in order to deliver better outcomes for the people of Scotland who needed it most.

Instead, Sturgeon was unwilling to face down her own party and we were treated to years of campaign without end. Good governance in Scotland suffered as a result – but eventually so did the health of the nationalist movement. Nationalism remained mired in 2014 even as the voters moved on.

Independence is on its sickbed right now, and is unlikely to get back up any time soon. All indications are that the infighting that has consumed the nationalists will continue. With almost 40 MPs defenestrated on Thursday, there is a ready set of voices to mouth off against the SNP leadership from all directions.

That represents an opportunity for parties which reject nationalist polarisation – the Liberal Democrats and Labour – to gain more ground as we approach the next Holyrood elections. Even so, those of us on the liberal side of the argument cannot afford to be complacent.

Bad ideas never truly die. Liberal democracy, and the pluralist national community that this entails, is not simply something we have “completed” as a society – it is a set of values that we must renew with each generation. In the contest of ideas between nationalist division and liberal democracy, the liberals have the advantage – but we still have to tackle these arguments head on.

That is the deeper challenge to which we all must apply ourselves in the coming months and years.

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