Leading the week
Candidates vying to become Scotland’s next first minister are likely to kick off their campaigns in earnest this week as the SNP prepares to conduct its first contested leadership election in almost two decades following today’s nominations deadline. Humza Yusuf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan are all seeking to take the reins of the party’s independence charge following the abrupt resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, and a succession of policy pledges, rally appearances and television interviews can be expected from all three candidates prior to the ballot opening on March 13.
The thorny gender issues that have dogged the final weeks of Sturgeon’s leadership will return to the fore on Tuesday (February 28) when transgender prisoner Isla Bryson faces sentencing for the rape of two women in 2016 and 2019. The controversy over whether Bryson should be held in a male or female jail split opinion in the Scottish public and within the SNP itself while the party was already grappling with the passage of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. Bookies’ favourite and continuity candidate Humza Yousaf voted for the bill and is likely to continue Sturgeon’s challenge to the UK government’s decision to veto it, whereas initial favourite Forbes – who was on maternity leave back in December when the bill passed – has recently stated she believes ‘a trans women is a biological male’ and that she could not have voted for the bill in its current form.
Across the Irish Sea, the ongoing saga of the Northern Ireland Protocol may come to a head this week as the possibility of a new Northern Ireland Brexit deal being agreed between the government and the EU looms large over the region. Despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s evident willingness to drive through a new deal with the EU, the DUP’s intransigence over the application of EU laws has so far shown no sign of waning, with leader Jeffrey Donaldson reiterating that his party cannot abide EU rules being applied to all goods entering Northern Ireland. And despite hopeful noises from the government camp and more frequent contact with Brussels, Sunak’s troubles are by no means limited to the DUP, as interventions from the European Research Group (ERG) and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson threaten to reopen old fissures in the Tory party.
India will host a meeting of G20 foreign ministers on Wednesday and Thursday (March 1-2) in the country’s capital Delhi, with the conflict in Ukraine and its sprawling ramifications once again casting a shadow over proceedings. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who chairs the gathering, will have the unenviable task of trying to bridge differences from participants, who notably include Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Having said that, India is arguably in a unique position to mediate as a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) alliance as well the so-called Quad (made up of the United States, Australia, Japan and India), who are reportedly set to meet on Friday (March 3). As it happens, this year’s Raisina Dialogue, India’s annual conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics, kicks off on Thursday and is set to feature interventions from a growing list of foreign ministers in town for the G20. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is rumoured to be delivering the opening keynote.
Olaf Scholz will visit the White House on Friday (March 3) for a meeting with US President Joe Biden, following on from talks between the German Chancellor and Vice President Kamala Harris on the margins of the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. The Ukraine conflict is set to figure prominently in their discussions, with Washington and Berlin back on the same page following tensions over Germany’s reticence to authorise the export of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The pair will also likely discuss broader tensions between the US and Europe over subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act which took effect at the start of the year.