Passage of gender bill is a dreadful consequence of the SNP’s contempt for ANY kind of scrutiny, writes Scottish Conservative equalities spokesman RACHAEL HAMILTON
The passage of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill yesterday was a dark day for the rights of women and girls, the reputation of the Scottish parliament and for basic common sense.
This Bill claimed to have the aim of improving the rights of trans people and tackling discrimination – something I believe almost all MSPs would have supported.
But, thanks to the SNP’s shoddy drafting and their obstinate refusal to address reasonable concerns and objections, Scotland now has one of the most controversial, divisive and potentially dangerous pieces of legislation ever passed at Holyrood.
The passage of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill yesterday was a dark day for the rights of women and girls, the reputation of the Scottish parliament and for basic common sense
That is the clear view of the majority of the Scottish public. They recognise, as most SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs seemed incapable of doing, that the abandonment of safeguards in this Bill poses a potential risk to the safety of women and girls – and indeed to the welfare of trans people themselves, particularly the young. The Scottish Conservatives have always accepted this is a sensitive subject. That is why we were the only party to allow a free vote on the issue. But whatever opinion MSPs took on the proposals, there are obvious, and potentially dangerous, deficiencies in the Bill as it was drafted.
Yet Nicola Sturgeon was deaf to those concerns – a year ago she blithely dismissed them as ‘not valid’. At First Minister’s Questions yesterday, she continued to deny there were any flaws in the Bill, or that it created the potential for abuses.
Despite a court ruling two weeks ago confirming that a gender recognition certificate (GRC) could provide access to protections and spaces reserved for women, the First Minister refused to admit her legislation might allow for the removal of a central and hard-won component of women’s rights.
These amendments were not aimed at limiting the rights of trans people, but at sexual predators who – as there is abundant evidence to show – will abuse any loophole
It was a mark of how contentious and badly conceived this Bill was that during its committee stages parliament received some 11,000 submissions of written evidence.
When it reached the chamber, more than 150 amendments were submitted in an attempt to fix its shoddy provisions. Shamefully, the SNP Government refused to accept any substantive changes.
Unbelievably, that included amendments from their own Michelle Thomson and the Scottish Conservatives’ Russell Findlay that would have prevented those charged with sexual offences from applying for a GRC while their case was in progress – a scenario in which a survivor of rape might have to refer to their rapist as ‘she’. Roddy Dunlop, KC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, had said that he could ‘conceive of no sensible basis upon which this amendment might be rejected’. But the SNP gave it short shrift.
These amendments were not aimed at limiting the rights of trans people, but at sexual predators who – as there is abundant evidence to show – will abuse any loophole. Protecting women from such offenders does not conflate them with trans people, any more than rules on women-only spaces imply all men are abusers.
The SNP leadership was dismissive of the likelihood that its botched Bill will fall foul of existing equalities legislation. Disgracefully, they also ignored the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, who pointed out ‘potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity’.
There was no reason for the SNP Government to rush this Bill through before Christmas, to stamp down legitimate points or stubbornly refuse to admit there might be any deficiencies in their plans. But their dogmatic intransigence has now imposed on Scotland an unwanted and badly designed law that is almost certain to face further challenges and lead to unintended harms. That is the dreadful consequence of the SNP’s refusal to listen, and their contempt for scrutiny from any quarter.
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