By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2838

Resist Tory move to block Scotland’s gender recognition reforms

It's part of the Tories' assault on trans and non-binary people—and Keir Starmer’s Labour is lining up on the wrong side
Issue 2838
Trans rights activists on the trans pride demonstration last summer. Protestors are holding purple and pink placards and trans flags. It's illustrating a story on Tory plans to block gender recognition reform in Scotland

Activists on the Trans+ Pride march in London last summer (Picture: Socialist Worker)

The Tory government will move to block a gender recognition law passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish secretary Alister Jack announced the unprecedented constitutional move on Monday.

The decision by Rishi Sunak’s government to stop Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill would ­confront any improvement for transgender rights in Britain, as his Tory government continues with its offensive against trans and non-binary people.

The new Scottish law passed through the Scottish parliament in December. It allows trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

It also drops the minimum age for applicants to 16, and lowers the time required for an applicant to live as their gender from three years to two months. For 16 and 17-year-olds, this will be six months.

But the Tories are arguing that this clashes with the Equality Act and provision for women’s safety in single-sex spaces. In a desperate attempt to bolster their case, the bigots are ramping up mythical stories of children being forced to change gender. They’re also relying on a fake conflict between the rights of trans people and the rights of women.

Kemi Badenoch, Sunak’s equalities minister, expressed “concerns” over the Scottish bill. Meanwhile Sunak referenced “very robust debates” during the bill’s time in the Scottish parliament, which passed by 86 votes to 39.

The months of hostility included vicious protests from transphobes who wrongly claim the safety of women is at risk by any advancements for trans rights. Sunak claims it is ­“completely standard practice” to assess the impact of a new Bill. But never before has a British prime minister used Westminster’s power to stop a law passed by the Scottish parliament.

So, alongside the brutal attacks on trans rights, he wants to throw a constitutional bomb. He would be stopping the clear will of Scotland’s devolved parliament.

Sunak had already been planning to “review the Equality Act to make it clear that sex means biological sex rather than gender”. This change would mean trans people would need a Gender Recognition Certificate to be legally treated as trans.

It would remove “self‑-identifying” and access to single-sex spaces. Sunak’s “legal advice” claims that the bill passed in Holyrood clashes with British legislation on equalities—an area reserved for Westminster. 

As a supposed ­compromise, the Tories say they will bring forward delayed legislation to ban conversion therapy for LGBT+ people—­including for trans people. This follows Boris Johnson’s U-turn last April when public pressure forced him to include trans people in a ban on conversion therapy.

Not only is the legislation— promised in 2018—way overdue, it follows unmet promises to reform the Gender Recognition Act. These changes would have made it easier for people to transition in England and Wales.

Sunak has until Wednesday of this week to use Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 and block the bill. This limits Scotland’s devolved powers. The question of trans rights is dividing Scottish nationalists. Independence fighters like Alex Salmond and his Alba party, which opposed the Scottish trans rights measure, would normally stridently oppose Sunak’s move. But at the start of this week they were silent on it. They seemed happy to see Westminster crush Scotland’s voice over trans issues.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also opposed this ­widening of trans rights. He argues 16-year-olds should not legally be able to change gender—despite 20 of 22 Labour MSPs voting in favour. Starmer said last Sunday he had “concerns” about the age reduction. When asked if someone aged 16 is old enough to change their gender he said, “No, I don’t think you are.”

The Tories are also hoping to push for a further ­crackdown on trans women in sports. Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, will warn executives from the governing bodies of major national sports against inclusion of trans women. In their desperation to shift focus from their failings, the Tories are willing to ­scapegoat trans people. Such an onslaught only benefits those at the top.

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