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The Scottish Gender Recognition Debate
Is not what it seems?
OK, I’m just going to put this out there. The Scottish National Party are playing independence politics, and it is trans people who are caught in the crossfire.
In my opinion (and I’m coming at this as a cynic rather than a conspiracy theorist), the SNP have probably been looking for an issue like this for a while; one where they can force the UK Government into invoking Article 35 of The Scotland Act and prevent a Scottish law being passed. By doing so, Nicola Sturgeon can shout loudly that Scottish sovereignty has been undermined - and the only way for Scots to pass their own laws is by becoming fully independent. I understand in a recent speech,* she has said: “The Tories have broken cover. The stealth attacks have been joined by a full-frontal assault – the decision of the Tory Government to strike down a law clearly within devolved competence which was passed overwhelmingly in the Scottish Parliament, and which was supported by MSPs from all parties… through his actions, the UK Government Secretary of State for Scotland is demonstrating he is sadly not interested in working in partnership… He’s decided to act like a Governor-General: treating the Scottish Parliament as a subordinate body and deciding which democratic decisions and laws to veto.”
I get it about recognising gender-change. I get it that there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue. For women, it is a concern if a man can simply self-declare that he is now female, then march unchecked into a women-only space. And for trans people, who are already marginalised, this is society saying that they are better supported in what must be a very difficult change to their lives. Truly, I get it. And the UK government gets it as well, as this law puts Scottish trans people on a different footing to those in the rest of the UK – meaning that if they leave Scotland, their rights are not the same. So, for example, a 17-year-old trans person with a valid Gender Recognition Certificate in Scotland would find that certificate is worthless as soon as they cross the border. They could be thrown into the prison of their birth gender, or excluded from certain restricted spaces. Which is why the UK Secretary of State for Scotland had no alternative but to veto the bill.
But – and this is the crux of my argument – I cannot believe that a law that affects 20-30 people a year in Scotland, and may possibly benefit up to 300 when (if) it passes, is so fundamental to the Scottish government that it is prepared to go into battle with the UK government on this issue.
Unless the issue is not actually trans rights, but Scottish Independence.
I mean, it’s ideal isn’t it? By choosing trans rights as the battleground issue, the SNP are not only creating exactly the kind of reaction they want from the UK government, but they are demonstrating just how progressive they are by comparison. It makes the UK look reactionary, out of touch with youth and obstructive. Just what the SNP need to bring the Scottish population onside before they hold another independence referendum, or fight the next election as a quasi-independence vote.
I can just imagine the discussions behind closed doors, with Sturgeon delighted that the UK government has played straight into her hands and vetoed the bill. She must be rubbing those very hands with glee – that she can now take this to court. And, of course, I have no doubt that her fervent wish is for the case to go against the Scottish government. Then she can say to Scottish voters that not only is the UK thwarting their democratic wishes, but the courts are as well!
As a piece of political ‘chicanery’, it’s brilliant. She doesn’t only get to make her case that without independence, Scottish laws are worthless, but she also has the opportunity to unite both sides of the gender argument. Those Scottish women who oppose the relaxing of gender recognition because it potentially threatens their safety, may still agree that you can’t have the Brits dictating Scottish laws.
All this comes at a time when a recent poll carried out for True North* has shown that support for Independence is falling away (46% in favour and 54% against leaving the UK). So, whether the timing is planned or just serendipitous, it comes at a point when the SNP needs to shore up its support for independence.
So there’s my contention. That the whole thing has been deliberately (and, I would suggest, cynically) manufactured by the SNP. Not to protect the rights of a handful of trans kids, but to strengthen the SNP’s case for independence.
And I am not the only one thinking this. Scottish Conservative shadow constitution secretary Donald Cameron MSP said:* “Nicola Sturgeon’s hyperbole and absurd claims prove her primary motive is not the flawed GRR Bill itself, but manufacturing a constitutional spat for her own self-interest. The truth, as she well knows, is that the UK Government were left with little option but to issue a Section 35 order because she railroaded through legislation that impinges on equalities law in the rest of the UK. She was repeatedly warned by Scottish Conservative MSPs that the bill would have an impact beyond Scotland’s borders – but she chose to ignore it. Indeed, given the way she’s played to the gallery since, people may suspect this constitutional row was her intention all along.”
So there you have it. Whether or not you want to make it easier to change gender, that’s not what this is really all about. I believe it’s really about changing something else – who governs Scotland.
*All quotes and poll data taken from heraldscotland.com.
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