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Has Nicola Sturgeon finally woken up to the dangers of self-ID?

Has the First Minister had a Damascene conversion? | Credit: Alamy

Has Nicola Sturgeon finally woken up to the dangers of self-ID?

How much more evidence is required of the captured nature of our institutions by a government so intent on ignoring the concerns of women for their own safety, than a government-funded organisation, set up specifically to promote the safety of women, telling women not to raise concerns about their safety?

It makes your head spin. What on earth was Zero Tolerance even thinking as it planned to mark its 30-year history campaigning for the prevention of violence against women and girls with an event attended by the first minister, when it issued an edict to attendees to not raise questions to do with single-sex spaces or definitions of what it means to be a woman?

How can you be serious about eliminating violence against women when your response to a major and ongoing policy issue for some women is to tell them to shut up and do as they’re told?

Women have had a lifetime of being told what to do, what to wear, and what to say, and the last few years, as the whole debate has flared up around plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act and allow for anyone to self-identify in another sex, there has been a reawakening for many feminists, with a realisation that things are not all as they seem, namely, that matters of equality that were once considered settled have been gradually eroded or removed.

And that almost everything to do with women’s rights is now conflated – even by so-called feminist groups – into a narrative about transphobia. And depressingly, it is this government, led by this first female first minister who purports to be a feminist to her fingertips, which has helped facilitate it all.

The Scottish Government might deny that it, or any of its officials, advised the Zero Tolerance team to request that any attendees at their event refrain from raising difficult questions about what it means to be a woman in Scotland right now, but the issue is that they didn’t need to ask, it now just happens, because that is the supine environment in which we now live. 

Like the parliamentary official who asked a woman to leave the equalities committee for wearing a scarf in suffragette colours, or the police investigating crimes of haberdashery, or the head of the UK’s equalities regulatory body being dismissed as a bigot, and an eminent United Nation’s global expert on violence against women being dismissed as wrong. No one needs to be told to do these things any more because some women have simply, by tacit endorsement of the government, become the enemy. 

And for any predatory man who gets his kicks from abusing women, he must truly be laughing up the sleeves of his soon-to-be acquired lady’s blouse. What a wheeze, having your abusive behaviour validated by a government that failed to listen to the women who tried to point out the folly of its ways.

So, hurrah, to the bravery of the woman who heckled the first minister. And yes, it was uncomfortable to watch a room full of self-proclaimed feminists twiddling their pens, looking the other way, and refusing to acknowledge a fellow traveller who was angry and who was standing up for women and for trans rights.

And how shameful that an organisation, set up 30 years ago by brave women councillors, like Lesley Hinds and those in the pioneering women’s unit, should now be complicit in timidly attempting to rein women in.

Edinburgh gave birth to the Enlightenment, where critical thought used to be the mainstay of our universities and civic endeavours, where feminists had the courage and foresight to have pioneered such ground-breaking initiatives as Zero Tolerance, and where we might now ponder why, indeed, George Orwell found in Scotland the inspiration to pen 1984. 

So, hurrah, to the bravery of the woman who heckled the first minister. And yes, it was uncomfortable to watch a room full of self-proclaimed feminists twiddling their pens, looking the other way, and refusing to acknowledge a fellow traveller who was angry and who was standing up for women and for trans rights. But she did us a favour because in the aftermath, Sturgeon made a startling admission – that the risks she had previously dismissed – that predatory men could seek to abuse a system to harm women – as not valid, do in fact exist.

And therefore, by her own logic, women are indeed the collateral damage she is willing to offer up as the price for pursuing a policy rooted in gender ideology that ignores the biological reality of most women’s lives and the duplicity of male abusers.

The first minister, it appears, has had a Damascene conversion and now joins the ranks of those of us who have been arguing for years that the policy of self-ID was inherently risky to the safety of women because of men – not the trans people, as activists have wilfully manipulated the narrative to be – who will take advantage of any loosening of the already meagre protections that exist for women. 

Does that now make Sturgeon a transphobe? I suspect she would vigorously argue it does not. And yet she has stood by while others who have been arguing that exact same point have been vilified.

And if the gender debacle is instructive of anything wider than the limited confines of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, it is that not only is the first minister not willing to listen, but she is also not capable of admitting when she might have been wrong. 

Much is talked about the first minister’s remoteness, that she surrounds herself with an ever-decreasing coterie of uncritical advisors; that even her ministers don’t get an opportunity to discuss, never mind challenge, and given no one questions her, is the only reasonable explanation for such a myopic view of life, and a seeming lack of intellectual curiosity, that she doesn’t even question herself? 

Last week’s admission from Sturgeon that abusive men could indeed take advantage of the rules around legally changing sex to abuse woman is to be welcomed, but only if she acts upon her own words and thinks again about the consequences of this ill-thought-out bill.

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