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by Margaret Taylor
22 December 2022
Gender reform laws passed by Scottish Parliament in historic vote

Gender reform laws passed by Scottish Parliament in historic vote

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been approved by the Scottish Parliament following a last-ditch attempt by the Conservatives to stall its passage.

Members voted 86 to 39 in favour of the bill following two days of debate that saw parliament sit late into the night for MSPs to work their way through 154 amendments.

There were nine SNP rebels who voted against the party whip and against the bill.

The Conservatives have been criticised for using filibuster tactics earlier in the week and, prior to this afternoon’s final debate on the legislation, Tory member Rachael Hamilton asked Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone to suspend proceedings over fears that the agreed amendments would have significant financial implications in areas such as policing.

Johnstone rejected the bid, paving the way for social justice secretary Shona Robison to make the case for members to support the reform.

Robison noted that the final bill represents the “culmination of six years of consultation and policy development” and is “an important step towards creating a more equal Scotland”.

One of the main functions of the reform is to make it easier for trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) by self-identifying in their chosen gender, something that is not allowed under UK law, which requires a panel of legal and medical professionals to verify whether an applicant is eligible for a certificate or not.

Robison said the latter route would remain open to trans people living in Scotland in case the UK Government decides not to recognise Scottish-issued GRCs.

“I hope the UK Government doesn’t choose to take that step,” she said.

One of the key areas of concern around the bill was that it would enable predatory men to obtain a GRC to enter single-sex spaces to abuse vulnerable women and girls. Following a question from Labour member Daniel Johnson, Robison confirmed that the legislation will not alter any of the exemptions already allowed under the 2010 Equality Act, meaning trans women can still be excluded from women-only spaces “if that’s proportionate”.

Speaking in the debate, Hamilton said she believed the passage of the bill had “shown parliament at its worst”, with the government failing to reach consensus or to bring people together.

She criticised members for a rejecting an amendment put forward by fellow Conservative Russell Findlay and the SNP’s Michelle Thomson that would have prevented anyone convicted of a sexual offence from obtaining a GRC. She also indicated that she does not believe a successful amendment put forward by the SNP’s Gillian Martin, that will require sex offenders to be risk assessed as part of the gender recognition process, goes far enough.

The bill, Hamilton said, “makes it vastly easier to get a GRC but it doesn’t just do it for trans people but for abusive males too”.

“This parliament has to think about the message it’s sending to young women like my daughters,” she said.

All other parties have consistently shown their support for the GRR bill, which reforms the earlier Gender Recognition Act, with Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton among those speaking in favour of its passage ahead of the vote.

Earlier in the day Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the legislation, querying why she voted against the Findlay-Thomson amendment.

“The First Minister's own vote means that a man standing trial for rape can claim they're a woman and force a victim to call them she. Why did the First Minister vote for this?” Ross asked.

In response, Sturgeon said the bill would not make a difference to how predatory men access women’s spaces.

She said: “My argument is not, and it has never been and never will be, that these are not very real ways in which predatory men abuse women. My argument is that none of these ways are created by this bill and nor would it be the case that any of these ways are addressed by denying rights to trans people.”

Welcoming the result of the final vote, Robison said is was a "historic day for equality". She added: "The passing of this bill is a significant step forward in creating a more equal Scotland, where trans people feel valued, included and empowered."

The nine SNP rebels were: Stephanie Callaghan; Annabelle Ewing; Fergus Ewing; Jim Fairlie; Kenny Gibson; Ruth Maguire; John Mason; Ash Regan; and Michelle Thomson.

Labour's Claire Baker and Carol Mochan also voted against the bill, in contrast the the rest of their group.

The Conservatives' Jackson Carlaw, Jamie Greene and Sandesh Gulhane backed it, also in contrast to the rest of their group.

Also welcoming the result, the Greens' Maggie Chapman said: "The last three days of debate have shown the best and worst of our parliament. But today isn’t about party politics. It is about the future and the progressive and inclusive society that we want to build."

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, said: "Trans people across Scotland today will be feeling pleased and relieved that this bill has passed, after many years of difficult public debate that has often felt like people are talking about us, and not to us.

"The law that has passed today will mean that at important moments in their lives, like when starting a job or giving notice to be married, trans men and women will be able to show a birth certificate that reflects who they are."

MSP Hamilton said: "The majority of Scots – let alone the women’s groups who campaigned vociferously against it – will be dismayed that this flawed and potentially dangerous bill has been passed by a majority of SNP and Labour MSPs.

“We all support improving the experience for trans people but that should never come at the expense of the safety of women and girls, and their hard-won rights."

The UK Government has confirmed it will consider the bill as it related to the reserved Equality Act, which may result it is moving to block it gaining Royal Assent. 

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “We share the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this bill, and in particular the safety issues for women and children.

“We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK wide legislation, in the coming weeks - up to and including a Section 35 order stopping the Bill going for Royal Assent if necessary.”

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