Jackie Baillie: I don’t remember Nicola Sturgeon as a feminist and the GRR is all about her legacy
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie has said that historically First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was never seen as a feminist and only came to the cause late in her career.
In a wide-ranging interview with Holyrood, the Dumbarton MSP, who is one of a handful of politicians who has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since it was formed in 1999, said that when she and Sturgeon entered the parliament together the latter was “a young woman who was quite introverted, and so my hat goes off to her in terms of the effort it must take for her to be the first minister”.
“I also don’t remember Nicola Sturgeon as a feminist ever, I think this has come about as a product of her being first minister and she rightly wants to use that role to encourage other woman,” Baillie said.
“But when we were debating 50:50 for the Scottish Parliament, when we were talking to Lib Dem women, to SNP women, to even the Tories, and the STUC trade union women who were so important in that fight, she wasn't there. She was never there.
“And so, the creation of the Scottish Parliament and trying to deliver a 50:50 parliament was something that I don't think she was engaged in.”
Sturgeon has often spoken about her commitment to feminism, saying at her party’s 2021 manifesto launch that she is a “feminist to my fingertips”.
Baillie’s comments are in a wide-ranging interview that the MSP has done as part of Holyrood’s celebratory 500th issue.
The issue of how the Gender Recognition Reform Bill might impact on women’s safety has come into sharp focus over the past week after it emerged that the prisoner Isla Bryson began self-identifying as female only after being charged with two rapes committed while still identifying as a man.
Bryson was found guilty of the charges last week and was initially sent to women’s prison Cornton Vale to await sentencing but has now been transferred to a male facility.
While the case does not relate directly to the GRR, which the Westminster government has blocked from being enacted over concerns it will interfere with the UK-wide Equality Act, it has raised questions over why an amendment that would have prevented those charged with sexual crimes from self-identifying as female before trial was rejected by MSPs as the bill passed through parliament in December.
In her Holyrood interview Baillie said she does not believe the bill was properly debated or that concerns about women’s safety were properly addressed in the legislation that was eventually passed.
“The lesson for me is that for policy that's been six years in the making, there was very little debate, there wasn't sufficient parliamentary scrutiny, and there was an attempt to kind of rush things through at the end,” she said.
“We spent a lot of time trying to improve the bill, trying to be the sensible people in the room that recognised that improving the gender recognition process is the right thing to do, but nevertheless, saying there need to be protections.
“We secured some amendments, we didn't secure them all, we were content with the amendments about the Equality Act, but we wanted to go further, I made no secret of that. I made a speech in parliament on that basis, that there would be review, that there would be monitoring, and that the things that people were concerned about were addressed.
“We supported the Conservative amendments on dealing with sex offenders, and I'm sorry that those failed. It left me speechless, to be honest, that the amendment from the SNP’s own Michelle Thompson [to prevent alleged rapists awaiting trial from seeking a gender recognition certificate until their case concluded] didn't get through because in what circumstance wouldn't you accept something like that?”
She added: “In terms of why Nicola has pushed so hard on this, I think this is about legacy. I think she wants to be seen as a social reformer and this has been around for six years, and I think it’s about unfinished business. I think that's the motivation. I could be entirely wrong. But if you were asking me to be reflective and say why that would be my answer.”