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by Andrew Learmonth
15 April 2021
Johann Lamont: The Scottish Parliament has not improved the lives of Scotland's women

Holyrood Magazine

Johann Lamont: The Scottish Parliament has not improved the lives of Scotland's women

THE SCOTTISH Parliament has not improved the lives of Scotland’s women, Johann Lamont has said. 

In an interview with Holyrood, the former Labour leader said MSPs were more interested in passing legislation that “signal things, because that's one heck of a lot cheaper than going and spending money and changing people's lives.”

Lamont has been one of the central figures in what has increasingly become a toxic debate over reforms to legislation around transgender rights and the impact that may have on sex-based women’s rights.

She was a fierce critic of elements of the Scottish Government’s hate crime legislation – which passed in the final weeks of the parliamentary session. 

The legislation consolidates existing law and extends protection for vulnerable groups with a new offence of "stirring up hatred".

However, MSPs rejected Lamont’s amendment which would have included women as one of those protected groups.

Instead ministers established a working group to advise on whether a separate criminal offence covering misogynistic abuse should be created.

Lamont also tabled a series of amendments designed to find out whether ministers believe there are more sexes than male and female.

She wanted the Hate Crime Bill to include the words “a reference to sex is a reference to being a woman or a man”, as well as changing references to “persons of a different sex” to “opposite sex”.

She said this would make the Bill consistent with the 2010 Equality Act, which says sex is either “a reference to a man or to a woman”.

The Glasgow MSP had some success at the end of last year when she won an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill to allow the survivors of rape and sexual assaults to pick the sex rather than the gender of the person examining them after an attack.

Her interventions have often seen her branded a bigot. During the hate crime debate, Green MSP Patrick Harvie agreed with a Twitter user who accused Lamont of “vicious transphobia.”

Speaking to the Holyrood podcast, Lamont said one of the big weaknesses of the last parliament had been a “reluctance to test arguments”.

“It's partly because we've got a parliament that likes to pass legislation to signal things, because that's one heck of a lot cheaper than going and spending money and changing people's lives,” she said. 

“And that's one of my biggest regrets, is that there's too much of 'well we pass a bit of legislation to show how much we care, to send a message', and then do nothing else.”

On the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act to be debated in the next session of the parliament, Lamont said “proper conversations” about the impact of the change in laws weren’t taking place. 

She said:  “I think there's a lot of people, particularly on the side of those who are very strong advocates for trans rights, trans allies, who have taken it upon themselves, the responsibility or the challenge of being the people who push really hard.  

“And it is as if the trans community all speaks with one voice. We know that's not true. 

“And they, and I have to say it's very often young emboldened men, have almost been given permission to push back pretty aggressively against arguments about women's rights. 

“That emboldening of people who have chosen, taken upon themselves the right to speak on behalf of a community. I don't think that's healthy.”

Lamont, who led her party during 2011 and 2014, said she had “been saying something thatI've been saying for 25/30 years and they now tell me that is a dog whistle for hatred.”

Asked if the parliament had improved the lives of women, she replied: “I don't think it has. No, it hasn't."

She added: “I think I would expect more to be done in women's lives by a Scottish Parliament that was more representative”.

On Nicola Sturgeon, Lamont said she thought the First Minister had been a powerful role model for young girls, but that in itself wasn’t enough. 

She said: “I think the First Minister is a role model in a sense that the big things that you would identify as a strength, her capacity to make a case, to win an argument, not to be bowed down and defeated and all the rest of it, that's a very powerful thing for young women to see that we didn't see with Margaret Thatcher. She  didn't have women round about her and didn't want to talk about women's lives.

“But it's not sufficient. It's part of it, but it's not sufficient because you then need to see what is it about the government that you lead that is making a difference in women's lives and yes, having a cabinet that's 50/50, but what is it doing to challenge the ongoing issues that women face in their lives, what are they charged with?”.

Click here to listen to Johann Lamont's interview with Holyrood editor Mandy Rhodes on Politically Speaking, Scotland's flagship political podcast. 

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - The oldest Tory in Holyrood: An interview with Jackson Carlaw

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