John Swinney's response to Cass Review of child gender identity services is his first big test – Murdo Fraser

Scotland’s new First Minister needs to agree to implement the recommendations of the Cass Review in full

Today at Holyrood, the Scottish Conservatives will lead a debate calling for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Cass Review on gender identity services for children and young people. It represents the first test of John Swinney’s new direction for the Scottish Government, now that the partnership deal with the Scottish Greens has been ditched.

Swinney’s election as First Minister came as no surprise. Last week, I predicted that Kate Forbes would be frozen out of the leadership contest, such is the degree of antipathy towards her from the party establishment. It quickly became clear that Swinney had been put up as the candidate best placed to defeat her in any contest, and she therefore made the wise decision not to run. It remains to be seen what position she might be offered in his administration.

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Already Swinney has signalled that he will reach out to the pro-Union opposition parties in Holyrood in an attempt to win support for some of his policies. Whilst that is a welcome change of direction, it will take more than rhetoric to persuade us that there is a genuine shift in position. At the same time as talking about the need to refocus the administration on the priorities of growing the economy and improving public services, Swinney talked about the centrality of the independence cause to his SNP leadership.

Trans rights activists have protested against the findings of the Cass Review into gender services for children. How John Swinney responds will be key (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)Trans rights activists have protested against the findings of the Cass Review into gender services for children. How John Swinney responds will be key (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Trans rights activists have protested against the findings of the Cass Review into gender services for children. How John Swinney responds will be key (Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Tories prepared to talk

Quite how these two competing issues can be reconciled is a mystery. But, if he is genuinely open to reversing some of the policy failures we have seen in recent years from the SNP, including putting economic growth at the heart of his government, the Scottish Conservatives are certainly prepared to enter into sensible discussions.

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There is no doubt that the partnership with the anti-growth Greens has been disastrous for the Scottish economy. We have seen Scotland become the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, and the tax differential with the rest of the UK widen considerably. There is real concern in business circles that this makes it increasingly hard to recruit talented individuals to fill senior positions, particularly in industries such as financial services.

In addition, we have seen a number of other policies having the effect of damaging business confidence, including the failed deposit return scheme, and the introduction of an over-complex licensing scheme for short-term let accommodation. Add into that mix the failure of the SNP government to pass on the 75 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses available south of the Border, and it is not difficult to understand why business views the current Scottish administration with scepticism.

SNP stays quiet as Greens hit out

Perhaps the most politically toxic issue which the new First Minister will need to try and address is around the gender debate. Dr Hilary Cass’s report was widely welcomed by those concerned for the well-being and health of children seeking medical care for issues such as gender dysphoria. Cass concluded that the rationale for early puberty suppression remained unclear and that, for most young people, “a medical pathway will not be the best way to manage their gender-related distress”.

In response to this, NHS England has announced it will set out a full implementation plan following this report, and ceased the administration of puberty blockers to children. After initially refusing to follow suit, the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow, which deals with gender services for young people, now has a policy that use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will not be prescribed for those under 18.

Where the Scottish Government stands on these matters is still unclear. SNP ministers have refused to provide a statement to Parliament on the Cass Review, despite the best efforts of my colleague Megan Gallacher MSP, who has requested this on three occasions.

The Scottish Greens have not held back in their criticism of the Cass Report. One Green MSP even shared on social media a statement claiming that it was “transphobic”. This is a stance which appears more motivated by ideology than it does by science, and it is a rich irony that a party which demands that we follow the science on climate change seems to disregard it on other issues when it doesn’t suit their political purposes.

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Young lives ruined

Now that the SNP have ditched their partnership with the Greens, there is no need for them to maintain their previous position. Cass’s findings are stark and significant, and anyone concerned with the welfare of young people with gender dysphoria should want to see them implemented.

We have seen too many young lives ruined by the pursuit of an anti-science ideology on gender issues. One of the bravest individuals I have ever met is Sinead Watson, a detransitioner who still suffers from having gone through treatment to become a man around a decade ago. After years of treatment with testosterone, and a double mastectomy, she still suffers both mental and physical pain from her transition.

Her view is that she was encouraged down the route of gender transition by the Sandyford Clinic, without the full consequences of that being made clear to her. She is determined that the Cass Review should be implemented, and that the approach previously taken by clinicians at the Sandyford should be condemned.

It is voices like those of Sinead Watson that we should be listening to. The experimentation with young people’s bodies, being pursued at clinics such as the Sandyford, must surely be unacceptable in a civilised society.

So now, with the Greens no longer having influence over the SNP in government, we have the first test of what this new direction for the SNP will mean. If he is really serious about making Scotland a better place, John Swinney needs to agree to implement the recommendations of the Cass Review in full. If he does, he will have the full support of the Scottish Conservatives.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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