Scotland's Gender Recognition Reform bill may have passed, but women are still rallying to oppose it – Susan Dalgety
There was no Christmas spirit hovering over the Royal Mile as MSPs debated the Gender Recognition Reform bill. No sign of the ghost of Christmas, past or present. Just a chamber full of exhausted, warring politicians, a few brilliant speeches (very few) and an inordinate number of amendments.
But on Tuesday night, as women gathered outside the parliament in protest – and again on Wednesday lunchtime – the ghost of Christmas yet to come showed her face… and the future is female.
As it’s Christmas Eve, I will not rehearse the arguments as to why the gender reform bill is the worst piece of legislation to have been passed by our Scottish Parliament. Suffice to say, I have been hanging around Holyrood in some capacity or other since the day it opened, and I have never witnessed such controversy.
The UN made several interventions. A Court of Session ruling days before the bill was passed threw it into doubt – and may still prevent it from being enacted. Discipline within the SNP group broke down, as several MSPs – including former minister Ash Regan – defied the whip to vote against the bill. A former First Minister, Jack McConnell, and this newspaper called for it to be paused to allow for more discussion.
Its passage was greeted by angry protests. And public opinion, once neutral on whether a man should be allowed to change his sex by simple declaration, has hardened – so by the time the bill reached its final stages this week, nearly two-thirds of Scots were opposed to its main measures.
Yet Shona Robison, the woman charged with steering it through parliament, plodded on wearily but defiantly. Her argument was full of holes, but simple to understand. The bill was just an administrative tweak and would have no impact whatsoever on women’s sex-based rights, so why all the furore?
I suspect she will find out what the fuss was about when the bill ends up in the Supreme Court or is called in by the UK government, as suggested by legal academic Michael Foran, and strongly hinted at by Kemi Badenoch, the Westminster women's minister.
But back to John and Yoko. Another year over… what have you done? There are thousands of women across Scotland who will be able to say this morning, with some pride, that they have done a lot in the last 12 months to further women’s rights.
And as JK Rowling, the warrior queen of Scotland’s resurgent women’s movement, said in a statement on Tuesday night, the coalition of women that has come together to oppose the bill continues to grow. “I've met some of the bravest, funniest, most inspirational women in Scotland over the last few years – women from all walks of life, women I'm proud to call my friends, women who've spent a lifetime trying to better the lives of all women – and we're organising,” she said.
“The solidarity forged across party lines has been the single biggest source of hope and inspiration to me over the last couple of years, and it won't be extinguished by the loss of a single battle. Whether or not this bill passes, the fight isn't over, and I'm with you all the way.”
She finished with a rhetorical flourish. “We are the women who will never wheesht.”
As Nicola Sturgeon surveys the wreckage left behind by the fraught passage of the gender bill, she may well rue the day she decided to pin her colours to the trans liberation mast. Her authority in the SNP has been considerably diminished, with women like Joanna Cherry and Ash Regan reminding party members that Sturgeon is not the only talent they have in their ranks. Indeed, watching Regan in the chamber this week, it was easy to see her as the future of the party, just as Sturgeon was once.
Sturgeon is not the only victim. Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s charismatic leader, refused to engage with the bill until recently, and his party’s position – we disagree with much of this law, but we will support it anyway – is absurd. His reputation has taken a bit of a knock, particularly among female Labour members. And the principled performance of two Tory women – Rachael Hamilton and Pam Gosal, as well as Russell Findlay – has reminded voters that not all Tories are, in the words of the First Minister, “despicable”.
But the biggest winners of the gender battle are the women of Scotland. Ignored by their ‘feminist’ First Minister and dismissed by government-funded women’s organisations as being out of touch – and worse, old – women had no option but to come together. A network of women’s groups has sprung up across Scotland in the past two or three years, supported – sometimes privately, but increasingly openly – by experienced and expert women from across Scottish society. JK Rowling may be the most famous of Scotland’s new wave of feminists, but she is far from alone.
There is an army of women out there. Angry and organised. They may not have won this round of the gender battle, but they are proud of what they have done this year and are ready for what lies ahead. Their sights are set not just on bringing down the gender reform bill – through the courts if necessary – but on finally winning the war against sex inequality that still sees women and girls lag behind their male peers.
Happy Christmas sisters, the war is not over. And a happy new year. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
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