Transgender rights lobby may call me a bigot, but there's a problem in the prison system – Kenny MacAskill

I’ve never been comfortable with the Scottish Government’s proposals on gender recognition.

Biological males going into women's prisons presents a problem, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Biological males going into women's prisons presents a problem, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

For sure, an updating of rules was required and transphobia is rightly condemned, some changes to legislation are doubtless appropriate. But self-ID has always caused me concern.

Maybe it’s an age thing, or I’m just old-fashioned, but I share the concerns of many women’s rights advocates, even if I come at the issue from a different perspective. I’m not comfortable with unisex toilets unless there’s good reason, such as lack of space. But it’s intolerable to be considering them for venues such as high schools. My discomfort’s as nothing to the fear and trauma for a pubescent girl.

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Similarly, there are medical procedures where I’d prefer a male doctor, not someone who simply identified as male. My qualms do not compare, though, to those of many women, as it’s largely them who are having this imposition into their space and privacy. The absurdity of biological males in women’s sport makes the Fifa World Cup in Qatar seem a paragon of virtue.

In particular though, as a former Justice Secretary, one of my main concerns is about biological males going into the women’s prison estate. That’s just not right, it’s downright dangerous. Nothing to see here, just move along laddie, has been the effective response from Nicola Sturgeon and her sidekick Shona Robison. Yet just recently a 6ft 5in convicted sex offender who self-identified as female was placed in Cornton Vale women’s prison.

Call me naïve, or maybe the trans rights lobby will say I’m just a bigot, but I disagree vehemently with that. Prisoners, even female ones, require to be punished for their transgressions. But the state has a duty to protect them, especially when they are detained in a confined space.

Given the fact that most have been the victims of male violence, whether a parent, partner or sadly even pimp, it’s not just the dangers of assault but trauma. These are damaged and vulnerable souls and they need protection.

More worrying is where this all leads. The assurances from Sturgeon and Robison ring hollow when you see what’s happening south of the Border. I sense, though, that, at least there, Kemi Badenoch, minister for women and equalities, will roll back this absurdity. Meanwhile in Scotland we seem set on going down the route ministers have embarked on.

I asked the UK Justice Department how many transgender prisoners had convictions for sex offences, and their answer related simply to those who self-ID, not to those with a gender recognition certificate. The number of transgender prisoners in March/April this year in England and Wales was 230, with no differentiation made between male and female. But believe me the number of women self-identifying as male and in the male prison estate will likely be zero.

These will mostly be biological males self-identifying, as with the offender in Scotland, and potentially seeking to move from the male to the female prison estate, whether because they think it’ll be easier or worse. Some may well be genuine but that doesn’t justify their imposition on vulnerable women. Worse, 97 transgender inmates, as of March 31, had a conviction for a sex crime, including 44 for rape, which is an offence women suffer, not inflict. This legislation is a farce.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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