Gender Recognition Reform: Holyrood's darkest day should leave MSPs embarrassed and reflective

The Gender Recognition Reform Act has seen Holyrood descend into the worst version of itself over the past five years in a manner that should leave MSPs reflecting about their own conduct.

Debate around this Bill has been toxic for several years, but has worsened month-on-month as the final vote edged closer. This toxicity has been inflamed by willing bad faith actors on social media, including MSPs, whose main wish is to troll and abuse rather than discuss.

Nuance has been disposed of in favour of arguments that play well on social media and those shouting loudest. It has been an unedifying spectacle on a scale unseen before within the Scottish Parliament.

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This toxicity descended into farce on Tuesday when stage three of the Bill, with around 150 amendments set to be heard, was delayed by almost an hour and a half as Scottish Conservative MSPs attempted every trick in the book to delay it past Christmas.

Spurious points of order, amendments to business with no hope of success, and demanding a vote on every amendment even if backed by all parties were among tactics used to bog down parliamentary procedure. It ended with MSPs complaining about late sitting, something caused almost entirely by their own actions.

This “abuse” of parliamentary procedures, as one MSP put it, could not have been any more transparent. While such tactics are valid, it was a dreadful advert for a Parliament that often portrays itself as an improvement on Westminster’s braying benches. On Tuesday, it comprehensively failed that test.

It should force reform of how Holyrood functions. It is understood standing orders may be changed to avoid a repeat.

The atmosphere worsened when members of the public were ejected midway through after an outburst from the gallery. It was yet another unnecessary escalation, this time from the chair of the deputy presiding officer.

MSPs should reflect on their conduct during the Gender Recognition Reform bill.MSPs should reflect on their conduct during the Gender Recognition Reform bill.
MSPs should reflect on their conduct during the Gender Recognition Reform bill.

In a few years, MSPs will look back at the overall debate and their conduct and role in it, both inside and outside the chamber. Many, both supporters and opponents of the Bill, will be embarrassed, and so they should be.

This Bill has encompassed Holyrood’s darkest moments and damaged the reputation of the Parliament. The responsibility for that is something all MSPs from all parties will have to bear.

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