A new SNP grassroots organisation which aims to “uphold women’s rights” will officially launch at the party’s conference as a divide within the party over trans rights threatens to derail its focus on a second independence referendum.
The SNP Women’s Pledge group, which has been set up by 50 women members, published an online petition last week which has already garnered more than 1,600 signatures from party activists.
According to SNP sources, the women involved have established the new group as a result of growing concerns about the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and the party hierarchy’s apparent support of self-identification of gender – despite the equalities minister Shirley-Anne Somerville announcing a second consultation on the proposed legal changes in June.
The issue has sharply divided the party over the past year after the subject rose to prominence during the passing of the Census Bill in the Scottish Parliament.
SNP convener of the culture committee, Joan McAlpine, took to Twitter to lay out why she believed biological sex and gender identity should not be conflated in the collection of legal data and statistics and why she felt women’s rights could be affected. She later received abuse and threats to have her de-selected as a candidate at the next Holyrood elections.
The changes to the GRA would see transgender people given an easier path to changing their “legal sex”, by self-declaring they were now of the opposite gender instead of requiring a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proof that they had lived as their preferred gender for two years.
Many women’s groups and feminist activists have raised concerns that self-ID would be abused by predatory men as they would be able to access women-only spaces more easily, if the stringent requirements to change gender are removed. Others have raised concerns about how self-ID would impact on the collection of statistics, including criminal data.
Fifteen leading SNP politicians, including three government ministers, also penned a joint letter saying the GRA reforms should not be rushed as they believed they could change the definition of male and female.
However, LGBT+ organisations believe the GRA changes would bring Scotland into line with other countries such as Ireland, Malta and Belgium, and that by simplifying the process, the lives of transgender people would improve.
The SNP Women’s Pledge, which has been supported by leading female members of the party such as MP Joanna Cherry as well as McAlpine, is asking members to sign up if they support five specific women’s rights including the right to “discuss policies which affect them without being abused or silenced” and to maintain their sex based protections as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
In particular it highlights women’s right “to refuse consent to males in single sex spaces or males delivering intimate services to females such as washing, dressing or counselling”; the right to single-sex sport “to ensure fairness and safety at all levels of competition” and the right to “organise themselves according to their sex class across a range of cultural, leisure, educational and political activities.”
Cherry said, “There is nothing in the women’s pledge that should prevent any member of the SNP from signing it. And as a lesbian and a feminist I have been proud to endorse the Out for Indy pledge.
Scotland has a proud record on LGBT rights. My generation of gay men and lesbians fought Section 28 and successfully campaigned for equal rights which were delivered by Scotland’s parliament and Westminster.
Nobody in the SNP is suggesting that trans people should not enjoy equal rights to everyone else. They are protected under the Equality Act. But so are women and any move to abolish or reduce the hard won sex-based rights of women must be allowed to be debated openly.”
However, other leading party members, and those in the affiliated LBGT groups, have been publicly supportive of the changes to the GRA, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Somerville, who recently told a Dundee Pride event “let me be absolutely clear that the Scottish Government will legislate for gender recognition to international best practice”.
The SNP’s national women’s and equalities convener, Fiona Robertson, has also backed the changes. Last night an SNP source from the new group said: “It’s in response to what’s happening with the GRA, the apparent lack of understanding about the strength of feeling of women by our leadership, and then the scenes at Labour Party conference, where women who were meeting to discuss their rights were heckled, abused and intimidated by trans rights campaigners.
Another SNP member with the new women’s group said: “We know this will be painted as us being against trans people, when it’s not about that, it’s about ensuring women’s rights are not eroded.”