There were cries of ‘shame on you’ in the Scottish Parliament last night as MSPs voted to allow rapists and violent sex predators to self-identify as women as part of Nicola Sturgeon’s gender reforms.
A bid to block one of the most contentious parts of the Bill by inserting a clause ensuring those on the sex offenders’ register cannot obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) narrowly failed during the crunch vote last night.
After the result was announced there were angry scenes in the public gallery as protesters heckled MSPs with shouts of ‘there is no democracy here’ before they were ejected from the building.
Another key proposal attempting to block plans to lower the legal age for applying for a GRC from 18 to 16 also failed after most SNP and Green MSPs voted it down – although it sparked clashes between Nationalist MSPs.
There were angry scenes after a vote on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s gender reforms in the Scottish Parliament last night
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will remove the need for the medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria that is currently required to receive a GRC.
There was also a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood, attended by Neil Murray, the husband of author and women’s rights campaigner JK Rowling.
She called the result a ‘stain’ on the Scottish Parliament, adding: ‘I really wanted to be with you tonight, but for family reasons it was impossible.
‘However, if you happen to spot a man who looks a lot like my husband in the crowd, it’ll be because he is my husband. As I couldn’t be there, Neil volunteered to take my place – I didn’t even ask him.
‘We all know why women across Scotland are standing up right now, often at a high cost to themselves. We’ve come together to resist the single biggest roll back of women’s rights in our lifetimes.
‘Experts inside the country and abroad have warned the government and its allies that the risks to women from this ill-considered reform may be dire, but the First Minister and her allies have refused to listen.
‘I believe this legislation, which polls show is clearly opposed by the public, will come to be seen as a stain on the Scottish parliament, and on the CVs of every MSP who votes for it.’
Using the Scottish word ‘wheesht’, which means to stay silent, she added: ‘Whether or not this bill passes, the fight isn’t over, and I’m with you all the way. We are the women who will never wheesht.’
A number of proposed amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill were rejected by MSPs
The vote on Tory MSP Russell Findlay’s amendment for an exemption for sex offenders also sparked the ‘shame on all of you’ protest in the public gallery.
It led to the Presiding Officer suspending business as the public gallery was cleared.
Scottish Conservative equalities spokesman Rachael Hamilton said: ‘These changes should have been uncontentious. Yet the SNP have chosen to leave the door wide open for dangerous predators to self-ID as women and gain access to single-sex spaces.
‘Women, girls and the vast majority of the Scottish public will find this utterly indefensible.’
The vote on excluding sex offenders attracted a major rebellion, with eight SNP MSPs voting against the Scottish Government: former community safety minister Ash Regan, ex-Energy Secretary Fergus Ewing, and backbenchers Jim Fairlie, Stephanie Callaghan, Kenneth Gibson, Ruth Maguire, John Mason and Michelle Thomson.
The same eight SNP MSPs backed the amendment opposing lowering the age to 16, as well as Annabelle Ewing.
Ministers were also accused of trying to ‘shut down scrutiny’ and ‘silence’ their own backbenchers after issuing letters urging MSPs to withdraw amendments which they claimed would make their legislation illegal if approved.
During yesterday’s debate, Mr Findlay said: ‘Anyone can simply declare that they have changed sex and that will be taken at face value and facilitated by the state.
‘My amendments are intended to prevent those male criminals who already lied and deceived to commit serious wrongdoing, and whose victims are almost always women and girls.’
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison insisted her proposed reforms were ‘proportionate, legal and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)’ – but the SNP minister refused to say why she thought other safeguards would be unlawful.
The Scottish Government confirmed it intended to back a requirement for registered sex offenders to tell the police if they were applying for a GRC.
Protesters are seen during a candlelit vigil over what they believe is a loss of women’s rights in Scotland
Police Scotland’s chief constable would then be allowed to inform the Registrar General, who could then carry out a risk assessment and potentially pause or reject the application.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: ‘Members across this parliament are right to listen to the voices of women who are concerned about the system being abused by bad faith actors intent on doing harm.
‘These amendments are a reasonable and proportionate means of providing that very reassurance.’
MSPs voted by 87 to 37 against a Tory amendment to lower the age for applying for a GRC from 18 to 16.
In a passionate speech during the marathon debate, which ran long into the night at Holyrood yesterday, SNP MSP Ash Regan, who quit her role as community safety minister to vote against the legislation, said: ‘I don’t think that children of the age of 16 is an appropriate age for such, what is I think many people would consider to be, a very profound change.’
She read out a letter she had received from a mother who said her 15-year-old daughter, who is autistic and struggling with anxiety and depression, self-diagnosed as having gender dysphoria three years ago and now identifies as male.
In the letter, the mother said: ‘I believe she has been influenced by social media and current societal norms and the teen years is a time of flux and how she feels now may change over time as she matures.
‘The school and the NHS have taken an affirmative approach despite my concerns as a parent and I don’t agree that the Government should be lowering the age that young people can self-ID to the age of 16 as socially transitioning is the first step along an often misguided path to medicalisation and surgery.
‘I was persuaded and coerced that it was the right thing to do to call my daughter by the new name and pronouns, when in fact this was bad advice and has led us down a very difficult path as a family.
‘I believe a watchful, waiting and holistic approach is best, looking at all the factors in a young person’s life.’
Miss Regan said: ‘The age should be 18 and no lower in my view and, in my opinion, we should exercise extreme caution in this area.’
But the comments led to an angry backlash from one of her own colleagues.
Addressing Miss Robison, SNP MSP Emma Roddick said: ‘I just wanted to recognise for a moment that a young man did have his identity challenged in the Scottish Parliament moments ago.
‘And I wonder if she would agree that that is wrong, and offer support to him in something that never should have happened?’
Former SNP Energy Secretary Fergus Ewing also challenged Miss Robison when she said that the principles of the Bill had secured support by a ‘strong majority’ of MSPs.
He said: ‘Whereas there may be one view here, and even a majority here, all the evidence of the views of the people of Scotland, as recorded in poll after poll, records the view incontrovertibly that a very substantial majority of people in Scotland – ranging from 68 per cent to 81 per cent – oppose the reduction of the age to 16.’
Concerns were also raised yesterday about MSPs being encouraged to withdraw key amendments.
In a letter to Tory MSP Russell Findlay, SNP backbencher Michelle Thomson and Labour’s Jackie Baillie late on Monday evening, Miss Robison said inserting some of their amendments into the Bill would raise a ‘serious risk of being outwith legislative competence of the Parliament’ and claimed she would need to delay the final stage 3 debate, scheduled for today.
She also claimed the amendments could be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Earlier yesterday, the Tories failed to ensure more time was given to scrutiny by delaying today’s stage 3 vote.
Scottish Tory chief whip Alexander Burnett claimed a future Scottish Parliament will need to repair and repeal the ‘rushed legislation passed during this sorry stint of government’ – and said MSPs should be ‘thoroughly ashamed’.
Meanwhile, Christmas carols at Holyrood today have been cancelled because politicians are likely to still be embroiled in debates about gender reform.