What chance of a fair hearing?

Our contributor Jan* says our MSPs are compromised in any parliamentary scrutiny of gender recognition reform

Today members of the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice (EHRCJ) Committee met in private to discuss the timetable for the parliamentary passage of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Women with concerns about the draft legislation are watching carefully.

Cynicism levels are already running high. At the beginning of the year, we learned that – despite a manifesto commitment that indicated an open-ended process – in the seven months that had elapsed since the 2021 election, the Scottish Government had met only with LGBT groups that support its proposals.

Shamed by this revelation, officials quickly agreed to a series of meetings with grassroots groups with concerns, Sole Sisters included.

But we now know this was no more than another tick-box exercise. The draft bill is almost identical to the one the Scottish Government consulted on in 2019. We also know it is very likely the Bill and accompanying documents had already been shared with the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament at the point at which we all met with the Minister and her officials.

All of our hopes, therefore, are now pinned on the legislative process and the ability of MSPs to scrutinise the bill as it moves through Parliament.

‘Respectful’ debate

Introducing the bill in the Chamber on March 3, Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison said:

“I understand the views and concerns of those who oppose the reforms. Just because they disagree with the proposals, people should not be automatically labelled as transphobic. If everyone is respectful, we should all be able to discuss the proposals and our views in a civilised manner… It is important that we try to build consensus.”

On March 13, in an article on the front page of Scotland on Sunday, two of her Ministerial colleagues spoke about JK Rowling’s recent statements about the reforms.

“I think [JKR] is advocating positions that are against trans people’s equality and human rights. I think that’s very clear.”

Patrick Harvie MSP, Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights

Lorna Slater said:

“I think the whole conversation and the misrepresentation put trans lives at risk.”

Lorna Slater MSP, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

It has taken just 10 days for the Scottish Government to abandon its commitment to respectful debate and consensus-building. 10 days.

Conflict of interest

Four MSPs on the EHRCJ Committee ­–  including its convener – are also members of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on LGBTI+ issues. As reported in today’s Telegraph, the CPG has agreed to set up a private discussion channel between those MSPs and individuals and organisations who are members of the CPG, the majority of whom support the Scottish Government’s proposals.

In fact, it’s worse than that. The CPG actively excludes organisations that have concerns about the Scottish Government’s proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

The grassroots women’s group, For Women Scotland, applied to join the CPG but were refused. No reason for the refusal was given, despite the fact the CPG stated in its inaugural meeting in September 2021 that it wanted to encourage more women’s groups to join.

“As is standard practice, the CPG [cross-party group] considers all new requests to join at each meeting with applications determined democratically by existing members. The LGBTI+ CPG remains committed to furthering the rights of and bettering the lives of Scotland’s LGBTI community.” 

CPG co-conveners Jamie Greene MSP (Conservative) and Emma Roddick MSP (SNP)

An ideological commitment

Nor is it any secret that at least three members of the Committee are also personally supportive of gender self-identification.

To recap: the parliamentary committee charged with scrutinising and amending the Gender Recognition Reform Bill has seven members. Four of those members – a majority – are also members of the CPG on LGBTI+ issues.

Most organisational members of the CPG are ideologically committed to a “trans women are women” position and have actively excluded a group that opposes this view.

The CPG has set up a private communication channel for those in the group – including those MSPs – to discuss and influence how GRA reform is handled by the Parliament. Not only that but three MSPs on the committee have made quite clear they support gender self-identification.

This represents a clear conflict of interest.

Abandoning respectful debate

Sometime in the next few days, it is likely the EHRCJ Committee will issue a call for written submissions on the draft bill.

Once again, women with concerns about enshrining gender self-identification principles in law will set aside time away from work, caring and other responsibilities to put pen to paper.

Women will be asking themselves: when Scottish Government Ministers have so quickly abandoned their commitment to respectful debate and MSPs charged with scrutinising the bill have revealed themselves to be so thoroughly compromised, what hope is there of a fair hearing?

Can anyone blame them if their conclusion is none?

*Name changed for the usual obvious reasons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s