March 1, 2023 - 4:15pm

Does Humza Yousaf identify as Nicola Sturgeon? I ask because the Scottish Health Secretary sounds eerily like the soon-to-be-gone First Minister, who staked her career on a pile of nonsense about ‘gender identity’ — and lost. You might think that her toe-curling responses to questions about the sex of a convicted rapist, Isla Bryson, would have acted as a warning to anyone with ambitions to lead the SNP. Not, however, if you listen to Yousaf falling into exactly the same linguistic traps.

He is the only leadership candidate who continues to support Sturgeon’s suicidal legislation to allow self-ID. His take on the subject is every bit as incoherent as hers, even though there is no evidence to suggest that Scotland is keen on an ideology which insists that men can magically become women. In most people’s eyes, the question of whether Bryson is a man or a woman was comprehensively settled weeks ago, as soon as they saw pictures of him in leggings and a blond wig. 

The case has been a wake-up call for every media outlet that has in the past described defendants in rape trials as women. Sadly, the learning curve is not yet complete: after Bryson was sentenced to eight years in prison this week, numerous reports described him as a ‘transgender woman’ and referred to him as ‘she’ or ‘they’. I never imagined I would have to explain that the correct pronouns for a rapist are ‘he’ and ‘him’.

Any canny politician aspiring to become Scotland’s next First Minister would have expected questions about the sentencing and worked out a half-decent reply. Yousaf, however, adopted the unusual strategy of appearing to reject Bryson’s gender identity and accept it at the same time. He acknowledged that Bryson was only pretending to identify as a woman, but still referred to him as ‘her’ and ‘they’. He described Bryson as “a horrible, despicable individual”, yet defended his right to self-identify as a woman. “The law applies to people, everybody, without fear and without favour,” he said. 

If you can hear screams at this point, it’s the sound of critics of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill pointing out that this is exactly the problem. If you pass a law entitling any man to acquire a piece of paper that changes his legal sex, it will be wide open to abuse. It was clear that some men were already taking advantage of a criminal justice system captured by advocates of gender ideology, but MSPs were told that the bill would make such deceptions much easier. Members of the SNP-Green coalition scornfully denied that sex offenders would abuse the bill’s provisions. 

Now, it seems, that position has changed dramatically. We’re told that bad actors will take advantage of a new legal right to self-ID but it can’t be helped, because everyone must be treated the same under the law. If the bill ever receives royal assent, perhaps Yousaf could be permanently available to advise refuges and lesbian venues which men who have a gender recognition certificate are genuine — and which are faking it.

That looks increasingly unlikely, although Yousaf has said he will follow Sturgeon’s declared intention of challenging the UK Government’s veto in court if he wins the leadership contest. He is said to be the favourite to succeed her, but it’s hard to believe a majority of Scots would welcome a politician who appears to be channelling the current First Minister’s barmiest beliefs.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.