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The SNP’s fight over gender reform is going to court

Better for Scotland, or for the SNP? Credit: Getty

September 19, 2023 - 7:00am

The conflict over gender reform between Westminster and the Scottish Government ramps up today. The Court of Session in Edinburgh will begin hearing a challenge to the UK Government’s use of a Section 35 order to prevent its controversial Gender Recognition Reform Act becoming law. The Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, blocked the bill on the grounds that it would have a detrimental effect on the 2010 Equality Act, which allows organisations to provide single-sex spaces in limited circumstances. 

The SNP will be hoping to frame the court battle as a principled fight against “interference” by Westminster in Scotland’s affairs. But it has a problem — several in fact. Voters who thought they were opting for independence didn’t imagine that they would get something quite different, namely male sex offenders being housed in women’s prisons. 

I suppose ministers had to do something when their hopes of a second independence referendum went up in smoke. But no one would have predicted that, egged on by their Green coalition partners, who have some of the weirdest ideas ever promoted by actual Government ministers, they would plunge down a rabbit hole where being a woman is just a feeling.

The SNP has been in power as both a minority and majority administration since 2007, without ever managing to persuade a majority of voters to support independence. It has changed its leader since the furore over the bill at the beginning of this year, but it now finds itself in an unexpectedly tight race with Labour. Ministers might prefer to forget the way they tied themselves in knots when asked whether a male-bodied double rapist calling himself “Isla Bryson” was “genuinely trans”. But “progressive” politicians in Scotland have a history of saying ridiculous and offensive things about sex, and this habit is about to come under scrutiny again. 

The court challenge carries significant risks, not least because it will revive an argument that the SNP didn’t just lose. It lost comprehensively, with the party leaching members and electoral support. Opinion polls show that between half and two-thirds of the Scottish public oppose legislation which would allow any man, including one accused of rape, to declare himself a woman and be treated as such in law. 

Nicola Sturgeon’s career as First Minister crashed in a blaze of headlines mocking her refusal to say whether Bryson was a man or a woman. Many erstwhile supporters couldn’t believe what they were hearing when the self-declared feminist MSP described critics of the legislation as “deeply misogynist, often homophobic, possibly […] racist as well”. 

Her replacement as First Minister, Humza Yousaf, claimed that Bryson was “at it” and not really trans, without acknowledging that he’d just conceded the point made by every opponent of the legislation. The co-leader of the Scottish Greens, Lorna Slater, who is a minister in Yousaf’s government, compared critics of the bill to racists and anti-Semites. Green MSP Maggie Chapman, who thinks children as young as eight should be able to change their legal sex, disclosed that she doesn’t know what her chromosomes are.

Most legal authorities believe that the Scottish Government’s legal challenge will fail. With a crucial by-election looming in Rutherglen and Hamilton West next month, however, it’s just as well to remember that Scotland is currently governed by a bunch of people who regard a belief in biological sex as a form of bigotry. Thanks for the reminder: I think we all know who the real misogynists are.


Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She was previously Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board. Her book Unfortunately, She Was A Nymphomaniac: A New History of Rome’s Imperial Women will be published in November 2024.

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Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago

Were it not the case that women’s safety is at stake in this debate, one could laugh at how quickly the foundational argument of self-ID crumbled to dust:

SNP: Trans women are women if they say they are. No debate!

Everyone else: What about that rapist over there who now says he’s a woman?

SNP: Well, not him obviously.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

Youseless thinks that there are three genders: male, female and rapist.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

He should know.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

The problem in Scotland is that it is not just the SNP that is pushing this absurd piece of legislation but that Labour and pretty well every party but the Conservatives are supporting it. In the upcoming by-election if you vote either SNP or Labour you are giving a vote for daft anti-women legislation. Rational voters would plump for the only party opposing it standing in the by-election but there aren’t many rational voters as the red mist tends to descend where the Tory’s are concerned.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Indeed. This is the key point. The article says:
‘Voters who thought they were opting for independence didn’t imagine that they would get something quite different, namely male sex offenders being housed in women’s prisons.’
Really? The SNP’s capture by woke interests isn’t exactly secret, nor is it novel. The SNP has acted as a ratchet for woke in Scotland. Everyone has had to follow to burnish their ‘progressive’ credentials.
ï»żIf you are in Scotland and you are concerned about the woke direction then there is a likelihood that you are lying in a bed of your own making.

Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Nationalist parties are very often a coalition between heartland traditionalists and urban progressives. They coalesce around the independence goal and are reluctant to rock the boat on other issues where there is less agreement while that dream inspires.
I suspect there are a fair number of “small c” conservative independence supporters who chose wilful blindness on the matter of self-ID and other progressive policies, because they believed Nicola Sturgeon would deliver independence.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

Are you not shocked by the one third number? A third of Scotland thinks one’s sex is up for grabs?

And then there’s this question: If one can change one’s sex by changing one’s mind, why surgery? Is changing one’s mind not the panacea it’s made out to be? If cosmetic changes prove anything, is it not just how emphatically clear the would-be female is still male.

Michael K
Michael K
9 months ago

The women’s rights campaign group Women Won’t Wheesht have had the hustings they organised cancelled at short notice because the venue management are offended at women exercising their rights.

Taking this GRR fight any further is a huge act of self harm by the SNP.

Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael K

I sincerely hope they have a case to sue the venue. It is unconscionable that in a free society people should be censured for peacefully expressing legal speech.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
9 months ago

Will labour be any better? They share the same ideas on womanhood and feelings, and are always at the forefront when it comes to virtue signalling.
The Tories on the other hand are mostly a bunch of spineless gits only concerned about themselves.

What a time to be a woman!

Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Probably depends on whether you’re talking about Scotland or Westminster.
In Scotland the voting age is 16 in all but general elections, so its to be expected that left-wing parties will lean more into issues which resonate with purple-haired activists. The SNP will always look for such issues as a means of contrasting “progressive” Scotland with Westminster and Labour will always to some extent have to compete for those same votes.
There’s a bit of a paradox in England, which is that the progressive vote is big but doesn’t really matter that much to the outcome of a general election. Simply because its all concentrated in urban and university constituencies which Labour already win by a landslide. Labour’s route to victory is through reclaiming red wall seats and white collar marginals like Nuneaton where fashionable progressive causes don’t play so well.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

The article mentions the looming Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. Regrettably, the Labour candidate in that by-election has supported the gender self-ID legislation. Scottish Labour is caught up in the gender self-ID Schwarmdummheit, along with the SNP and the Greens.
Nicola ‘described critics of the legislation as “deeply misogynist, often homophobic, possibly [
] racist as well”.’ Qui accuse, s’excuse.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Schwarmdummheit! That was quick!

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
9 months ago

I had to look that one up!

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

The argument being made by these dreadful Maoists is that ‘Gender self-identification is a harmless fiction until it’s used by a harmful individual but that makes the individual harmful and still leaves it a harmless fiction that we should affirm in law.’

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
9 months ago

There is nothing “crucial” about the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. The Labour and SNP leadership were both equally ardent in their support of the Gender Recognition Reform Act. In fact there were more prominent SNP voices against it than within Labour. If the SNP loses support to Labour, Scotland does not become more Unionist; Labour’s voters just become more Nationalist. After the next Scottish election, as the SNP won’t have a majority with the Greens, and Labour won’t have a majority with the Lib Dems, the likely government is an SNP – Labour coalition. Scottish voters are to be given the illusion of choice and of change. That is all.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
9 months ago

Will labour be any better? They share the same ideas on womanhood and feelings, and are always at the forefront when it comes to virtue signalling.
The Tories on the other hand are mostly a bunch of spineless g!ts only concerned about themselves.

What a time to be a woman!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

“Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation”.*

(*You know who!)

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago

“Humza Yousaf, claimed that Bryson was “at it” and not really trans,”

The No True Scotswoman fallacy in action.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Who is censoring this?

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
9 months ago

You mean, “who is censoring on unHerd”.
I have posted a comment twice and still no idea why it is being moderated.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

I don’t know about today but in the past “sensitive subjects” have a blanket censorship of comments until the actual censors get in at about 9.00 am when a lot of inoffensive stuff then gets let through. Of course, some stuff still gets suppressed for reasons none of us can comprehend – but that’s the nature of censorship.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It is driving me demented. My comment has now appeared, but still…
I have penned a strongly worded email to “support”.

Malcolm Powell
Malcolm Powell
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I didn’t know this. We should get some clarification from someone in authority
I don’t pay my monthly subs to support censorship

Iris C
Iris C
9 months ago

A young relation of mine is so against the priority being given to this legislation by the SNP, she is going to opt to home-educate her child, if it becomes law.

Last edited 9 months ago by Iris C
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
9 months ago

a rabbit hole where being a woman is just a feeling“. Touchez! The writer wins the Internet, today!

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
9 months ago

You can toss a coin. Heads is the Trans movement and tails is extreme Feminism.
Both want to grab more power for themselves. So, there will be a vote and the best (insert pronoun) will win. This is life as we know it and there is no answer to it.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
9 months ago

Rubbish. Feminism is about the reality of being female. The ‘trans’ movement is about delusion and denial of reality.
Any group discriminated against or prevented from living their lives freely and independently because of a physical reality – be that sex, skin colour or disability – has a right to challenge that oppression and it is right that they do so. It is not acceptable for a group of people to attempt to bully others into colluding with their delusions.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
9 months ago

There is no more reality about being female than being male. It is what it has always been. An -ism title doesn’t change the reality.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago

I think you’re disagreeing with CW simply for the sake of disagreeing, having had your very weak point trashed, simply and resoundingly.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Who’s a clever boy then – sucking up to the feminist extremists for brownie points.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago

If CW’s a feminist extremist, you’re Owen Glendower (or however it’s spelled in Welsh).

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

A smug comment like that does not aid progression and does not help to go forward.
We are where we are today because of recent history. You, I and everyone contributing here is partially to blame for our predicament.
There have been a whole bunch of -isms which have driven us to this point and each has left a scar. It is at least reasonable (for your benefit there is a plausible reasoning process) to say the a combination of these -isms has caused our problems. Simply siding with one or the other can, at best, be called smug.

Last edited 9 months ago by Caradog Wiliams
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago

Your response to CW got what it deserved. To think that your comment “progressed” the debate is smugness personified.

Mark Carpenter
Mark Carpenter
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Have you seen the video with James Damore, Heather Heyer and Helen Pluckrose in Oregon maybe from 5 years ago? The progressive students were pretty crazy in the same way as they were soon to become about trans. Seems clear that it was the same kind of mindless activism. The 2020 marches were similarly avoidant of reasoning and demographic fact. Caradog has a valid point. Trans activism extremes didnt come out of the blue. Evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have been getting canceled for decades because their data didnt conform to academic political left ideology. What would aid progress right now is a more reasonable progressive left.
They are both CW, btw

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
9 months ago

Your opening thought is basically correct; but at the same time women, as a group, have recently been significantly to the left of men. So I have to be somewhat amused; a group to the left have been set upon by a group much, much further to the left. I can only echo what Kissinger said of Iraq and Iran…