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 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.