Gender reforms expected to pass at Holyrood

By | December 22, 2022

Controversial gender reforms are expected to pass at Holyrood on Thursday after a delay.

MSPs have been locked in debate this week, considering more than 153 amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, designed to make it easier for trans people to gain a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

The Bill was initially set to go to a final vote on Wednesday, but it was pushed to Thursday afternoon due to the debate over amendments, while Tuesday and Wednesday’s debates went longer than any other in the history of the Scottish Parliament, with MSPs sitting until around 1.30am on Thursday morning.

Despite being one of the most controversial Bills since devolution, the legislation is expected to pass when it comes to a final vote as a result of support within the SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems.

But the Bill does create a disciplinary issue for the SNP.

At stage one of the bill, seven MSPs from the ruling party voted against it – including minister Ash Regan, who was forced to quit – with two other abstaining.

Ms Regan said during the consideration of amendments that she would not be supporting the Bill while fellow SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson hinted he would again rebel against it. Fergus Ewing and Michelle Thomson, meanwhile, spoke in favor of amendments the Scottish Government opposed.

Throughout proceedings, the Scottish Tories have made apparent attempts to make consideration take as long as possible with the raising of repeated points of order and pushing every amendment to a vote, even if the proposer chose not to do so.

Party leader Douglas Ross was even told he was close to “contempt of parliament” by the Deputy Presiding Officer after repeatedly pushing for a fuller explanation as to why a late amendment tabled by one of his MSPs would not be taken in the chamber.

The final week of the legislation came against the backdrop of public shows of both support and opposition outside the Scottish Parliament, with a number of rallies held and cries of “shame on all of you” from the public gallery on Tuesday when an amendment that would prevent sex offenders from applying for a GRC was voted down.

The Bill will remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria currently required to receive a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

It would also lower the minimum age for applicants to 16 and drop the time required for an applicant to live in their acquired gender from two years to three months – six for people aged 16 and 17 – though with a three-month reflection period.

On Tuesday, MSPs backed a change tabled by SNP MSP Gillian Martin to the law which means anyone subject to a sexual harm prevention order or sexual offenses prevention order will not be allowed to seek a GRC.

Meanwhile, a push by another SNP MSP to ensure applications are paused if an applicant is charged with a sexual offense until their case is disposed of divided members by 61 votes to 61 – as is customary Deputy Presiding Officer Liam McArthur used his casting vote against the change.

Its passage could raise further disciplinary issues within the SNP, with seven MSPs from the ruling party voting against it – including minister Ash Regan, who was forced to quit – and two others abstaining at stage one.

Ms Regan said during the consideration of amendments that she would not be supporting the Bill while fellow SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson hinted he would again rebel against it. Fergus Ewing and Michelle Thomson, meanwhile, spoke in favor of amendments the Scottish Government opposed.

Speaking in favor of her own amendments to the Bill, Ms Regan said the legislation would put the safety of women and girls at risk.

“I would say to my fellow parliamentarians – it boils down to this – do you think women will be more or less safe as a result of this law?” she said.

“And if you have any doubt, any doubt at all that it will make women and girls less safe, then you cannot vote for it.”

After her comments, the Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone, was forced to suspend proceedings for around a minute due to shouting of support from the public gallery.

Late in proceedings, an amendment by Ms Regan which stated the Bill had no impact on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – enshrining an individuals right to free expression – passed without the support of the Scottish Government by 64 votes to 63.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s consideration of amendments, Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison urged fellow MSPs to back the legislation.

“Trans rights are not in competition with women’s rights, and as we have seen in the past, rights can be improved for everyone when those discriminated against and who face prejudice work together as allies.

“These reforms are supported by a majority in Parliament and members of all parties. I urge all members to vote in favor of these important reforms on what will be an historic day for equality in Scotland.”

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