Gender Reform, Trans Rights, and Devolution  

In December 2022, Holyrood MSPs voted upon an amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, aiming to improve the conditions of trans and non-binary people within Scotland. Although it passed with a large majority, Westminster rejected the bill, stating it would have a negative effect upon the rest of the United Kingdom. In doing so, the UK government has effectively shown that not only can they prevent Scottish legislation, but that they will. This has further fuelled talks for the necessity of Scottish devolution, or independence. 

Initially, the 2004 Act required a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, as well as a minimum age of 18. The Bill aimed to make the pathway for self-identification easier for trans people, by removing the current evidence requirements, reducing the age someone can apply from 18 to 16 and changing how gender recognition certificates (GRC) are. The Bill was greatly received at Parliament, with over two-thirds of MSPs voting For, including members of all Scottish political parties.  

Alistair Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, rejected this Bill under section 35 of the Scotland Act, preventing it from getting royal approval, while the UK government’s equalities minister Kemi Badenoch refused an invitation to provide evidence for doing so, avoiding Holyrood Equalities, Human Rights, and Civil Justice Committees. This has effectively nullified the will of the Scottish people. Furthermore, this was the first-time Section 35 has been used in almost 25 years, making one wonder: did Westminster have any honest reasoning for doing so, or does this shift come from systematic transphobia? 

Adding to the vulnerability of Scottish legislative power is the recent refusal of a second independence referendum. This frightening combination of silencing the vote of Scotland within an inescapable union is telling of the dismay that Westminster can, and evidently will, cause to the Scottish people. While the main priority right now is, doubtlessly, the passing of this Bill, one cannot help feeling agitated. While this may appear as a one-off, they are then less likely to act if it happens a second time; and when it happens a third, many won’t even notice. 

It was always likely that blocking Scottish legislation would lead to significant resentment from Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated it as a ‘full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament, and plans to continue the fight to get the Bill passed. Additionally, on Saturday 21st January, many people gathered in Glasgow to show unity in fighting the U.K. government. Stonewall, an LGBTQ+ rights organisation, stated they believe the Prime Minister’s decision ‘treats trans people as a threat to be contained, not citizens to be respected’. Together, Scotland’s rallied voice against Westminster has yet to have a positive effect, making many wonder if the answer is for greater devolved powers, or exit out of the union, so we would have the freedom over our own legislation. 

This rejection has been felt across Scotland, especially within queer communities, where many feel greatly disheartened. The right to a GRC was almost made easier for many but was stolen away from Scottish citizens after the Bill was agreed upon. Westminster’s attack on Holyrood and Alistair Jack’s refusal to provide evidence for objection to the Reform suggests a higher level of transphobia which exists within the top of society. 

The UK government has indeed started a slippery slope. Is this government scared that, in allowing trans people within Scotland greater autonomy, more people across the UK will challenge their transphobia? Is now the time to break away from a 3-century old Union Act that is appearing more and more outdated each year?  

by Andrew Taylor [he/him] 

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