It looks as though we are going to have a another legal battle between the UK and Scottish governments. For the first time the UK government is going to use the power in section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to prevent a Scottish bill from becoming law. The bill in question is the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill which aims, among other things, to speed up and simplify the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. While I’m no fan of the SNP, whose obsession with independence at the expense of issues such as drug deaths and education is pretty shameful, this time not only are the actions of the UK government unprecedented, they are wrong.
First, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about what a gender recognition certificate does and does not do. Tom Harwood has done a good job debunking this on his Substack, but in short a certificate allows a trans person to do four things:
• update their birth or adoption certificate, if it was registered in the UK;
• get married or form a civil partnership in their affirmed gender;
• update their marriage or civil partnership certificate, if it was registered in the UK;
• have their affirmed gender on their death certificate.
The Scottish bill would simplify the process of getting a certificate. For example, it would lower the minimum age from 18 to 16 and reduce the length of time a trans person must have been living in their affirmed gender from two years to three months.
That’s it. All pretty mundane stuff. Nothing whatsoever to do with male rapists being incarcerated in women’s prisons or access to public toilets. Those who claim otherwise are either misguided or deliberating trying to mislead the public.
Other objections have been raised. Keir Starmer has argued that 16 is too young to change gender. He is wrong. We already let young people make very important decisions about their bodies and their lives at 16. It is legal for them to consent to sex, for example. They make decisions about which subjects to study that will have big implications for their careers. We deem them legally responsible for their actions so that they can be prosecuted and imprisoned if they commit a crime. We let them sign up to join the armed forces. It was encouraging to see Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, acknowledge that we also let people work and pay tax at 16, and so there is no reason they should not be able to change their gender. As such, the argument that 16 is too young simply does stand up to scrutiny.
There are, of course, concerns about the safety of women. These should not be dismissed, but stirring up undeserved fear about trans people is awful and unnecessary. It is true that women are at risk of violence or being preyed upon. However, cases involving men claiming to be trans women are incredibly rare. The vast majority of sexual violence against cis women, trans women and men is committed by cis men. This is the case both in prison and the outside world. If we want to keep women safe then we need to make sure that our streets are safe, our prisons need to protect vulnerable people so that weaker or non-violent convicts are not housed with dangerous prisoners, and the rot in our police forces needs to be eradicated.
This is the wrong battle for the UK government to pick. The country is facing pressing issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, industrial strife, public services on the brink of collapse and war in Ukraine. This is what the government should be focused on, not stoking up the culture war by making life more difficult for a minority of oppressed people.
I’d also argue that it strengthens the case for Scottish independence. I wouldn’t really call myself a unionist and it is clearly a bad look for the UK government to be overruling the Scottish Parliament on this issue.
Ultimately, we should go even further than the reforms put forward by the Scottish government. We should move to a system of self identification for trans and non-binary people. We know ourselves and our bodies better than anyone, let alone some bureaucrat who has never met us.
It’s also nobody else’s business – especially not the state’s – what your gender is. While it’s important for the state to know how many people with male and female bodies there are in the country for the purposes of providing adequate public services, beyond that it should keep its nose out. People should not have to go through a sometimes humiliating and lengthy medical and bureaucratic process to receive official recognition of who they really are.
I don’t say this very often, but the SNP has got this one right. The UK government should focus on the serious issues facing our country, not pandering to the faux outrage and downright lies of those who seek to trample the rights of trans people.
[See also: Will the gender reform battle boost support for Scottish independence?]