Surgeon: destroyer of women's rights (Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty Images)

December 9, 2023   3 mins

Nobody could say Nicola Sturgeon hadn’t been warned. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls told the then Scottish First Minister that amending the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill to include self-identification would pose a danger to women and girls. Feminists working in domestic and sexual violence services warned her. The indomitable J.K. Rowling called her a “destroyer of women’s rights”. And legal experts pointed out that the erosion of female only spaces, including refuges and prisons, would allow male sexual predators to access vulnerable victims.

But Sturgeon knew better, accusing feminists of being transphobic for pointing this out, and refusing to back down over the scandal of trans-identified Isla Bryson, a double rapist who was subsequently placed in a women’s prison.

Now comes fresh humiliation for Sturgeon: the Court of Session in Scotland has found in favour of the UK Government’s unprecedented decision to use Section 35 to block the GRR Bill from Royal Assent. This ruling is a damning indictment of how the legislation was poorly and irresponsibly drafted; it confirms that the Bill was fundamentally flawed, and the S35 order legitimate. Had it not been blocked by Westminster, the new Bill would have allowed anyone over the age of 16, born or living in Scotland, to change their sex in law, within a period as short as six months and without any need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

When the Scottish Parliament passed the GRR Bill by 86 votes to 39 last year, there was noisy opposition from feminists and human rights campaigners. Sturgeon’s bill — she had been passionately advocating for it since 2017 — proposed a system of “self-identification” or “declaration” for trans people which would replace legislation requiring a trans person to “prove” that they had “lived in their acquired gender” for two years. 

Then, in January, the double rapist Adam Graham (who had, prior to his conviction, declared himself a woman and changed his name to Isla Bryson) was remanded to a women’s prison to await sentencing. Following an outcry, there was an inevitable climbdown and the latest policy on prisons in Scotland says that any transwoman with a history of violence against women will mostly not be housed in female prisons — other than in “exceptional circumstances”. It is a very small shift, and those “exceptional circumstances” appear to involve a highly subjective risk assessment.

A self-described “feminist to her fingertips”, Sturgeon, who hoped to win the hearts and minds of Scotland’s progressives by introducing the GRR Bill, has now become a figure of hate and ridicule. Along with Stonewall and other supporters of self-identification, she argued that it was a mere administrative change free from adverse effects. All it would do, would be to make life easier and more dignified for trans people. However, as opponents countered, it would pose a significant risk to women and girls if men could simply declare themselves women and legally enter single-sex spaces. 

In response, Green MSP Maggie Chapman has greeted today’s news by tweeting: “This is a devastating day for equality. It is a democratic outrage, crushing basic rights… It shows the limitations and constraints on devolution and confirms that the UK government refuses to see our trans siblings for the people they really are.”

But this ruling does not make the case that devolution is a problem. What it does make clear is that the only thing ensuring Scottish women did not lose all of their sex based rights under the Equality Act was the UK Government. And I find myself laughing at the wording regarding so-called safeguarding against potential misuse of the system. I quote: “It will be a criminal offence for applicants to make a false application.”

I’d love to know how anyone could prove that a person has lied on the application form,  given that the definition of being transgender, according to Sturgeon and her stooges, is that it is based on a feeling inherent only to that person, requiring no evidential test whatsoever. 

The fact that this law would have had a significant impact on women, didn’t matter to Sturgeon, or her cronies.  

This week, members of the Scottish Parliament posed for a photo as part of UN Women’s “16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”. This tweet exemplifies the ignorance and hypocrisy: Lorna Slater, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Humza Yousaf, Anas Sarwar and Patrick Harvie — all claiming to be committed to ending violence against women, and all supporting a bill that would result in more of it.

“If you want to pick a constitutional battle with the British government, then you should pick a topic on which you have the Scottish public backing,” warned MSP and KC, Joanna Cherry. “That’s not the case with this Bill. It’s very clear from the opinion polls that the majority of Scots do not want self-identification.” 

Lady Haldane has done Humza Yousaf a massive service. He no longer has to push forward a massively unpopular and flawed piece of legislation and he gets to accuse Westminster of meddling. Win-win.

The wholesale dismissal of women’s fears and concerns were shocking during the entire process. Let Sturgeon’s stubborn foolishness be a lesson to others: you don’t mess with feminists – and definitely not the Scottish variety.

Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.