Sturgeon urged to axe gender identity bill Sunday Times 01.03.20

The original article is here.

Nicola Sturgeon is under renewed pressure from within the SNP to shelve plans to let people quickly change their gender from the age of 16, with one of her former advisers warning against the move.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Kevin Pringle, the party’s former special adviser and communications head, calls for the nationalists’ gender recognition bill to be delayed beyond the next election, arguing that it risks damaging the government.

His intervention reflects the views of many senior SNP figures who believe the administration risks putting women at risk and is antagonising voters over one of the most divisive issues of the day.

It comes amid signs that, following Boris Johnson’s decision to drop similar legislation at Westminster last month over concerns about the impact on children, the Tories will use gender recognition as a Holyrood election issue to hurt the nationalists next year.

Pressing ahead with the plans in Scotland could lead to transgender tourism, with people from other parts of the UK moving to change their identity.

Pringle, one of the SNP’s most respected figures, who was also an adviser to Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond, said the Scottish government should pause its legislative plans and called for a more civilised debate.

He said: “Rather than pressing on with legislation before next year’s election, the Scottish government should give it more time to get it right.”

Criticising proponents of reform, he said the greatest obstacle to change has been the “belligerence with which the campaign has often been waged”.

Pringle also takes reformers to task for their failure to win middle ground opinion, and observed that the campaign sometimes came across as “back us or be labelled as a bigot”.

He added: “It is grimly ironic that the discussion of complex matters regarding the non-binary nature of gender has been conducted in the aggressive style of binary politics, where it’s all about absolute win or loss.”

Under the proposals, reassigning gender would become much easier and would no longer require a clinical diagnosis or medical evidence — and the minimum age would be cut from 18 to 16.

Typically, at present, applicants must obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and swear an oath that they have been living in their new gender for two years and that they intend to do so for the rest of their life. The new law reduces the two-year period to three months.

Applicants would still have to swear an oath confirming that they intended to live permanently in their gender, and making a false statement would be a criminal offence.

Feminist critics are concerned that women’s rights and female-only spaces are being eroded.

The toxic debate between defenders of women’s rights and supporters of trans rights has descended into acrimony, with opponents called transphobic and the vilification of individuals and groups for attending meetings about it. The issues have caused particular angst within the SNP, with leading party figures spanning a wide coalition opposing the government changes.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry and MSP Joan McAlpine are among opponents who have voiced concern about the impact on women’s rights. Others opposed include new government finance secretary Kate Forbes, while SNP chief whip George Adam regards the plans as a distraction that could lose the party votes.

Pringle issued a stern warning to the SNP administration that “all governments have limited stocks of political capital”.

He condemned the nature of the debate, which he said was characterised by “stridency and intolerance” and called for it to be discussed in real communities and away from social media.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We will consider all responses to the consultation and would urge everyone contributing to do so in a considered and respectful way.”

Last week the SNP faced further criticism when its MP Mhairi Black accompanied a drag queen, who performs under the stage name FlowJob, to speak to primary school pupils in a Paisley school for an LGBT history month event.

The party’s new spin doctor Murray Foote dismissed criticism, saying parents already took their children to see drag acts in pantomime. But education secretary John Swinney said parents had raised “quite understandable concerns”.