Trans row at SNP meeting leaves MP in tears The Times 04.02.21

The original article is here.

At least one MP was left in tears when a bitter tussle about transgender rights boiled over at the SNP’s weekly meeting at Westminster.

The row on Wednesday last week was another manifestation of the convulsions in a party that had for decades been single-minded in its pursuit of independence.

A rift has opened over two proposed pieces of legislation around hate crime and gender recognition, with reforms such as self-identification championed by SNP groups including Young Scots for Independence but opposed by some feminists in the party, represented by Women’s Pledge.

The two camps line up roughly on either side of the confrontation between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, which is playing out at an inquiry into the handling of complaints against the former first minister.

The row at Westminster followed the decision by Humza Yousaf, the Scottish justice secretary, to amend a hate crime bill that would have enabled opponents of self-identification — who may have faced prosecution for “stirring up hatred” — to challenge the view of the SNP leadership that trans women are women without facing the threat of arrest. His amendment provoked activists and the meeting of MPs marked signs of a pushback.

One MP told his aide: “It was very hostile, there are some MPs crying.” He said that a group of his well-known colleagues were “very vocal, saying ‘This party’s not doing enough for trans people and now Humza has attacked them with the amendment’.”

When one MP complained of a lack of respect for older women in the party, she was told “older women don’t have the monopoly on feminism,” according to the aide. A female MP is said to have left the meeting in tears. Ian Blackford, the SNP group leader at Westminster, is said to have ended the discussion, telling his colleagues he would deal with the matter. Yousaf withdrew his amendment on Monday.

The row at the Westminster meeting broke out after reports on social media of young members quitting the party in droves because of alleged transphobia. Within minutes of the meeting ending Sturgeon took to Twitter to make an “unscripted” appeal for these activists to rejoin the SNP.

She was praised online by some MPs, MSPs and activists for showing “what leadership looks like”. Blackford signalled his agreement by posting a trans rights banner. Her opponents took the opposite view: for them Sturgeon’s admission of the party’s “guilt” over transphobia was anathema.

Their anger was compounded the next day when, before a meeting of the SNP national executive committee, Kirsten Oswald, the business convenor, and Keith Brown, the depute leader, wrote to members warning that “transphobia under the guise of a concern for women’s rights is still transphobia”.

It was, one senior party official said, “an absolutely absurd statement”. The official said: “It might sound like hyperbole but it felt like Nicola had declared war on Wednesday night.

“It did not sound like there was any plea for calmness or reason, it was just a case of ‘You young people are my mates, please come home’.” A long-standing party member said: “Permission has been given to brand women who criticise policy bigots and ‘terfs’ [trans-exclusionary radical feminists].”

Opposition parties have been careful not to enter the fray over trans rights.

Joanna Cherry, the MP who was sacked by the SNP front bench this week, has received threats over her stance. Police confirmed that they were investigating two reports of threatening communications.

What is the law on gender recognition?
People who want to change their legal gender have to satisfy a panel that they have gender dysphoria, producing two medical reports of their diagnosis. They must have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years and have to formally declare that they will do so for the rest of their lives.

Who’s fighting?
Young Scots for Independence and the LGBTQ group Out for Independence are campaigning for the rights of transgender people to self-identify more easily. They are opposed by Women’s Pledge, a party grouping which emphasises sex-based rights.

Where does hate crime law fit in?
Opponents of self-identification argue that existing law protects trans rights and fear that some of their arguments could be deemed hate speech unless the Scottish legislation is amended.

What do other countries do?
Self-identification has become the norm in Ireland, Norway, Malta, Denmark and Argentina.

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