I HAVE had concerns about some aspects of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill for some time, but not enough to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

When I heard that Alister Jack and Rishi Sunak had decided to block the bill passed by a large cross-party majority at Holyrood ("Sturgeon condemns UK move to block gender reform law", The Herald, January 18), I experienced an anger whose intensity took me quite by surprise.

I think it was because not only was an extremely marginalised and stigmatised social group having their hopes for a less fraught life ripped away, but also because both my and their democratic rights were being trampled upon. The bill might not have met all of my wishes, but it was passed by our parliament after six years of consultations, commissions and amendments.

To have the Westminster Government decide that we are not capable of making our own laws really sticks in my craw. Accusations of colonial arrogance, once seen as an exaggeration, have now taken on much greater validity in my mind after this. I don’t for a minute believe it has anything to do with the welfare of transgender people or the Equalities Act. This is cynical political opportunism aimed at keeping open divisions in Scottish society over transgender rights in the hope that the SNP will suffer as a result. That is shameful.

It is also part of an assault on the devolution settlement by clawing power back to London. I hope that even those who don’t like the bill will agree that it is our right to make our own mistakes. I have a feeling the Conservative Party may come to regret this high-handed action at subsequent Scottish elections.
Dr David White, Galashiels

Bend the knee, or resist?

BRIAN Wilson ("It’s SNP who are playing politics with trans people", The Herald, January 18) opines that the UK Government’s decision to quash Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill is about the legalities. That’s nonsense; if it was the case, the UK Government would have gone to the Supreme Court, as it has done in the past for rulings on other matters where it believed the Scottish Parliament had overstepped its authority.

The UK Government’s action is politics pure and simple. It is showing the Scottish Parliament where power truly lies: at Westminster, not with the Scottish people. It’s a clear message to Scotland to know its place and not to get uppity. Of course it has chosen an issue that affects only a small number of people, many of whom have enough to deal with already without the state making life difficult, and an issue that plays well with the Tory faithful.

After all the vigorous debate here in Scotland and a clear 86-39 majority in our parliament, it’s cruel to dash the hopes of those affected by the legislation. The UK Government’s decision also makes life uncomfortable for some of the Conservatives' own MSPs. Among those who voted in favour of the bill were former Tory leader Jackson Carlaw and Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. Dr Gulhane is an experienced GP and I’d expect him to have a better understanding of gender dysphoria than the average MSP.

It may be that Rishi Sunak and Alister Jack are simply looking for a distraction from the chaos created by their Government’s disastrous misrule. If that’s what they’re doing, it’s extraordinarily cynical; though, thinking about it, typical of entitled politicians who live their lives in the Westminster bubble. Sir Keir Starmer is no better: in typical style, he hums and hahs without being clear about where he stands on the issue, unlike Scottish Labour’s leader Anas Sarwar and all but two of their MSPs who voted for the bill.

Scotland has a choice: bend the knee and do as we’re told, or resist. As the saying goes: “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees”. I believe Scotland can stand on its own two feet and prosper. Sure, there would be disruption and difficulty in the early days of self-government, but are we really so timid that we won’t even make the attempt?
Doug Maughan, Dunblane

How far should devolved power go?

THE controversy over the UK Government's intervention on the Holyrood transgender bill rekindles the whole question of the validity and requirement of Scottish devolution. Perhaps we have not seen this specific type of issue on such an emerging scale since Tam Dalyell’s famous “West Lothian Question” debate.

I would have thought that the argued case for UK devolution was to allow each of the four nations to make political decisions which related to issues that were almost exclusive to the peculiarities and needs of that nation. The issue of transgender seems to me a point of law rather than political and not a necessity which Scottish politicians should be using precious parliamentary time on.

However, it is an opportunity to ask ourselves how far devolved power should be allowed to be stretched to. For example, in an extreme case, what if Holyrood proposed a bill under its justice powers re-introducing capital punishment? This would mean a person could be hung for a murder in Gretna but would only be jailed if they did it in nearby Carlisle. The SNP is obsessed with being different from the rest of the UK and without an upper house someone is needed to contain its worst excesses as the opposition parties in Scotland are so ineffectual.

I am delighted that Westminster is stepping in to moderate yet another example of the SNP displaying a total misunderstanding of the priorities of the Scottish people. It is perhaps a portent of what unbridled Scottish independence would look like and thus I feel the issue is more significant than it first appears.
Bill Brown, Milngavie

FM should look at compromise

OH dear, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has unerringly fallen into the trap cunningly set for him by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill. Ms Sturgeon is herself a lawyer and must have been well aware that this piece of divisive legislation would fall under the Section 35 rules set out in the Scotland Act. But what a peachy piece of political theatre with which to poke Westminster. As Brian Wilson so succinctly puts it, the SNP, supported as usual by the Greens whose raison d’etre seems to be feeling utterly aggrieved by everything, are using the trans community as a political football to score points and bolster the grievance culture on which Ms Sturgeon thrives.

The trans community need to have their rights reflected and while I disagree with the lowering of the age to 16, and some of the other provisions of the bill, I do believe that this should be seen in the context of how this will reflect on the population of the UK as a whole.

Mr Jack has offered a compromise. It would be reasonable to look at the options and put away the soapbox, Ms Sturgeon.
Celia Judge, Ayr

A new political mindfield

THE Westminster Government’s intervention to prevent gender recognition reforms taking effect in Scotland comes as a surprise only by the fact that this change has taken years to get passed, yet during that time the UK Government saw no reason to intercede. Only now with an election due in a year does it decide to act. Frankly it smacks of nothing less than political opportunism given that a significant number of Scottish voters are opposed to the reforms as they currently stand. But it also opens up a political minefield.

The Irish government passed its gender reform bill in 2015 and its most recent review in June 2022 seeks to extend the right to self-identification to 16-year-olds without the need for medical or psychiatric agreement. Significantly it states that “Irish citizens born outside the State and living outside the State (including Northern Ireland) would be allowed to apply for a gender recognition certificate”.

Whilst Alister Jack suggests that a Scottish certificate for a 16-year-old poses "a threat" to equalities legislation in England and Wales, he makes no mention of any threat to that same legislation posed by 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland who could gain such a certificate by dint of their dual nationality. To put it more bluntly, how can he allow a 16-year-old UK citizen living in Northern Ireland to obtain a legally recognised certificate whilst simultaneously prevent a 16-year-old UK citizen in Scotland from accessing one? Is that anomaly not in itself discriminatory?
Robert Menzies, Falkirk

Is five years breakneck speed?

SO, according to Rachael Hamilton of the Scottish Tories, the Gender Recognition Reform Bill was rushed through at “breakneck speed”. She clearly hasn’t been following the news for the past five years or more.

A long debate has taken place both within and outwith parliament. Informed and persuasive arguments have been made on both sides. And in the end, MSPs from all parties made an emphatic choice.

Perhaps The Herald could offer Ms Hamilton a free six-month subscription to help her to keep up with current affairs more closely?
DA Cruickshank, Stockholm, Sweden

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