This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Having failed to marshal its troops with a plan to bring back national service, the Conservative Party retreated to the tried and trusted battlegrounds of the culture wars as it seeks to win over voters.

As the other parties set out to campaign on Monday on bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, the economy, defence and so on, Tory party HQ launched a salvo with a plan to amend the Equality Act to make clear sex means “biological sex” rather than gender. 

In a party press release late on Sunday night, Rishi Sunak said the Equality Act 2010 has “not kept pace with evolving interpretations and is not sufficiently clear on when it means sex and when it means gender”. 

The party said it will change the Act to make clear that the protected characteristic of sex is “biological sex”, rather than gender. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, quoted in the release, said “making this change in law” would enhance protections and address “current confusion around definitions of sex and gender”. 

This caught the other parties on the hop somewhat and had them scrambling to say what they wouldn’t do.

The Labour Party said amending the Equality Act is unnecessary and branded the Conservative announcement “a distraction from the election campaign” (which was presumably the point) – arguing that the issue of cost-of-living pressures is more pressing.

Read more:

Tories plan to amend Equality Act to make ‘biological sex’ protected characteristic

Shadow defence secretary John Healey told Times Radio: “We will not want to amend the Act, it’s not needed. The Act, incidentally, was a Labour Act in 2010, that was opposed by the Tories, but it already provides protections for single-sex spaces for biological women.” 

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper described the announcement as “a cynical distraction” from Tory “failings” (again, the point), adding “time and again we have seen how it (the Government) tries to wage these phony culture wars”.

But Ms Cooper did admit that there “could be better guidance” for service providers experiencing confusion on the issue, there was no need to “unpick the Equality Act itself”. 

Which played into the Tories’ hands, as on Monday’s morning media round Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said the party was seeking to do just that, and clarify the Act rather than change the law. 

Speaking to Sky News, she said: “This is a clarification in the law, it is not as many people assume, a change. It is re-emphasising what should be the status quo.”

The other parties should not have been surprised by this policy, as it’s been on the Conservative to-do list for quite a while.

The Herald: 'This is a clarification in the law, it is not as many people assume, a change', Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch told Sky News'This is a clarification in the law, it is not as many people assume, a change', Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch told Sky News (Image: Sky News)
Last April the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said amending the definition of sex under the Equality Act could result in “greater legal clarity” around women-only spaces and access to sport, having been asked by Ms Badenoch to consider the benefits or drawbacks of defining sex as “biological sex”.

The EHRC said while it found “no straightforward balance” it had concluded that this definition could bring greater legal clarity in eight areas, including in hospital wards, and therefore that a re-definition would merit further consideration. 

EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner at the time warned there should be “due regard to any possible disadvantages for trans men and trans women”. 

Rishi Sunak himself pledged to ensure biological sex was written into the Act during his Tory leadership campaign in 2022. 

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Ms Badenoch said there are “a lot of problems right now”, especially around prisons – an issue Scottish readers may recognise.  

On the clarity an amendment would bring, she told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “With public authorities, with prisons, if you are a man, you’re going to a man’s prison. If you’re a woman, you go to a women’s prison.” 

Asked about what would happen if someone born male had undergone gender reassignment surgery, Ms Badenoch indicated they would still go to a men’s prison but there could be “special circumstances” created for them such as more privacy and separate areas. 

She added: “What we find is that we don’t have actually trans men in men’s prison, and the reason why is because people understand that biology does matter”.

Giving an example of somewhere that is not publicly run, such as a rape crisis centre, she said a clarification in the law would mean the centre could decide what to do. 

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She told Today: “We are creating the space for people to choose what it is they want to do. If a rape crisis centre decides that it wants to allow a trans woman with a gender recognition certificate, they will be able to do so. If they choose not to, then they can’t be sued for that. That is what we’re doing.

“We’re not – and it is very important – we are not trying to stop trans people from being able to live their lives as they wish. What we are trying to stop is people exploiting the law.” 

Whether this will all be forgotten by Wednesday, when the next round of campaign pledges and counter-offers is made remains to be seen.  

But it might be that the Conservatives have found something which puts the other parties on the back foot, temporarily at least.