It wasn’t even close. Every argument of the Scottish government was rejected by Lady Haldane. The S.35 judgment should have come as no surprise. Despite the much touted claims that the GRR Bill had been carefully considered and consulted on over many years, in reality the SNP and Greens had refused to acknowledge or engage with the very many feminist groups raising objections and concerns and evidence of problems. It consulted only with lobby groups they funded (£900,000 spent) who, unsurprisingly, told them what they wanted to hear, seemingly oblivious of the obvious conflicts of interest created.
Everyone else’s concerns were dismissed as “not valid” and those making them ignored or insulted in various ways. Stupidly, the Scottish government made a legal argument in the For Women Scotland case that was the complete opposite of what it told Holyrood: a Scottish GRC would simultaneously be something that made no difference to anyone other than the holder but also one changing a crucial definition in national legislation. In his immediate response, the First Minister ignored the judgment’s clear statement about S.35 being an integral part of devolution. He then argued that only independence would allow him to pass this Bill, thus seeming cross that Scotland cannot pass laws having an adverse effect on women’s rights in Britain so wants independence to do this to Scottish women. What a hill to die on.
A good day to bury bad news
On Friday we also learnt that under the so-called new Scottish Prisons Policy, the government will refuse to share data about how many trans identified men are held in women’s prisons, even on an anonymous aggregated basis. This will make it impossible to monitor the policy, assess its consequences and know whether harm is caused. The policy’s proponents will then happily claim there is no harm, having carefully ensured that any evidence is hidden. The policy also allows male trans prisoners deemed too dangerous to be in women’s prisons to go there to join in “activities” to learn how to be women. Once again the default assumption is that women prisoners exist for the benefit of violent dangerous men. It takes some chutzpah for Yousaf to claim as he also did this week, during Scotland’s White Ribbon campaign, that he’s working to end male violence against women. Meanwhile, over the last 5 years, Scotland’s PISA scores in maths, science and reading have declined, a result rightly described as “poor” by him.
Ignore, insult, actions not matching words, mess up, cover up. Who’s advising the Scottish government? The Post Office?
This has been an object lesson in how not to govern, how not to legislate, how to seem both deranged and incompetent, unbothered about voters’ priorities and wasteful with public money.
Plenty of lessons here for other parties. The Tories’ obsession with Rwanda has many of the same elements: an unworkable, unlawful, expensive policy pursued to appease a few fanatics which does not even try to address the issues of migration in the current world and distracts from other serious problems.
It is a lesson too for Labour. Yousaf has 21 days to decide whether to appeal. A sensible FM would cut his losses. But if he doesn’t, final resolution of this will likely happen under a Labour government. S.35 is permissive – not obligatory. Will Labour stand by the S.35 Order? Will it do the same if the Bill is brought back? Until recently self-ID was its policy. It still is for Scottish Labour.
Labour has recently rowed back a bit on self-ID. But its support for women’s rights under the Equality Act (“EA”) has been less than full-hearted. From Starmer downwards, Labour politicians (even lawyers who might be expected to know what the Act actually says) persistently misdescribe women’s rights under it with their references to “safe spaces” for women – a term unknown in the EA, and which ignores the many reasons legally permitted for single/separate sex spaces, services and associations.
There is a lack of clarity on what its revised policy actually is. It too is refusing to listen to those with concerns (the Labour Women’s Declaration was not allowed a stand at Labour conference), listening only to a lobby group whose stated policy since 2015 has been to remove all sex-based rights from the EA. It would do well to engage properly and intelligently with the concerns on this and really listen if it intends going ahead with a watered down version but wants to avoid making the same mistakes and face the same problems the Scottish government has. S.35 does not apply to Westminster but the ECHR – and its many rights, which apply to women just as much as to others – still does.
The law – as Yousaf and Sunak have discovered – has bite. So do women scorned.