Just 11 Labour MPs rebelled and voted against Tory plan to block Scottish gender bill

Keir Starmer, Kate Osborne, John McDonnell, Ribeiro-Addy Bell and Zarah Sultana.

Only 11 Labour MPs stood against the Conservative’s blocking of Scotland’s landmark gender reforms.

On Tuesday (17 January), the secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, triggered Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, which blocked the Scottish government’s plans to make it easier for people to change gender from getting royal assent. 

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish parliament in December by 86 votes to 39. 

The new legislation was described as a “landmark” moment for LGBTQ+ rights and would make it easier for trans people to update their gender marker on their birth certificates, as well as allowing 16 and 17 year olds access to the application process for the first time.

Following a statement to the House of Commons by Jack, a vote “to note” the motion was held on Section 35 – which passed by 318 votes to 71.

This is the first time such an order has been used since the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999. 

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During the vote, a large number of Conservative Party figures failed to turn up, including minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch, prime minister Rishi Sunak and the UK’s first trans MP, Tory Jamie Wallis. 

All Labour MPs, except for the 11 who voted ‘no’, abstained. This notably included the shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, Anneliese Dodds, and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer. 

The Labour Party has given no official comment on the government enacting Section 35, although several MPs have spoken publicly about their support for the trans community.

Only 11 Labour MPs stood for trans rights

The full list of Labour MPs who voted against Section 35 were: 

  • Olivia Blake – Sheffield, Hallam 
  • Ben Bradshaw – Exeter
  • Richard Burgon – Leeds East 
  • John McDonnell – Hayes and Harlington
  • Charlotte Nichols – Warrington North
  • Kate Osborne – Jarrow
  • Bell Ribeiro-Addy – Streatham 
  • Lloyd Russell-Moyle – Brighton Kemptown 
  • Zarah Sultana – Coventry South 
  • Nadia Whittome – Nottingham East 
  • Beth Winter – Cynon Valley

Following the vote, Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana spoke on Twitter to explain why she voted against Section 35. 

She said: “The Tories’ decision to block the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill is disgraceful.

“This unprecedented step treats trans people as a political football, targeting one of the most marginalised groups in the country.

“Everyone who believes in LGBTQ+ rights must oppose it.” 

Similarly, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome made a public statement on social media

“I voted in opposition to the government blocking gender-recognition reform in Scotland. The Tories are using trans people as a political football and undermining devolution in the process.

“I stand in solidarity with the trans community. We must reform the GRA across the UK,” she wrote on Twitter. 

Dame Angela Eagle, who represents Wallasey, abstained from the vote but also made a statement online to explain why she was not present

In a thread of tweets, she said: “The government’s decision today to veto new arrangements for gender recognition in Scotland is appalling and the just the latest of their decision problematise trans people [sic]. 

“I was unable to attend the SO20 debate today due to prior diary commitments but am unwavering in my support for the trans community, and the need to reform the GRA to enable trans people to live their lives free of prejudice & discrimination. 

“As a proud woman, lesbian and feminist, I continue to stand with my trans siblings & see no competition between their fight for rights and respect, and my own.”

When further questioned by a follower about abstaining from the vote, Eagle added: “It was a ‘to note’ motion which would have made no difference even if passed and as I have explained I was in other meetings (the SO20 debate was only granted minutes before it commenced and was therefore not in the order paper) – things aren’t always as they seem.”

Alister Jack
Scotland secretary Alister Jack said he had “not taken this decision lightly”. (Pink News)

In his speech yesterday, Jack told MPs that he said he has “not taken this decision lightly” and the choice to block the bill is “centred on the legislation’s consequences for the operation of reserved matters, including equality legislation across Scotland, England and Wales”. 

While he said that the government believes “transgender people deserve our respect, our support and our understanding”, the Tories felt concerned by the “adverse impacts” on “the operation of single-sex clubs, associations and schools, and protections such as equal pay”.

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