Keir Starmer accused of ‘legitimising’ Tory attack on Scottish gender law reform

Side-by-side images of Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, both wearing dark suits and standing in front of blue backdrops

Keir Starmer is facing criticism for enabling the Tory government’s move to block Scottish gender recognition reform.

Critics say the Labour leader’s decision to voice “concerns” about Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill gave the Tory government the green light to block the legislation, which had been passed with a large majority by the Scottish Parliament in December.

The bill would have simplified the process by which trans people acquire a gender recognition certificate (GRC), which is used to change the sex marker on birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates. It would have done this by removing the need for a medical diagnosis and lowering the age limit to 16, among other things.

Scottish Labour voted 18-2 for the bill, and Labour MSP Monica Lennon is among those who were disappointed by Starmer’s intervention. She told the Daily Record: “His comments have undermined Scottish Labour and are unhelpful in terms of the wider debate on equalities.

“Keir needs to be better briefed before he talks about issues debated extensively by the Scottish Parliament.”

Maggie Chapman, equalities spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, told PinkNews many will never forgive Starmer for failing to support Scotland’s autonomy – and that the debacle could ultimately result in more people supporting independence.

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“Unfortunately, Keir Starmer has repeated toxic Tory talking points and legitimised the views of a hostile and anti-trans government,” the MSP said.

“This bill was supported by the vast majority of Labour MSPs. He should listen to them.

“A lot of people in Scotland will never forgive him if he lines up with the Tories and cheers them on as they block what is a small but important step for equality.” 

Maggie Chapman, equalities spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, pictured at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in 2019.
Maggie Chapman says the government’s actions point to a “democratic deficit”. (Getty/Ken Jack)

Scotland secretary Alister Jack formally made a Section 35 order to prevent the gender reform bill from becoming law on Tuesday (17 January), citing concerns that reform would interfere with UK equality law – something experts have said is not the case. Labour, for the most part, abstained from the vote.

Chapman said that Westminster’s actions point to a “democratic deficit” in the UK’s political system.

“It is yet another harsh reminder that, as long as we remain in the UK, we can be obstructed by a discriminatory, anti-trans and increasingly authoritarian government in Downing Street,” she added.

“This decision may well see more people supporting independence, but it is an issue for everyone who supports devolution and the existence of the Scottish parliament.

“If the Tories get away with this, you can guarantee that they will do it again on other bills in the future.” 

‘Outrageous decision’ to block Scotland’s gender recognition reform ‘needs to be challenged’

There was uproar from Scottish MSPs and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups on Monday (16 January) when Scotland secretary Alister Jack announced his intention to block the gender recognition reform bill under Section 35 of the Scotland Act. 

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said the government had gone for the “nuclear option”, while Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon described the move as a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish parliament. 

Laying out his reasons for blocking the bill, the Scotland minister said the gender recognition reforms would alter “the operation of the law as it applies to other reserved matters” – an argument that’s been dismissed by some legal experts.

Keir Starmer in a suit and tie, looking off into the distance.
Keir Starmer’s views on gender recognition reform have been criticised. (Getty)

It’s now expected that the Scottish government will launch a legal challenge, with some warning the affair could jeopardise devolution and cause a constitutional crisis in the UK.

“This outrageous decision absolutely needs to be challenged,” said Chapman.

It is a shocking attack on the rights of trans people and the wider LGBTQIA+ community. 

Maggie Chapman

“With two public consultations, the full committee scrutiny process, including evidence taken in person and in writing, and years of debate, this was one of the most scrutinised bills in the history of our parliament.”

She continued: “It is a disgraceful decision. It is a shocking attack on the rights of trans people and the wider LGBTQIA+ community. 

“Downing Street is cynically using gender recognition reform to wage a culture war and distract from its numerous failings.

“The last few months have been particularly distressing for a lot of trans people, who have had to bear the brunt of some of the most despicable political attacks in recent memory. We cannot let hatred win.”

PinkNews contacted the Labour Party for comment.

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