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Scottish Green MP critiques UK blocking Scotland's gender recognition reform

18 January, 2023

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Georgi Stirling

Listen to the full interview

Maggie Chapman (pictured) from the Scottish Green Party told The Wire about the party's commitment to resisting the UK's blocking of The Gender Recognition Reform Bill. Photo by the Scottish Green Party. 

The UK government has voted to block a Scottish gender recognition bill from going to royal assent, which aimed to simplify the process of legally changing an individual’s recognised gender.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill was designed to speed up the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, which is required if a person wants their affirmed gender to be legally recognised in the United Kingdom. 

It aims to do so by lowering the age for application from 18 to 16, removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and reducing the “life test” in which applicants must have lived in their desired gender, from two years down to three months - or six months if they are aged 16 or 17. 

The bill was passed in December by the Scottish parliament by 86 votes to 39, making them the first nation in the UK to support the use of a self-identification process for legally changing an individual’s gender. However, the UK has used a Section 35 order for the first time in history, which can block the implementation of Scottish law, thwarting their efforts to expand transgender rights in the UK.

UK ministers have stated that the decision to block the bill was due to it conflicting with the Equality Act passed by the government in 2010. Members of the Scottish parliament claim that this is not the case. 

This includes Maggie Chapman, the human rights spokesperson for the Scottish Green Party and Vice Convener of the Equalities Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, who took the Gender Recognition Reform legislation through the Scottish parliament last year. Jessica from The Wire spoke to Maggie, regarding the reasoning behind the Section 35 order. 

Chapman explained that the new legislation would not impact and interfere with the equality act as UK ministers are claiming it would, because “the gender recognition reform legislation is about making a process that already exists easier”. 

She also highlighted that gender recognition certificates have existed since 2004, so “if there was a conflict with the legislation that we passed last December and the equality act, which is UK legislation, that conflict would have existed since 2010.”

With regard to future actions of the Scottish parliament reacting to the block, Chapman added that they are exploring their options and that “the Scottish Greens have said very clearly that we will resist the section 35 order”. 

She explained that due to the Bute House agreement the Greens have with the Scottish government, “we have a very clear commitment to the gender recognition reform legislation” and “it is likely that if the Scottish government chose to challenge the UK government’s section 35 order in court, that would be fully supported by the Greens. We would like to see that happen.” The Bute House agreement was modeled on an agreement designed by the New Zealand Green party.

Chapman says that although Scotland is only in the early stages of considering resisting the order, she is confident that the issue will be taken to court, stating that “we see the UK government's approach here as an attack on devolution” and that “they are undermining the democratic processes of the Scottish Parliament.”

Although the UK government’s decision to use a section 35 order undermines the democratic processes of the Scottish parliament, Chapman maintains that “the really important thing to remember in all of this is that we are talking about trans people’s lives and their voices here… [which are] not heard or often recognized in the midst of all this… at the heart of this are trans people who just want to live as who they are and be recognised in law as who they are.”

Public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air