The Scottish government has sought to reassure MSPs that plans to streamline how transgender people change the sex on their birth certificate will not compromise its work to advance women’s rights.
In a letter sent to all MSPs on Friday, and seen by the Guardian, the cabinet secretary for social justice, Shona Robison, insists the reforms do not “in any way conflict with our work and commitment to protect women from discrimination and advance women’s rights and equality”.
It comes as Holyrood members scramble to gather support for last ditch amendments before next Tuesday’s deadline and amid warnings of significant rebellions” among SNP and Scottish Labour ranks at the final-stage debate a week later.
Robison says she is “conscious that some of the details of the proposed reforms have become lost within the wider discussions around trans rights and the perceived conflict with the rights of women and girls”.
Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill is intended to introduce a system of self-declaration for obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC), removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria, reducing the time someone must have been permanently living in their gender before they can apply from two years to three months, and dropping the age at which people can apply from 18 to 16.
The letter follows correspondence leaked to the Times on Thursday from Kemi Badenoch, the UK government’s equalities minister, to Robison and the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, setting out her concerns that the proposals would create a divergence in approach between England and Scotland on a “complex and important issue”, with warnings from UK government sources about “legal chaos” and “gender tourism”.
All Holyrood parties except for the Scottish Conservatives are committed to some version of reform in their 2021 manifestos, but there has been growing disquiet among a number of SNP and Labour MSPs about the detail and impact of the bill.
The SNP suffered its biggest ever backbench revolt at stage one of the bill but, with the Scottish Greens making gender recognition reform a key plank of its cooperation agreement with the nationalists, the balance of support remains in the bill’s favour.
While critics including Rachael Hamilton, the Scottish Conservative lead on gender recognition reform, have been conducting cross-party meetings, it remains unclear whether – with parliamentary arithmetic so tight – there will be sufficient agreement to carry rebel amendments.
Work is continuing down to the wire on amendments to maintain the minimum application age at 18, prevent registered sex offenders from obtaining a certificate and to give public bodies more guidance on how to apply the bill.
A number of Scottish Labour MSPs have expressed their own doubts about the bill, and earlier this week its former leader Johann Lamont co-signed a plea to the government to pause the legislation for further consideration.
Robison also met the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, on Thursday, after she sent a highly critical letter to the UK government in which she raised concerns that the reforms would “open the door for violent males” to abuse the process.
Scottish government sources say the letter from Badenoch was a response to previous correspondence from Robison in which she raised cross-border issues.