MBM factcheck on claims made about women’s sex-based rights and gender recognition reform during the 2021 Holyrood election campaign

MBM factcheck on 2021 Holyrood election claims PDF

Throughout the election campaign, candidates have been asked about their views on single-sex spaces, the Equality Act, and how women should be defined in policy and law.

This factcheck briefing examines claims made by candidates from different political parties at four hustings events (Engender, Scotsman, STUC and Scottish Women’s Convention [SWC]), interviews (Sky News, New Statesman interview), and on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, grouped under ten headings.

It is clear that there is considerable misunderstanding about the law in this area: from the widely cited phrase ‘Transwomen are Women’, to assertions that there is no conflict between trans and women’s rights. Neither of these statements is compatible with UK law, under which some transwomen are women, for some legal purposes. There is confusion as to the nature of the concerns raised by women, which relate to male people as a group, no matter how they identify, and not to trans people as a group. And there appears to be a lack of curiosity as to how self-declaration laws operate in other countries, as well as a lack of awareness as to some of the problems now arising as a result of legal reform.

In an interview for the New Statesman with journalist Chris Deerin, the First Minister stated that “I recognise a responsibility to work through these concerns and to address these concerns”. Others, notably some Scottish Green Party candidates, have flatly dismissed any concerns raised and questioned the motives of anyone raising them.

It is clear that if MSPs in the new parliament wish make changes in this area that are well-grounded in consensus, they will need to address common misunderstandings and mischaracterisations of law, policy and its effects in this area. As Scottish Ministers were advised by their civil servants on 26 February 2019:

“there are areas, across Ministerial portfolios, where there are potential conflicts between rights. These areas require careful consideration.”

Extract from briefing for Ministers