Grassroots organisations in Scotland have written a powerful plea to Anas Sarwar, the leader of Scottish Labour, on Monday 12 December urging him follow his conscience ahead of the Scottish parliamentary vote on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill on 21 December.
The letter was also sent to all Labour MSPs.
We are writing as representatives of grassroots organisations focused on the interests of women and children in Scotland, with thousands of members between us.
We urge you, Anas, to dig deep and have the courage to follow your conscience and vote against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill when it comes before the Scottish Parliament later this month. It is not too late to speak out against this Bill and to do what we hope you personally know is right.
We have seen the way you have been treating gender identity ideology: as a sticky political issue to manage your way through while employing tactics to manoeuvre as if it were Brexit or Indy.
We see your strategy to try to lie low until this all blows over, taking the middle ground on this ‘divisive issue with strong opinions on both sides’, rather than understanding this as part of a well-coordinated global effort to erode women’s rights, by annihilating biological sex as having any meaning in law or policy – an aim we find terrifying. If you have not understood this, you have not really listened. At least, you have not listened to us. You have listened only to those who want this law.
We see you and other senior party figures not taking seriously the most significant bill on the safety of women and children in Scotland’s devolved history by delegating the issue to a relatively inexperienced MSP who seems to be struggling with or unwilling to hold the Scottish Government to account.
We see without actually witnessing the smug smirks of relief and high-fives behind closed doors when you and your senior colleagues ‘do well’ in answering a valid question in public or through the media.
We also saw that you ignored an important opportunity to hold the Scottish Government to account following the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls’ critical statement on this issue. Ignore her advice at your peril.
You cannot hide any longer. We women see you, we are angry, and we won’t wheesht. Women’s hard-won rights are not a political game.
The GRR Bill is about violent male offenders locked in women’s prisons, like HMP Cornton Vale, with some of the most vulnerable women in our society.
It is the biggest medical scandal of our time, with lifelong implications for children and young people who have been sterilised and their healthy body parts sacrificed by the NHS.
Lesbian women are being thrown to the wolves and will be forced to open lesbian events and spaces to heterosexual men in possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate, in violation of their right to freedom of association.
Critically, the undermining of sex-based rights in the Equality Act – Labour’s flagship legislation – is at stake. Redefining ‘woman’ to mean a subset of our own sex category is undeniably a misogynistic attack. This is what the Scottish Government is trying to make sure happens, right now, in court. Making being a woman under equalities law depend on little more than saying a few words shows contempt for women’s real lives, real struggles, real fears.
The assumption that this will blow over and that Scottish Labour will have a relatively smooth ride to the next election is wrong. Any vote in favour of the GRR Bill will not end the controversy. The Scottish public has an increasing grasp on the implications of the GRR Bill and grows more furious as time goes on.
We will not let voters forget that you personally, as party leader, were knowingly and wilfully complicit in ignoring all the warnings, including from women in the Labour Party. All those who vote in favour of the GRR Bill will be held responsible for all its negative outcomes. Self-id of sex was brought in by stealth in other countries, with limited public and media scrutiny, but you must be aware of the growing resistance movements in these countries now that the impact is becoming reality.
We number in our thousands and we have a strong voice that we will continue to use. Many of us are politically homeless having previously been lifelong Labour supporters. Many others are reevaluating their previously steadfast pro-Indy stance given the significance of the Equality Act (2010) to this Bill. We value the strong leadership and determination of the Scottish Conservatives, who are unlikely political allies for many of us, in challenging this Bill. Yet, it is deeply disappointing that Scottish Labour have done little so far to scrutinise and hold the Scottish Government to account on this issue. There are thousands of potential Labour supporters amongst us, but never in our lifetime will we support a party that is so cavalier with the lives of women and children.
Today we make a deeply personal plea for you to remember what inspired you to enter politics and to apply those values in your decision-making on the GRR Bill. During your leadership campaign, you shared that your mother has been your greatest political inspiration based on her bravery and courage in times of crisis, and we urge you to genuinely consider what she would do in your position.
If you do not take a principled stance as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, we will hold you accountable for the suffering of women and children in the years to come.
We look forward to seeing you oppose the manoeuvring to rush this Bill through Parliament before Christmas. At the very least, call for its postponement while more serious deliberations take place on its far-reaching implications for the safety of women and girls in Scotland. This pause will also give time for clarifications, through relevant pending court judgements, on the implications of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate in relation to the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act.
As ever, any one of our organisations would be delighted to meet with you to discuss further.
We look forward to hearing from you.
LAST UPDATED: 29 January 2023
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