Labour should call for a pause before voting on the gender recognition bill in Scotland

Sex Matters has sent an urgent open letter to Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and Jackie Baillie MSP, calling on Labour MSPs to demand more time to consider the implications of the Haldane opinion before voting on the Gender Recognition Reform bill (Scotland).

The Labour Party, in its 2019 manifesto, pledged to “ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision”. Labour MSPs say they are doing their best to try to make sure that the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform bill does not harm women’s services.

But they have an impossible task. They are being asked to legislate in a state of uncertainty about what the words in the bill might mean. Earlier this week Lady Haldane ruled in the Court of Session that biological sex is not recognised in the Equality Act. This judgment (which may be appealed) changes the entire legal context of the bill.

There have been 139 amendments tabled, and MSPs only have two days to debate them. Twenty of the amendments concern the interaction of the bill with the Equality Act. But according to Lady Haldane’s definitions the terms in the Equality Act do not include any that relate to biological sex as a clear category.

So MSPs cannot be clear about what amendments such as this one on “single-sex services“, by Jackie Baillie MSP, will do in practice, as they haven’t had time to consider the implications of Lady Haldane’s ruling, don’t know if it will be appealed and what the outcome will be, and don’t know whether the UK will recognise Scottish GRCs.

It is impossible to legislate responsibly with this much uncertainty about the meaning of the basic terms.

Our letter calls on Labour MSPs to to demand more time to consider the implications of the Haldane opinion.

Without that time, legislators simply cannot protect women’s single-sex services and ensure legal clarity and certainty. They won’t even know for sure what they are voting on.