It’s no accident that the move comes at the same time as Sunak and his increasingly authoritarian government pushes ahead with more anti-union legislation.
These are the actions of reactionary political forces clamping down on democratic rights. They also hope to sow division as part of the so-called ‘culture wars’ and to undermine support for the SNP and independence in Scotland ahead of a general election that the nationalists want to fight as a de facto referendum.
It is the first time any legislation from Holyrood has been blocked by Westminster. Under the devolution settlement the UK government can seek to prevent the GRR in Scotland becoming law by blocking royal assent using Section 35 of the devolution act.
SNP first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “If there is a decision to challenge, then in my view then it will quite simply be a political decision and it will be using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable stigmatised groups in our society, as a political weapon.”
The Tories blocking of the GRR will be widely seen as a completely undemocratic. It sends a loud message that effectively Westminster can arbitrarily overrule decisions made at Holyrood. It will also provoke protests across Scotland which Socialist Party Scotland will support.
Coming on the back of the UK Supreme Court’s decision that the Scottish parliament cannot hold a legal referendum on Scottish independence, it will further inflame the national question and increase support for independence.
Labour leader Keir Starmer gave succour to the Tories when he said: “I have concerns about the provision in Scotland, in particular the age reduction to 16”.
On the threat by the Tories to block the legislation, Starmer said he wanted to wait and see what UK ministers decided to do.
Ironically, this puts him at odds with Scottish Labour MSPs who voted overwhelmingly to back the legislation at Holyrood, including the decision to lower the age to 16.
The GRR is a limited reform but it is an important step forward. Socialist Party Scotland supported measures to make it easier to self-declare in relation to gender.
In reality, being able to legally change gender has been in place in Scotland since 2005. The GRR doesn’t change that but it does make the process much simpler.
Scotland is the first nation in the UK to have a system of self-declaration. Nine other European countries have already adopted self-declaration systems for legal gender recognition, including Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland.
What is missing from the SNP and the Greens is any commitment to provide the resources to support trans people and all those facing lack of access to health, housing, education and services generally, particularly as a new round of savage cuts to public spending are being implemented.
The new legislation will mean trans people will be able to apply for a gender recognition certificate after having lived in their acquired gender for three months – or six months if they are aged 16 and 17 – rather than the current two years.
It also removes the need to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from doctors before transitioning. This was widely seen as being an intrusive and distressing process for trans people who had to live for years without having their gender accepted.
The Tories in Scotland, never known previously as defenders of the rights of women, claimed that women’s ‘sex-based rights’ and access to ‘safe spaces’ would be threatened by the GRR.
It is also significant that parties like Alba, the nationalist party led by Alex Salmond, have used the same language. Alba claimed the GRR was an “ultimate betrayal of hard won women’s rights buried in a harmful piece of toxic legislation called the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.”
Yet many women’s organisations, including Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, have pointed out they had long operated a policy of working with all women who sought out their support, including trans women.
The view of Socialist Party Scotland is that a step forward for trans people does not mean a loss of rights for women.
It’s noteworthy that the SNP-Scottish Green government who proposed the GRR also slashed the Scottish budget by £1.2 billion in October. Cutting services that trans people and working class people generally need the most.
The current crisis in the NHS in Scotland, with massive waiting lists and shocking lack of support for mental health services, a vital resource for trans people, falls at the feet of not just the Tories but Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government.
In reality, all of the oppressed and the working class generally are under attack from the failures of capitalism.
The cost of living crisis, massive underfunding of health, housing, education and social care impact working-class women, men, trans and LGBTQ+ people.
Scottish government as well as Tory cuts to budgets impact massively on the services we need.
The key task socialists and trade unionists face is to unite the struggles of the working class, as the current strike wave is doing.
As well as demanding pay rises that at least match inflation, we also need to fight for council and government budgets that equate to the needs of working-class communities.
Coordinated strike action and the building of new workers’ party to fight for socialism to deliver the fundamental economic and social change we all need is essential.
Only that will put an end to all forms of oppression, including the class exploitation that is the life-blood of this rotten capitalist system.