Scotland: MSPs vote to approve legal sex-swaps for kids

The Scottish Parliament has voted into law a Bill which will make it much easier for people to change their legal sex, including, for the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds.

Despite significant public opposition – around two thirds of Scottish voters said they were against the plans – MSPs voted by 86 to 39 to approve the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act.

The new law will remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and will allow children to apply to change legal sex from their 16th birthday. The waiting time for adults will also be reduced from two years to just three months.

Amendments rejected

Holyrood rejected amendments to the Bill which would have added safeguards, including one which would have prevented sex offenders changing their legal sex, sparking outrage in the public gallery. It did approve another to require sex offenders to undergo a risk assessment.

They also rejected another amendment to keep the minimum age at 18, in line with the rest of the UK, after the SNP said the lower age was in recognition of other legal rights available to 16 year olds in Scotland, including the ability to vote, marry and leave home.

However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission noted in November that while 16 is the age of legal capacity in Scotland, “higher age limits apply for several matters that are of less significance than changing legal sex, such as purchasing alcohol and tobacco, getting a tattoo or driving a car”.

Devaluing women and girls

Former Community Safety Minister Ash Regan spoke out strongly against the Bill during the debate, asking her fellow MSPs: “Do you think women will be more or less safe as a result of this law? If you have any doubt, any doubt at all, that it will make women and girls less safe, then you cannot vote for it.”

She continued: “As parliamentarians, the public expects us to engage critically with the arguments, they expect us to balance different viewpoints and rights, and they expect us to ask the hard questions, and understand what we are voting for. And it is a huge responsibility, and it cannot be delegated.

“The people of Scotland are watching, and we often say that we use legislation to send a message, and I believe that’s true, I believe that’s sometimes what we’re doing. But I’m very sad to say that today the message being sent out to women and girls in Scotland is that ‘you don’t matter’. So I’m going to vote as if women do matter, and I’ll be voting against the Bill.”

During her contributions, she also said 16 is too young for a person to make such a “very profound change”. Regan was the first SNP Minister ever to resign over Scottish Government policy when she voted against the Bill in October.

Threat to women’s safety

MP for Edinburgh South West Joanna Cherry, who joined protestors outside Holyrood during the debate, spoke prior to the vote, saying the Bill is “a threat to the safety, dignity and privacy of women”, adding “I don’t think there’s sufficient safeguards in the Bill”.

She continued: “I know for a fact there are people in both the Westminster group and the Holyrood group [of the SNP] who have serious reservations about this legislation, but who haven’t felt able to speak out. I think some people are scared to speak out in this debate, because when you do speak out, you’re often wrongly branded a ‘transphobe’ or a bigot.”

The MP, who has faced rape and death threats for speaking out, added: “The debate has not been satisfactory. This is not the way we should be making policy or law in Scotland. Many women such as myself who have tried to contribute to this debate have been shouted down, abused, faced bullying in our workplaces, and some women have even lost their jobs.”

“That’s not the Scotland I want to see. It’s not why I came into politics. I want to see a better Scotland, where all voices are heard, and where debates are not shut down by abuse or bullying”, she concluded.


The Christian Institute’s Scotland Officer Nigel Kenny lamented Holyrood’s decision, saying: “The Parliament’s vote today is a very sad reflection of the current closed-mindedness of most Scottish politicians.

“Despite the fact that two thirds of Scots do not want this legislation, despite all the concerns from women’s rights groups, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the United Nations, the majority of MSPs chose to ignore women’s and teenage girls’ safety and ploughed on regardless with what former Labour leader Johann Lamont has rightly described as ‘one of the most dangerous and misguided Bills in Holyrood’s history’.

“It seems likely now that, one way or another, this legislation will end up before the Supreme Court. It’s proving to be a depressingly regular thing.”

Please accept preferences cookies to view this content.

Also see:


Holyrood veterans fear ‘sex swap’ Bill risks licensing abuse of women

Two-thirds of Scots oppose Scot Govt’s gender self-ID Bill

Court of Session: ‘Men can take women’s positions on boards if they have a GRC’

Champions of gender self-ID bankrolled by Scot Govt

Related Resources