Meeting with Scottish Government Officials

We were very surprised to see the consultation paper that accompanies the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill state that a member of Forwomen.Scot had met with Scottish Government officials – so keen were they to mention this meeting that it was repeated on three separate occasions throughout the document (pages, 114, 117 and 152), even including a reference to our website.

Which would have been nice – except we have never met any Scottish Government Officials.

Some readers may remember the long-drawn out process we went through trying to arrange a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon or Shirley-Anne Somerville.  The latter’s refusal to meet was particularly frustrating as Ms Somerville had publicly said she was consulting widely with stakeholders and had an ‘open door’ policy on this issue.  She has since met with a long list of government funded organisations who agree with the GRA reform proposals, but not with any unfunded women’s groups – or indeed anyone at all it seems who may have the slightest of concerns about the proposed legal changes.

Given that we know from a meeting one of our co-founders attended with the Family Law Department (at the time of the first consultation in Feb 2018, as part of Women’s Spaces Scotland), that government officials deliberately conflated sex and gender in the consultation, believe sex is on a spectrum, and were really not at all open to discussion – there was little point in us seeking out a similar meeting with the same officials.

We immediately emailed the Family Law Department requesting that the error in the consultation paper be corrected and updated accordingly on the consultation website.  The reply stated that they had corresponded with a member of our organisation and had subsequently met her in February 2019, from which minutes had been prepared and agreed. They refused to correct the consultation paper.

Quite apart from this being a date from a considerable time ago, we certainly never knew anything about it, nothing was organised through our email address, and nor did we see any minutes from the meeting.  As we have been cited as attending the meeting we requested a copy of the minutes on 19th December 2019, and the Family Law Dept have taken until today to let us know they will be treating this as a Freedom of Information request – which means we may get an answer in a month’s time.  Quite bizarre – does any other organisation have to submit an FoI for minutes of their own meetings?

It seems very likely that government officials corresponded with a member of the public, who may or may not be involved in our large grassroots group (we have no idea who it was), and arranged a meeting through her personal email address.  Since we had no involvement, it would surely break GDPR rules to divulge the personal details of the individual concerned. But on the other hand, if the Scottish Government are claiming to have met with us then there’s no reason not to send over a copy of the minutes.  Quite a dilemma for them, and it seems they have chosen to try and bury it for the time being.

We note that Engender (the government funded feminist organisation) is a membership organisation with a system of paid member registrations, yet we have never seen any comparable situation of Scottish Government officials being so incompetent to imply that speaking with any such member is sufficient to claim the organisation has been consulted about a major law change.

We are rather bemused that the Scottish Government is using such sharp practices in its official consultation documents to belatedly claim meeting us, and we will of course continue to press for a correction.  But really, wouldn’t it have been much simpler for Shirley-Anne Somerville just to have actually met us when we made the request?