We should like to address the film released tonight by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at the height of a national health crisis.
As women’s rights campaigners we are all too aware that the burden of this crisis has fallen on women: in jobs lost and in additional duties shouldered. We know that the most vulnerable have been the most affected. We do not live in an echo chamber but in the often brutal real world.
We know that the most at-risk children are suffering from lack of adequate education, trapped in sometimes desperate family situations. We know that lockdown has accelerated domestic abuse. We know that the effects of this collapse will hang over us for a generation.
Women are the most likely to be caring for loved ones, to have lost a job and had their finances ravaged by the economic impact. Children are isolated from friends and missing vital schooling, and students are watching a future recede.
Yet, tonight, the First Minister chose to respond to none of that. Instead she sought to reassure an increasingly angry and emotional niche group in her party wedded to identity politics.
Scotland today is beset. This is not entirely the fault of the First Minister. However, she is answerable for serious failures and concerns in the party and in Government. The decision to make this film will be judged as illustrative of her priorities and principles and will not reflect well upon the First Minister, her party, or on Scotland.
To put this in context, the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has repeatedly dismissed concerns that women who wish to debate proposed Gender Recognition Act reforms and the impact on women’s rights would be criminalised in hate crime law. Today, he proposed the most minor amendment to the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill to allow women the right to continue to debate the implications.
The furious reaction of certain activists confirmed all our fears that many were planning to use this new blasphemy law to persecute women for the crimes of discussing women’s health, rights, bodies and safe spaces. Our worst fears realised.
Some time ago, Women’s Spaces in Scotland asked the Scottish Government to provide guarantees that women would be able to continue to have this conversation. Despite soothing words from civil servants, nothing concrete was forthcoming.
In the run up to the last consultation, For Women Scotland, the largest women’s rights organisation in Scotland, repeatedly asked if we could meet the First Minister – who claims that she supports open conversation on this topic – to discuss the impact of self-ID. She would not meet us.
Ms Sturgeon has chosen to frame her remarks as a response to “transphobia”, but no transphobia that would be covered by her party’s own Bill has been evidenced by the First Minister. Of course we can understand a leader’s desire to placate younger, fiercer members of her party, but she has an equal responsibility to listen to her female members and to denounce the young party members who openly abuse women on social media.
Our offer to meet – under the current difficult circumstances over Zoom might be best – remains open.
Women want better.