EIGHT months ago, the Scottish Parliament pushed through a brutal series of filibuster attempts from the Conservatives to bring Scotland in line with international best practice on the rights of transgender people to self-declare their gender.

And since that time, Scottish Labour, once proponents of the bill, have seemingly abandoned it and the community that they once claimed to support.

Since December of 2022, the Scottish Labour Party have pivoted from a position of historic, cross-party support on gender reform to a platform of blame, obfuscation and silence on a topic that the right-wing press continues to dine on with glee – even as cases of anti-LGBT violence escalate.

What happened to this party that once prided itself on its commitment to championing LGBTQ+ equality?

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Where once there was a clear commitment to advancing the rights of transgender people, now instead there is a near blanket refusal to even engage with the topic at all beyond taking cheap, political shots at the SNP/Green government for standing up to Westminster’s politically-driven Section 35 order to block the bill.

The party’s affiliated Labour Campaign for LGBT+ Rights in Scotland group on Twitter/X has been near radio silent for the past six months, having done nothing more than share four retweets in that time. Now Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (below) repeatedly refuses to confirm if he still supports the bill that not long ago his party was whipped to vote on.

The National:

And now, a letter on the topic of gender reform from Green MSP Maggie Chapman to Scottish Labour’s sole Westminster MP remains ignored and unanswered. Chapman sent a letter to Ian Murray back in July asking for clarification on the party’s stance on self-declaration for trans people, and the unprecedented use of a Section 35 order to block Holyrood’s gender reforms from becoming law.

The shadow secretary of state for Scotland – a role that appears to have been assigned to Murray by dint of there being literally no-one else to take it – has so far refused to answer. Along with Sarwar dodging the question and the relative silence from LGBT reps in the party, this all contributes to a sense of a naughty child keeping silent until a parent decides what to do with them.

A month after hearing no response from Murray, Chapman (below) has said that she was “disappointed” at his refusal to answer “very basic questions”.

The rifts between Scottish and UK Labour have been present for some time now, with those north of the Border meekly insisting on their autonomy while the rest of the party struggles to remember the names of their cabinet members.

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It does seem that on this issue, there must be pressure from UK Labour’s senior leadership at play, following the UK party’s decision to U-turn on support for a demedicalised system in England. And following a visit to Scotland from the high heid yins, presumably for the purpose of surgically removing whatever was left of Sarwar’s spine, Scottish Labour have fallen silently in line.

I doubt that’s an easy position for many in the party who I believe still fully support trans equality. Trust me when I say that it’s harder for all the trans people living in Scotland. Each day it seems there is another piece of scaremongering in the press; another story of a violent attack against a member of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies; another day when politicians take the easy road over the right one. And now we have another political party who seem happy to wax lyrical on equalities and wave a little flag on the approach to elections, only to turn and present the cold shoulder when it’s time for action.

It speaks to larger problems, both in how toxic culture war rhetoric has created an environment of hostility toward a marginalised group that politicians are unwilling to defend, and in how devolution is working (read: not working) for parties with a UK-wide presence, wherein what Westminster says is the de facto position for all subservient offices.

Both present challenges for the Scottish Parliament. Both leave Scotland’s communities underserved by their local representatives.

At a time when homophobia and transphobia are manifesting as real-world violence, it is an act of moral cowardice to believe that silence is an acceptable response.

Yet that is what Scottish Labour have given us – at least when they aren’t trying to paint opposition to Westminster’s overreach into devolved areas as tit-for-tat bickering between the SNP and the Tories; something an alleged party of devolution should never have stooped to.

Germany has just approved a proposal for a new self-declaratory law that will allow transgender, non-binary and intersex citizens to change their name and gender at a registry office without additional requirements and paperwork.

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Further scrutiny of the bill awaits, but if it passes, Germany will join Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Denmark in having passed laws allowing self-ID.

As it was during the independence referendum, it seems we have retreated to a point where pro-Union voices are taking the position that we are somehow uniquely incapable of rolling out such laws in a way that protects and enhances the rights of all – despite our neighbours having done so without issue.

For their sake, and the sake of what sound politicians remain in Scottish Labour, I hope they will find a voice sooner rather than later – and use it for good.