London Neuters a Scottish Gender Swap Law, Warns on Cake

For the first time, the British government invokes Section 35 of the Scotland Act to veto the gender bill.

AP/Jacquelyn Martin, file
Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, May 17, 2022, at Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin, file

Lest anyone think America has a lock on the culture wars, a decision by the British government to block Scotland from passing a law pertaining to subjective gender identification will prove otherwise. While many hail the decision as an overdue swerve in the direction of women’s rights and common sense, it comes in the same week that Britain’s food standards agency has warned that bringing cake to the office could be harmful to one’s co-workers. 

It is the batting down of a bill passed in the Scottish parliament last month, though, that will generate more controversy in the long term, particularly because the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the issue “will inevitably end up in court” given that “the Scottish government will vigorously defend this legislation.” The Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have allowed people aged 16 or older in Scotland to change the gender designation on their identity documents by self-declaration, removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The age at which one is currently permitted to effect such a sweeping personal change is 18. 

The bill, viewed in some quarters as radical, would have gone even further by slashing the amount of time transgender people are required to live in a different expressed gender before the change could be legally recognized, to three months for adults or six months for people ages 16 and 17. The requirement is now two full years. In the rest of the United Kingdom, individuals seeking an alternative gender identification must obtain the relevant medical diagnosis before they can make that transition legally. 

Amid the choppy cultural currents in Britain, there were also fractious politics at play. That is because while Scotland’s government is devolved and semi-autonomous, on Monday — for the first time — the British government invoked Section 35 of the Scotland Act to veto the bill. The reasoning was that it could undermine U.K.-wide equality legislation that guarantees women and girls access to single-sex spaces. This is also an emerging and highly contentious issue in America, where one’s choice of restroom is now fraught with political overtones. 

Opponents of the bill have argued that gender self-recognition could allow predatory men to gain access to spaces that are intended for women. Advocates of the law say that fear is overblown. Yet as the Spectator noted, “in truth the Scottish National Party (SNP) wants to institutionalize in law a borderline religious idea that many people simply do not accept — namely, that we all have something called a ‘gender identity’” and that “erasing the idea of ‘woman’ erases a woman’s liberties, specifically her liberty to associate with her own sex and her own sex only.”

The British secretary for Scotland, Alister Jack, said of the bill that it “also risks creating significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the U.K. and allowing more fraudulent or bad faith applications.” 

It is a heated issue, indeed: A ruckus erupted on Tuesday in the House of Commons, when Conservative and SNP lawmakers sparred and an opposition Labor legislator, Rosie Duffield, was heckled by members of her own party after she commended the Tory intervention. 

Ms. Sturgeon, for her part, sees this as part of a two-sided battle. “A U.K. government wanting to undermine the Scottish parliament and choosing an issue where they think they can stoke some kind of culture war, and that’s what it is about,” she said. “And in doing that, they’re undermining devolution … but they’re also weaponizing a stigmatized, vulnerable, often marginalized group in our society.”

Yet as the Spectator also observed, “the bigotry belongs to those who wish to force women to accept men in their spaces and who damn as a ‘TERF’ (ie, a witch) any woman who dares object.” The acronym TERF stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist.”

Another remarkable aspect of the controversy is how most of the press appeared to line up in favor of the Scottish “reform.” Consider a headline from Bloomberg: “Scotland’s Gender Bill Blocked by Rishi Sunak, Stoking Nationalist Ire.” Such verbiage telegraphs that what Westminster did was wrong. 

It is not only pro-Tory publications like the Spectator that disagree. While a spate of countries like Argentina and Canada have legalized gender self-recognition, not everyone is on board with what is perceived in many places as ideologically driven social engineering. In Hungary, the Hungarian Children Protection Act that was passed in 2021 was branded a “shame” by the EU chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and as anti-gay by many others. However, Budapest’s law neither prohibited homosexuality nor impeded the right of transgender people to transition as adults. It outlawed gender reassignment for minors under the age of 18. 

Writing in the Hungarian Conservative, Kai Jäger stated that “critics who point out that the transgender orthodoxy violates women’s rights or rests on questionable arguments and evidence are regularly ostracized or face substantial social costs,” adding that the Hungarian Children Protection Act is “a reasonable response to protect minors from the excesses of transgenderism that we now witness on a regular basis in many Western countries.”


Then there is the weighty matter of bringing cake to the office. The Times of London reported on Wednesday that the chairwoman of the British food standards agency, Susan Jebb, declared that bringing cake into the office can be as harmful to your colleagues in the same way as second-hand smoke. “If nobody brought cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them,” Ms. Jebb clarified.

The professor argued that passive smoking inflicts harm on others “and exactly the same is true of food.” The Times noted that two-thirds of adults in Britain are overweight, including a quarter who are obese, a proportion that has reportedly doubled in the past three decades.

Could one not just say no to eating a proffered slice of cake at the office? Let them eat scones.

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