JK Rowling hits out at SNP leader after he tells LBC that Tory move to clarify definition of sex 'undermines devolution'

3 June 2024, 20:21

JK Rowling has criticised comments made by John Swinney, the SNP leader
JK Rowling has criticised comments made by John Swinney, the SNP leader. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Kit Heren

JK Rowling has criticised SNP leader John Swinney after he told LBC that a Conservative move to "end confusion" over the legal definition of sex was an attempt to undermine devolution.

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Mr Swinney told LBC's Scotland political editor Gina Davidson that a move by the Conservatives to change the Equality Act to prevent biological males from accessing women-only spaces was an attempt to "erode" the power of the Scottish parliament.

Responding to Mr Swinney's comments, Harry Potter author Ms Rowling asked: "When exactly in the 1997 devolution campaign was it mentioned that we were also voting to reclassify 'woman' as a nebulous collection of stereotypes that men can identify in and out of?"

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Ms Rowling has long been an outspoken critic of the SNP's policies on transgender rights.

In April, she told Mr Swinney's predecessor Humza Yousaf that he had shown an "absolute contempt for women and their rights", while attacking the Scottish Government's Hate Crime Act and planned misogyny legislation.

Mr Swinney said of the Conservatives on Monday: "They are specifically eroding the powers of the Scottish Parliament. They’ve been doing it since Brexit, and they’re now carrying it on with the steps they’re taking on the Equality Act.

"And I don’t think that’s got any justification - I want the Scottish Parliament to be a Parliament that deals with all the issues that affect the people of Scotland, and I’m certainly not going to stand idly by as the Conservatives erode the powers of the Scottish parliament."

Mr Swinney added that the "issue of single-sex spaces" was "already provided for in the Equality Act, and it’s really important that that is provided for, it’s really important that’s applied so that women are protected and women are safe."

He said: "But what the Conservatives are doing here is eroding the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and we won’t stand for it."

Sunak denies stoking culture wars with Tory pledge to amend Equality Act

Earlier on Monday, the Conservatives' Kemi Badenoch told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that the intention of the change was to create clarity in the law in order to protect the most vulnerable.

"Changing your clothes doesn’t change who you are," Ms Badenoch said. "We want people who are trans to be protected as well.

"People who want to change their clothes should not be able to exploit the scenarios we have prepared and the laws we’ve put in place to protect those people who are genuine transgender people or suffer from gender dysphoria.

"Just putting on a different set of clothes does not make you transgender."

Kemi Badenoch joins Nick Ferrari: Watch again

The Conservatives have also vowed to block the Scottish and Welsh governments from interpreting the Act differently - by declaring the issue as a reserved matter for the UK Government alone.

Rishi Sunak said: “The safety of women and girls is too important to allow the current confusion around definitions of sex and gender to persist.

“The Conservatives believe that making this change in law will enhance protections in a way that respects the privacy and dignity of everyone in society.

“We are taking an evidence-led approach to this issue so we can continue to build a secure future for everyone across the whole country.”

The Conservatives are waging "phony culture wars" and there is no need to unpick the Equality Act, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Deputy leader Daisy Cooper told Lisa Aziz on LBC News: "I think we need to see this announcement for what it is, and I do think this is a cynical distraction form their failings on so many issues, like the economy, like the cost-of-living crisis, like the NHS, like social care, like protecting our local environment and tackling the issue of raw sewage discharge.

"I think the Government is failing on so many counts - time and again we have seen how it tries to wage these phony culture wars.

"On the specifics of the proposal, Liberal Democrats have said that, of course, where there is confusion within service providers there could be better guidance, but I really don't think there's any demand to unpick, or any need to unpick, the Equality Act itself.

"It's been in place since 2010, it includes hard-won protections for women and for trans people and lots of other different groups with protected characteristics."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak launches the Conservative campaign bus at Redcar Racecourse in the in the North East of England while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Saturday June 1, 2024.
Tory leader Rishi Sunak said: “The safety of women and girls is too important to allow the current confusion around definitions of sex and gender to persist.". Picture: Alamy

Ms Badenoch previously said: "Whether it is rapists being housed in women’s prisons, or instances of men playing in women’s sports where they have an unfair advantage, it is clear that public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says on sex and gender and when to act – often for fear of being accused of transphobia, or not being inclusive.

"That is why we are today pledging that, if we form a government after the election, we will clarify that sex in the law means biological sex and not new, redefined meanings of the word.

"The protection of women and girls’ spaces is too important to allow the confusion to continue."

While Labour have not made any policy announcements on gender since the election was called, leader Sir Keir Starmer said he believes a woman is an ‘adult female’ as he was quizzed on gender during an interview last year.

File photo dated Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch who has told firms to focus on delivering for customers rather than 'activism or political causes'.
Equalities Minister and Tory candidate for Saffron Walden Kemi Badenoch said: "That is why we are today pledging that, if we form a government after the election, we will clarify that sex in the law means biological sex and not new, redefined meanings of the word. Picture: Alamy
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, at the launch event for Labour's campaign bus at Uxbridge College, while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Saturday June 1, 2024.
At Labour’s national policy forum in 2023, the party announced it was ditching plans which would allow people to change their legal gender via self-identification (without a medical diagnosis). Picture: Alamy

At Labour’s national policy forum in 2023, the party announced it was ditching plans which would allow people to change their legal gender via self-identification (without a medical diagnosis).

Speaking during a phone-in interview afterwards, Sir Keir expanded on Labour's stance following the policy change.

He addressed the division caused by the Scottish government’s self-identification law earlier this year, which was blocked by Rishi Sunak’s government, as he argued it was the wrong step forward in Scotland.

“We don't agree, we don’t think that self-identification is the right way forward,” he said of Scottish Labour’s decision to report the reform.

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