There are times when a journalist pens a phrase that leaves a mark. I experienced this – and not in a positive way – when reading Kevin McKenna’s piece in The National on 2 December, entitled ‘The SNP’s woke team have been defeated – here’s what that means”.
Much could be written about his polemic with its attacks on the Scottish Government and SNP leadership but it merits no further amplification from me. However, one phrase is worth noting: “the insidious whim of self-identification”.
It was made in the context of negative criticism of proposed reform to legal gender recognition procedures in Scotland. This is an ‘issue’ I’ve kept quiet on not least because it seems persistently, and disappointingly and unhelpfully, to generate more heat than light.
I am prompted to write here and now because of something I read on the subject by chance from another place last week. My objective is simple and limited – to find some perspective. And is offering perspective and/or providing context not two characteristics of The Tusker?
The government of Finland
The recently elected government of Finland has set out its legislative programme which includes this: “We must ensure that fundamental and human rights and legal protection are implemented equitably”.
From within the detailed text, the following extracts are notable in the present context:
Firstly: “Special attention must be paid to the rights of people in the most vulnerable position. There are still serious shortcomings in the position of certain groups of people, such as victims of intimate partner violence, elderly people, people with a disability, gender minorities, ethnic minorities, and asylum seekers.”
It goes on to state: “An act on the legal recognition of gender that respects people’s right to self-determination will be enacted. The requirement of infertility will be removed from the act, and medical treatments will be separated from the change of legal gender.”
And: “Gender can be changed, upon application, by an adult who presents a reasoned account of his or her permanent experience of representing the other gender. A period of reflection for those who wish to change their gender will be introduced.”
“As part of the reform of personal identity codes, to be carried out based on a study by the Ministry of Finance, gender will no longer be specified in the personal identity code.”
And finally: “Gender will be added among the motives that constitute grounds for increasing the punishment as specified in chapter 6, section 5 of the Criminal Code.”
About the Finnish government
Should it be of relevance to your own assessment of what is being proposed in Finland, note this.
On 14 December, 2019 The Guardian reported on the election of the new Finnish government with this headline: ‘Feminism comes of age in Finland as female coalition takes the reins”.
The new five party coalition government elected 34-year-old Sanna Marin as prime minister. Marin became the world’s youngest sitting PM. With a women now heading the government, all of Finland’s five major political parties have women as leaders: Katri Kulmuni, age 32, leads the Centre Party; Maria Ohisalo, 34, leads the Green League; Li Andersson, 32, leads the Left Alliance; and Anna-Maja Henriksson, 55, leads the Swedish People’s Party of Finland.
When the BBC profiled Marin in November 2020, the article included this: ‘There are also plans to reform the Trans Act, a law that currently requires those seeking legal gender recognition to undergo years of mental health screening and, unless they are already infertile, enforced sterilisation.’
It quoted Marin: ”Everyone should have the right to determine their own identities. And the programme supports this”.
The BBC article asked if Marin considers trans women, women: “It’s not my job to identify people, … It’s everyone’s job to identify themselves. It’s not my place to say.”
Another government led by women pursuing ‘the whim’?
The internationalisation of ‘the whim’
But perhaps it’s just Scotland and Finland pursuing ‘the whim’? A report published by the European Union in June 2020 entitled: ‘Legal gender recognition in the EU – The journeys of trans people towards full equality” examines the variation in existing procedures across the EU to obtain legal gender recognition (LGR).
The report groups countries together into ‘clusters’ depending on how easy or difficult it is to access LGR. “The least accessible requirements are based on a more paternalistic or pathologising approach, whereby the state (via courts or other bodies) or medical experts are seen as best placed to assess the gender of a person. The most accessible frameworks reflect the self-determination approach, where trans people are best placed to identify their own gender. Legal clusters are ranked from the least accessible procedures (clusters 1 and 2) to the most accessible procedures (cluster 5).”
So It looks as if ‘the whim’ has been affecting governments in many countries. It seems that the Scottish Government is not alone in its ‘whim’!
Given what some in Scotland write on this subject, it’s sometimes seemed (to an ill-informed me) that the reform proposals from the Scottish Government must surely be extreme, outlandish, without precedent, plain reckless or merit some other pejorative description. And then to compound this, I come across Mr McKenna’s ‘the insidious whim’.
I am willing to admit that I don’t have full understanding of all facets of the proposed policy reform – and perhaps me being me, I never can! However, I trust that useful perspective can be gained from what is given above: at a minimum, I hope it causes readers with a vote in Scotland to pause for reflection before opting for outright condemnation.
It seems to me in light of what can be learned from perspective is that there is much more to the policy of reform than a ‘whim’. And there surely is more to this than what is indicated by certain vocal opponents who seem to argue that the Scottish Government is simply, wholly wrong – perhaps irredeemably so – in seeking to enable change, change similar to that already evident in many other parts of Europe.