Politics

Twice as many civil servants working on gender reform plans as indyref2 bill

TWICE as many civil servants have been instructed by SNP ministers to work on legislation to reform gender recognition than the party’s flagship independence referendum bill.

The general secretary of Alex Salmond’s Alba party has labelled the SNP’s priorities as “quite astounding” and has called on the First Minister to accelerate the push for independence.

The Scottish Government is bringing forward legislation to reform gender recognition by the summer.

Meanwhile, the SNP Government has also pledged to draw up proposals for Holyrood to hold a second vote on independence – with Nicola Sturgeon’s ambition to hold a vote by the end of next year, Covid permitting.

The gender recognition bill will “establish a more straightforward system for obtaining a legal gender recognition”, according to the programme for government – warning that “trans people should not have to go through a degrading, traumatic and intrusive process to be legally recognised in their gender”.

The legislation will remove the “current medical requirements” to obtain a gender recognition certificate and reduce the time that “applicants for gender recognition need to have lived in their acquired gender from two years to three months”.

The programme for government adds: “The changes will improve the lives of trans people, while ensuring the legislation doesn’t affect the rights and protections that women currently have under the Equality Act.”

A freedom of information request to the Scottish Government has revealed that four civil servants have been tasked with drawing up legislation for the gender recognition bill, compared to just two for the legislation relating to a second independence referendum.

The response said that “the gender recognition bill team is a team of four civil servants” who work on “the bill, policy, briefing, correspondence, engagement, support for ministers in relation to the gender recognition bill”.

It added: “A small number of other civil servants have been involved in the wider work on the gender recognition bill, but as civil servants are not required to record the time spent on individual tasks we cannot provide an exact figure.

“Every member of staff who contributed to the development of the bill did so as part of their wider duties.”

READ MORE: UK equality body warns Scottish Government over gender reform plans

Last week it was revealed that 11 civil servants, costing up to £700,000 a year, have been tasked to redraw the updated case for Scottish independence ahead of any second referendum being held.

But the freedom of information response has revealed that just two impartial officials are working directly on the legislation to accompany the new dossier for separation.

The response said: “The referendums Scotland bill team is a team of two civil servants in the Scottish Government’s constitution and cabinet directorate.

“Work on the 2021 PfG (programme for government) commitment to take forward a referendum within the term of this parliament is led by this team.

“A small number of other civil servants have been involved in the wider work on referendum legislation, but as civil servants are not required to record the time spent on individual tasks we cannot provide an exact figure. Every member of staff who contributed to the development of the bill did so as part of their wider duties.”

Alba general secretary Chris McEleny said: “ It is quite astounding that the Scottish Government have more civil servants working on the controversial GRA reforms than they do on the new case for Scottish independence.

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently urged the Scottish Government to take more time on these proposals therefore any sensible Government would do this.

“The Westminster establishment has never been weaker. It is riddled with accusations of corruption, it has presided over a cost of living crisis and Brexit still harms our communities.

“If the Scottish Government was serious about holding a referendum on independence next year then why on earth does it have more civil servants working on a gender reform policy that the majority of Scotland do not want and only two working on a case for independence to take to the people of Scotland?

“It is time for the Scottish Government to progress the case for independence as an immediate priority, that is exactly what Alba will continue to do.”

READ MORE: SNP Government paying £700k-a -year civil servants team to update independence ‘prospectus’

Speaking at FMQs, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “preparatory work is underway” to enable a second referendum to be held.

Ms Sturgeon restated her desire for an independence vote to take place before the end of 2023 “Covid permitting” – despite Boris Johnson having made clear his opposition to such a ballot.

The SNP leader insisted: “The alternative to independence is to continue to be governed by parties at Westminster that we don’t vote for and right now that is by a disreputable, discredited government and a Prime Minister, frankly, with no integrity, no shame and no moral compass.”

Her comments came as SNP backbencher Stuart McMillan asked for an update on referendum plans.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed her intention to seek to hold another ballot, saying: “The people of Scotland elected this Government last May, their democratic decision was to elect a Parliament with the biggest ever majority of MSPs in favour of an independence referendum.

“So, in line with the clear mandate given by people in that election, preparatory work is underway so a referendum can be held, as I’ve said as the Covid crisis passes, and Covid permitting, within the first half of this parliamentary term.

“Then the people of Scotland will have the choice to take our future into our own hands, instead of being at the mercy of a disreputable, discredited UK Government.”

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