Ash Regan MSP: Children in Scotland need our support, not legislation

THE old adage that “a week is a long time in politics” may soon be replaced in Scotland by “a parliamentary recess is an epoch” as both Holyrood and Westminster, the pillars of our democracy, return this week.

We politicians return to Parliament to represent our electorates, whose faith in decision-making by trusted institutions has been shaken to the core this Easter, underscoring the gravity of the democratic situation in this election year.

What happened? How are events related? Why did this happen? Critically, what can we do in Scotland to rebuild public trust?

April 1 saw the Scottish Government mark April Fool’s Day by implementing the Hate Crime and Public Order Act 2021. On the first day of a two-week recess, it shamefully humiliated an overstretched and under-resourced Police Scotland.

The chilling effect of this new legislation was brought quickly to room temperature by a series of posts on Twitter/X by JK Rowling.

One thread posted by the famous Edinburgh author exposed the “real-life example” limitations of an act that the Government had told us after the bill passed in 2021 was unnecessary and would upset the trans lobby.

Excruciating media appearances from Scottish Government ministers reminded us of Officer Crabtree in Allo Allo!, as they seemed to believe that repeating louder that they were being “very clear” in their contradicting statements on the act made it so.

Those behind the infamous Hate Monster campaign should have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to learn how building a monster can lead to regret.

With Parliament on recess for two weeks, Police Scotland was left holding this hot hate potato, with over 7000 hate incidents reported in the first week.

The "Hate Hurts" advertising cost almost £400k, while Visit Scotland announced the closure of iCentres across Scotland, where visitors can access our main tourist asset: our people. Is this how our Government see us and how they want to promote Scotland?

April 2 was the closing date of the consultation on ending conversion practices in Scotland.

This consultation, widely criticised for its vague wording and leading tone, so concerned the Gay Men’s Network that they publicised their response; if they are worried about legislation to ban conversion practices, then it is worth listening, surely?

The consultation must now be revisited, given the publication of Dr Hilary Cass’s final report a week later, as the “affirmation model” has been widely discredited.

The smouldering scandal of the medicalisation of children is now exploding across Europe and further afield as it makes contact with the oxygen of public awareness. The litmus test is the reaction of previous proponents as they frantically rewrite the history of their support.

A furry Reverse Ferret will no doubt soon join the now-famous Hate Monster puppet as part of the satirical cast of an embarrassing political pantomime.

April 6 brought the first post-act public test of Police Scotland, as women from across Scotland and further afield met in Edinburgh at the Let Woman Speak event.

Thank you to all the constituents and other women in attendance who have written to me concerning how Police Scotland managed this event and the protesters who surrounded it.

I have seen the footage and read the reports and will update you on any progress to ensure that the police fully understand your concerns and that there is confidence that future events can proceed safely.

April 10 brought a sliding doors moment for those who have long fought to ask questions in an increasingly hostile environment of public discourse.

The final publication of eminent consultant paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass’s Independent Review of Gender Identity Services for Children and Young People has sent shockwaves worldwide.

Why? The revelation in the Cass Report that the “affirmation model” promoted in schools, nurseries, and health settings, leading to the medicalisation of some gender-questioning children, was not based on the standard rigour of evidence for medical interventions.

The incredulity of those who have previously shunned the “toxic debate” or found pious comfort in the “both side” position has highlighted the root cause of the problem and what needs to change to rebuild public trust.

The Government, all politicians, public bodies, and workplaces must remember that public trust is fragile. As we have seen recently with the Post Office Horizon scandal, trust is increasingly built on perception and assumption and crumbles when perceptions come into contact with facts that expose flawed assumptions. When the public looks to those in positions of trust who have allowed unevidenced assumptions to be treated as facts, they look for answers and assurances that it is a ‘one-off.

The Cass Review’s remit is on gender health treatments for children and young people. Still, health treatments do not exist in isolation and are not the starting point but the result of intervention at all levels of Government and public life that have rebranded government-funded lobbyists as marginalised minorities – while allowing them access to shape legislation and policy.

It matters for our children and young people that this has resulted in Scotland being an outlier in the changing tide against unevidenced medicalisation of children. The immediate priority is banning puberty blockers in Scotland now. The Cass interim report was nearly two years ago. The Government must have prepared for this likely outcome.

We are now in a position where Scotland’s children have Queer Theory ideology marketed to them at schools and nurseries. When a child or young person then questions their gender, they are surrounded by a choice of colourful flags and labels and affirmed by those in positions of trust; some go on to medicalised treatment pathways.

“Watch and wait” seems to be an acceptable approach for the Scottish Government to take, but not for Scotland’s gender-questioning children, many of whom need exactly the funded holistic care that Dr Cass recommends in her report.

For children with autism, other neurodivergent conditions, trauma, or just acceptance for those struggling with their emerging sexuality – be it same, opposite or bi-sexual attraction – puberty can be a difficult time – they need reassurance and support, not to be told that their body is wrong and they need medical intervention.

We have seen heroic public service from policy group Murray Blackburn MacKenzie, For Women Scotland and others who have taken on the role of a voluntary revising chamber in Scotland to highlight and fix poorly constructed laws. Weakened governance has eroded safeguards across public bodies and institutions.

Policy and legislation have increasingly been grown in a groupthink Petri dish, fed by moral superiority that chants “no debate” to anyone who asks questions – and allowing any ideology to choke objectivity in our legislative process is fatal.

If we want better outcomes, being part of the solution is in everyone’s interest. Politics must embrace transparency; questions must be encouraged and the circular economy of government-funded lobbyists “representing” public opinion must end.


[This article was first published in The National on 16.04.24]

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