Swinney’s definition of a woman ‘just silly’, say campaigners against transgender reform

New First Minister John Swinney
New First Minister John Swinney - GETTY IMAGES

John Swinney, the new First Minister of Scotland, has been accused of tying himself in “nonsensical” knots after being challenged over whether he believed trans women were women.

He initially stated that a woman was “an adult female born as a woman”, prompting feminists to point out they would be born as a girl.

Mr Swinney then said that “I also accept that transgender women are defined as women”, although he did not state where any such definition had been drawn up.

Speaking at the start of his first full week in office, he insisted his government would “do nothing that threatens the safety of women and girls”.

But feminist leaders said Mr Swinney’s response on trans women was misleading and confusing, while an eminent policy specialist accused him of indulging in word games worthy of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll to avoid providing a straight answer.

His intervention came after he recently refused to respond to the same question, prompting JK Rowling to accuse him of “obfuscating and blustering”.

A woman holds up a cut-out of Harry Potter author JK Rowling at a Let Women Speak protest in Edinburgh
A woman holds up a cut-out of Harry Potter author JK Rowling at a Let Women Speak protest in Edinburgh - JEFF J MITCHELL/GETTY IMAGES

The Harry Potter author suggested that by dodging the question in an attempt to avoid saying “women don’t have penises”, Mr Swinney had shown he could not be trusted to protect women’s rights.

Mr Swinney said last week that he continued to support the principle of people being allowed to self-identify their legal gender with no medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

However, he said he would not try to revive Nicola Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill as the “reality of the situation” was that the courts had backed a UK Government veto of the legislation.

Asked again whether he believed that a trans woman is a woman, Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland: “I believe a woman is an adult female born as a woman, and I also accept that transgender women are defined as women.”

For Women Scotland, which has campaigned against the SNP’s gender reforms over concerns they undermined women’s rights and safe spaces, tweeted that the First Minister’s response was “just silly.”

Marion Calder, the group’s director, said that the state conferred rights on individuals using legislation such as gay marriage laws.

But she said: “That does not mean that trans women are defined as women, as Mr Swinney claims. That is misleading,”

Transgender rights counter protesters disrupt the Let Women Speak demonstration
Transgender rights counter protesters disrupt the Let Women Speak demonstration - JEFF J MITCHELL/GETTY IMAGES

Lucy Hunter Blackburn, a policy researcher, tweeted: “I see the Scottish Government is still behaving as if they think they can handle questions round the relevance of sex in language, policy and law as if this was just a word game scripted by Lewis Carroll. That stage is well past.”

She added: “One, I wasn’t “born a woman”, I was born a girl. Two, how does he define transgender women? Who does he believe is admitted to that category?

“Three, defined as by whom? And how does he define them? Four, and most of all, why does he think a, literally, nonsensical formula is an answer?”

In the same interview, Mr Swinney also promised to reflect on concerns raised by paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass last week about the Scottish Government’s proposed “conversion therapy“ ban.

SNP ministers have outlined plans to ban a practice in which people attempt to “change” or “suppress” the gender identity or sexual orientation of another person

But Dr Cass, who oversaw a landmark review into child gender services in England, warned MSPs last week that medical professionals who attempt to help children with gender identity issues could be “frightened” at the prospect of prosecution.

The First Minister said Dr Cass had made a “very fair point”.