SNP ministers could water down conversion therapy ban after revolt

Young people taking part in a Pride Glasgow parade in 2022
Young people taking part in a Pride Glasgow parade in 2022 - David Cheskin/PA

SNP ministers could water down their proposed conversion therapy ban after the prospect of parents being jailed for refusing to allow their child to change gender sparked a revolt.

Officials from the Scottish Government on Wednesday acknowledged “concerns” over the planned law, particularly over the impact it could have on parental rights, and pledged to “reflect” on the fears of critics.

A consultation published last week stated that those found guilty of “conversion practices”, which would include “suppressing” a person’s gender identity, could face up to seven years in jail.

Controlling a child’s clothing choices or where they went was put forward as an example of actions that could result in a conviction, if they were “coercive” and caused “distress”.

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said it had never been the intention to criminalise “day-to-day parental controls”.

They also did not rule out that the parent-child relationship would be exempted entirely from the scope of the legislation, which is not expected to be published until next year.

It follows senior insiders being taken aback by the scale of the backlash to the plans since they were announced last week.

“The intention is only to address acts that are harmful and abusive,” the Scottish government spokesman said.

“Coercive is not intended to address parental advice, discussions, day-to-day parental controls. But we’re going to reflect on all the feedback that’s received as part of the consultation process.”

‘Listening and reflecting’

The senior official said they did not believe that a parent refusing to allow their child to wear a breast binder, take puberty blockers or dress as a member of the opposite sex would in themselves become a crime.

However, this is not made clear in a 86-page government consultation document, drawn up with the help of trans rights activists who are pushing for a far-reaching ban.

Asked whether they recognised the risk that the law could lead to parents being criminalised, the spokesman said: “I recognise the concern that’s being expressed, and we’re reflecting.

“Our current analysis is that the provisions don’t bring in a serious risk of that. But I’m listening to the concerns that are being expressed.”

Several SNP politicians are unhappy that the proposals have been published in a general election year, fearing they could prove as unpopular and divisive as Nicola Sturgeon’s gender self-ID law.

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, confirmed on Wednesday that the UK Government had gone to court in a bid to reclaim legal costs from the devolved government, which launched a doomed legal bid to overturn Westminster’s veto of the plans.

If successful, it is expected the SNP administration would have to hand over around £150,000.

However, the conversion therapy law is a key demand of the Scottish Greens, who are in a coalition with the SNP.

Ms Sturgeon formally agreed to bring in a ban which is “as comprehensive as possible under devolved powers” when striking the power-sharing deal.

Concerns ‘nonsense’

The Greens have taken a less conciliatory approach to critics of the proposed legislation.

Blair Anderson, a Green councillor and prominent campaigner for the law, branded concerns over an impact on parental rights as “nonsense”.

He added: “There’s plenty of law out there that regulates how parents can raise their children.”

The conversion law would also outlaw practices designed to change a person’s sexual orientation.

However, critics have questioned the need for new criminal statutes, with some gay campaigners accusing trans rights activists of piggy-backing on disgust at historic “gay cure” practices.

The LGB Alliance group accused activists of using gay people as “a virtuous shield for their abhorrent practices”.

The group said those pushing for the new conversion law had deployed “examples of gay conversion therapy from the 1950s to demand an affirmation-only approach for gender-questioning youth today.”

Asked about the conversion therapy ban last week, Humza Yousaf, the First Minister, said: “We are giving absolute assurances around people’s freedoms.

“Let’s try to get to a point we all agree on, which is of course that conversion practices don’t have any place in modern Scotland.”

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