Scotland's civil service deletes ‘mother' from maternity policy after Stonewall pressure

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Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh – Jane Barlow

Scotland’s civil service agreed to delete the word “mother” from its maternity leave policy in response to pressure from transgender rights activists, it has emerged.

Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show that Scottish government officials agreed to make the change at the request of Stonewall, in a bid to climb a controversial “equality index” compiled by the charity and lobbying group.

Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, told workers that climbing the rankings was a priority, even making entering the top 100 a formal objective as part of her internal performance review.

Stonewall urged ministers to remove “gendered” words from official policies.

In one of several changes aimed at climbing the rankings, the Scottish government removed the word “mother” from its maternity policy, replacing a passage that included the term with “you must be the spouse or partner (including same-sex partner) or the pregnant woman”.

It also highlighted Ms Evans and Nicola Sturgeon’s attendance at Pride marches in a dossier of evidence designed to impress Stonewall judges.

The change was disclosed by the journalist Stephen Nolan for a BBC podcast series investigating Stonewall and its influence. Organisations pay the group to be included in its rankings, and for advice on diversity issues.

Critics claim the influence of the charity is inappropriate, due to its role as a lobbying group, recipient of public funds to run equality projects and a body which sells advice and services.

The Scottish government paid Stonewall £415,000 in grants between April 2017 and last month in “equality funding”. It also paid the organisation thousands in membership fees.

The removal of the word mother from the policy was counterproductive, Malcolm Clark, the director of the LGB Alliance, which was founded in 2019 in opposition to Stonewall’s policies on transgender issues, said.

Some trans rights activists believe words such as mother should not be used as they could exclude gay couples who could adopt a child or a transgender man who falls pregnant.

“Gay people don’t want the word mother removed,” Mr Clark said. “For a word that has such resonance, and is understood by everybody, to be cancelled by a lobbying organisation, without any public discussion, is just absurd.”

Several organisations have withdrawn from Stonewall schemes in recent months. However, the Scottish government remains firmly committed to its links with Stonewall and its league tables.

Despite its steadfast support for the group, its ranking in its equality index fell to 127 in 2020, from 72 in 2019. An updated league table will be published next year.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We also measure progress through Stonewall’s annual workplace equality index and we consider the feedback we receive from Stonewall through this process.”

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