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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Ross Hunter

Nicola Sturgeon reacts as UK blocks Scottish gender reform bill

NICOLA Sturgeon has condemned the UK Government's blocking of Holyrood's gender reform legislation as a "full-frontal attack" on Scottish democracy. 

Rishi Sunak's government has decided to issue a Section 35 order - a power afforded by the Scotland Act which allows Westminster to overturn devolved legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament - to stop the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act from becoming law in Scotland. 

LGBT campaigners who lobbied for the bill said the move by the UK Government was "unacceptable" and would "unlock constitutional strife". 

In a tweet, the First Minister said: "This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.

"@scotgov will defend the legislation & stand up for Scotland’s Parliament. If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many." 

Earlier, the FM said that it would be "outrageous" for the UK Government to deploy a Section 35 order and that the Scottish Government would "vigorously" defend the legislation. 

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, who sponsored the Gender Reform Bill as it moved through Holyrood, also described the move as "outrageous". 

She said: "This is a procedure that has never been used under nearly 25 years of devolution and is contrary to a Bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the Scottish Parliament by members of all parties.

"This is a dark day for trans rights and a dark day for democracy in the UK.

“As the First Minister said, this is a political decision that is more in keeping with UK Government’s contempt for devolution and the Scottish Parliament.

The National: Robison said the move showed 'contempt for devolution'Robison said the move showed 'contempt for devolution' (Image: PA)

“We have always been clear that the Bill does not impact on the Equality Act. The UK Government had multiple opportunities to comment during the extensive consultation on the Bill and during its passage and we are confident that the legislation as passed is within legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

“We will examine the reasons which the UK Government give for their order once we have them, but take whatever steps we can to ensure that the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament is not frustrated.”

The Scottish Greens has also denounced the move by the UK Government as a “dark day for our devolution settlement, for democracy, and for trans rights." 

Maggie Chapman MSP, the party's equality spokesperson, said: "It sets a very alarming new precedent that should concern everyone who believes in devolution and wants the Scottish Parliament to exist. 

“Only one month ago, MSPs voted overwhelmingly for Gender Recognition Reform. It was a proud day for equality, and for our Parliament. 

“To see a reactionary Tory government trying to block or overturn it is nothing short of outrageous, and we will resist them every step of the way.

“The reality is that this is one of the most scrutinised Acts in the history of the Scottish Parliament, and came after two public consultations and years of debate. 

“What message does it send when Downing Street is prepared to ignore this in order to pursue its toxic culture wars and distract from its many failings?" 

She added: “The last few months have been particularly distressing for a lot of trans people, who have had to bear the brunt of some of the most despicable political attacks in recent memory. 

“The delays are yet another harsh reminder that, as long as we remain in the UK, we can be obstructed by a discriminatory, anti-trans and increasingly authoritarian government in Downing Street.

“We will always stand by our trans siblings, and will do all that we can to deliver the vital step for equality that was promised." 

The National: Gender reforms formed part of the Bute House agreement bringing greens into governmentGender reforms formed part of the Bute House agreement bringing greens into government (Image: PA)

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour politician Monica Lennon described the UK Government’s move to block Scotland's gender reforms as “shameful”.

In a post on Twitter, the MSP for Central Scotland said the decision was “made for cynical political reasons”.

Lennon added: “A bad day for democracy, devolution and for human rights.

“Anyone thinking the Tories care about women’s rights or the interests of LGBTQ people is deluding themselves.”

Scottish Trans, a Scottish LGBT charity that lobbied for the reforms, said in a statement that the move was "unacceptable". 

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, said: “The bill as passed would introduce a simpler and fairer way for trans men and women to be legally recognised as who they truly are, allowing them to live with the dignity we all deserve.

"It was passed by the Scottish Parliament by 86 votes to 39, with the overwhelming support of the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the LibDems.

"That followed years of consultation, and lengthy Parliamentary consideration and debate. The bill covers matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and its consequences were considered by MSPs in great detail.

Beth Douglas, a queer activist from Glasgow who has campaigned to reform the gender recognition act for the past seven years, said: "For the UK Government to seek to block the Scottish democratic process in this way, simply because they disagree with the welcome decision the Scottish Parliament has made to improve trans people’s lives, is unacceptable.

"We fully expect the Scottish Government to challenge this in the courts.”

“To put it simply the Tories are attacking devolution in the name of intolerance.”

“The real reason the UK Government has decided to block Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill with a section 35 order is not because it would affect reserved matters. Instead, it’s because, just like previous countries, it would show their concerns to be entirely false & strengthen the case to introduce Self ID in the rest of the UK.

"The Conservative party had a choice honouring the devolution settlement or keeping a manufactured culture war alive. They choose the culture war.”

LGBT rights charity Stonewall said in a statement: "We are saddened that the Prime Minister has decided to block the implementation of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill, through an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act, for the first time in the history of devolution.

"This is a piece of legislation that simply seeks to make the process for legally recognising a trans man or trans women’s gender more respectful and straightforward.  

"Scotland’s Bill aligns it with leading international practice endorsed by the United Nations and adopted by 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and most of the United States of America."

"The UK Government should be focused on developing and implementing a strategy that improves the lives of all LGBTQ+ people, including trans people, not causing them more harm," Stonewall added.

Stonewall also said the move will undermine the devolution settlement and "unlock constitutional and diplomatic strife". 

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