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

Scottish Labour embroiled in civil war over blocking of gender reform bill

DIVISIONS amongst the Labour Party are beginning to show after the UK Government decided to issue a Section 35 order and block gender reform legislation which was overwhelmingly passed by the Scottish Parliament.

While a majority of Scottish Labour MSPs supported the bill in Holyrood, Keir Starmer recently stated that he had “concerns” about allowing 16-year-olds to legally change their gender – an explicit provision of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill passed by MSPs, which extends applications for Gender Recognition Certificates to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon has said she is “very disappointed” at Starmer’s comments and claimed he was “undermining” Scottish Labour.

She told the Daily Record: “I was very disappointed with Keir Starmer’s comments at the weekend on the GRR legislation, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament and which improves the lives of trans people.

“The bill was also supported by the Labour group of MSPs, who supported lowering the age threshold from 18 to 16.

“His comments have undermined Scottish Labour and are unhelpful in terms of the wider debate on equalities.

“Keir needs to be better briefed before he talks about issues debated extensively by the Scottish Parliament.”

Scottish Labour MSP Paul Sweeney condemned the UK’s intervention as a “cynical attack on devolution”

He said on Twitter: “If the UK Government thought there was a legal basis to challenge the Gender Recognition Bill, they would have done so in the Supreme Court.

“Using Section 35 is a tacit admission that there is no legal basis to challenge it. The reality is it’s a cynical attack on devolution.

"Sections 29 or 33 are the only conventional and legitimate terms upon which to challenge legislation democratically passed by Members of the Scottish Parliament.

“The unprecedented use of Section 35 suggests that the Secretary of State for Scotland acts like an imperial governor.”

But while some members of Scottish Labour have condemned the UK Government’s move to block gender reform legislation in Scotland, others have sought to blame the Scottish Government Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons, Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said that the Scottish Government had “failed to bring people with them” on gender reform.

He said: “We want this legislation to work. The legislation at this moment in time is dead.

“When you’re doing major equalities legislation you have to bring people with you. These adverse effects might be rubbish but the courts are going to have to decide whether they like this or not.

“The Scottish Parliament have the right to pass this legislation because its devolved but also the Scotland Act, protecting the Scottish Parliament, has a mechanism in there written by Donald Dewar, to ensure that if there are cross border concerns those are dealt with. And that’s the way it is.”

In a statement released last night he seemingly called for the legislation to be changed after "cooperation" between the UK and Scottish Governments. 

"We should all be focused on reducing prejudice, including transphobia, misogyny and homophobia," he said. 

"That's why we need real cooperation from both of Scotland's governments - starting with clear guidance on how Scotland's reforms can be implemented in a way that protects single-sex spaces, challenges transphobia and avoids a cross border, bureaucratic nightmare for anyone seeking to access their legal rights." 

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, Monica Lennon said that Ian Murray's view was "disingenuous" and did not reflect those of the Scottish Labour MSP group. 

"I think to get into making this about 'Oh it's two governments, why can't they just along?'...I think that's really disingenuous to frame it in that way.

"So, I take my cue from the position of Scottish Labour, how we voted in December, how we've conducted ourselves throughout the scrutiny of the legislation, and the work led by my Scottish Labour colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy who leads for us on equalities. 

"I don't feel at odds with Scottish Labour [and] I don't think Keir Starmer can comment with the same degree of insight as us because he didn't sit on the committee, he didn't sit in our chamber, he didn't have a vote and he didn't follow the evidence in the way that we did." 

The Scottish Greens called on Ian Murray to listen to his own party and the majority of Labour MSPs who voted for the legislation.

The Scottish Greens equalities spokesperson, Maggie Chapman MSP, said: ““You expect to see this kind of response from a Tory government, but to see Ian Murray and the Labour front bench trying to play both sides is very concerning.

“The vast majority of Labour MSPs rightly voted for this Bill, including their party leader, Anas Sarwar. They did so because they agreed that it was the right thing to do and was within the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Ian Murray and his UK Labour colleagues should listen to them.”

The Scottish Conservatives have also called on Ian Murray to "pick a side" and tell voters where a Labour Government would stand on the issue. 

Scottish Labour has been contacted for comment. 

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