The UK government has announced that it will block the Scottish Gender Recognition Bill from being passed into law using Section 35 for the first time since Scottish Devolution came about, citing possible adverse impacts on the 2010 Equality Act.
On Tuesday, MPs debated the use of Section 35 by the government to block the Scottish legislation. The SNP argued against the use of the move, saying that the Scottish Government has widely consulted on the bill, including with legal advice. However, the Conservatives supported it, mainly citing risks to the safety of women and girls. Labour’s Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said his party supports the principle of reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 gender rights law, but said the Westminster and Holyrood governments had ended up in a “constitutional bun fight” due to political differences – an issue between two governments that they are not a part of.
In response to actions in Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon said that the issue would “inevitably” end up in court and saw the government’s move as a “direct attack on the institution of the Scottish Parliament”. She said that the Scottish government will defend the legislation and, in doing so, defend democracy in Scotland. This follows her previous criticisms that the UK government had been standing in the way of Scottish democracy.
The Prime Minister made a visit to Scotland last week and met with the First Minister on what some described as a ‘charm offensive’. In Scotland, he said that he and Sturgeon spoke about what the government can do to benefit the people of Scotland and refused to speak of the growing tensions between the two governments.
While UK Labour seemingly aimed not to make a politicised statement on the issue, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford condemned the UK government’s move as a “very dangerous precedent” for devolution. Mark Drakeford has said he would like to introduce similar gender recognition reforms as Scotland, but the Senedd does not have the powers to legislate on this issue. The Scottish Labour party was also ultimately supportive of the legislation – despite some hesitancies at the beginning of the legislative process.
Use of Section 35, to block Scottish legislation, has come at a time of intense conflict between the UK Parliament and Scottish Government with the Scottish Government having lost their Supreme Court case over a second independence referendum in November. While the SNP claims that this is the government trying to block democracy in Scotland, the government has argued that they are trying to protect the integrity of UK-wide legislation. Following the Supreme Court case, Sturgeon announced that the SNP would treat the next General Election as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence, though this has met heavy criticism following their meeting of the National Executive Committee.
At the crux of it, the move hugely impacts transgender Scots who had praised the move by the Scottish government which aimed to make the process of gender recognition certification more accepting and less dehumanising and medical. The Guardian spoke to Arabel, a member of a transgender group who shared their experiences with MSPs last year as part of a consultation on the bill in Holyrood: “I honestly can’t tell if I’m angry or exhausted, probably a mix,”. Another member of the group, Sid, said: “The UK government are making a great case for independence: they’re showing a complete lack of respect towards both trans people and Scotland.”. It is important not to minimise the pain which has been caused to those who fought for the bill in Scotland.