The UK Government has been accused of using the “nuclear option” after Westminster stepped in to block Holyrood legislation aimed at simplifying the gender recognition process in Scotland.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he will make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to stop the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going forward for royal assent.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move is “a full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament and “its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters”.
Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, said prime minister Rishi Sunak is using trans people’s lives as “a political football”.
In a statement, she said: “This is the nuclear option. It is the only time that Section 35 of the Scotland Act has been used since 1998, in an unprecedented move which significantly undermines the devolution settlement and will unlock constitutional and diplomatic strife.”
She added: “It is a matter of grave and profound regret that the Prime Minister has allowed trans people’s lives to be used as a political football.
“This is not governing with compassion.
“These are not the actions of a government that can stand on the international stage as a credible defender of LGBTQ+ rights.
“We hope that the legal process concludes swiftly and that governments of the UK focus their attention on positive strategies that support LGBTQ+ communities to thrive.”
This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and it's ability to make it's 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 https://t.co/3WXrjyivvC
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 16, 2023
Scottish Trans, a trans equality group, also condemned the UK Government’s announcement on Monday.
Manager Vic Valentine 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.
“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.”
Mr Jack, who has written to Ms Sturgeon and Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone about the matter, said “transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding”.
He said: “My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.
“I have not taken this decision lightly.
“The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales.
“I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”
The use of a Section 35 order to block the Bill was described as “outrageous” by Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, who said it was “a dark day for trans rights and a dark day for democracy in the UK”.
Scottish Greens equalities spokesperson Maggie Chapman said blocking the Bill “sets a very alarming new precedent” and should “concern everyone who believes in devolution and wants the Scottish Parliament to exist”.
She added: “It is a dark day for our devolution settlement, for democracy, and for trans rights.”
Former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, MSP for Central Scotland, tweeted: “Disgraceful decision that should be opposed by everyone who believes in democracy, devolution, equality and LGBT+ rights.
“Solidarity with trans people.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the UK Government was left with “little option” but to make a Section 35 order, accusing the Scottish Government of trying to rush through the legislation “at breakneck speed”.
Equalities spokesperson Rachael Hamilton added: “I hope, rather than turning this issue into a constitutional football, the First Minister will now revisit this legislation.”
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