Gender reform Scotland: Humza Yousaf confirms government will legally challenge Westminster's section 35 block
Newly-appointed First Minster Humza Yousaf confirmed that his government would be legally challenging Westminster's block on gender reforms in Scotland
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The Scottish government will challenge Westminster's decision to block Scotland's controversial gender reform bill, Humza Yousaf has confirmed.
The UK government stepped in to veto the Gender Recognition Reform bill in January after the legislation garnered cross-party approval in Holyrood in December. The never-before-used section 35 under the Scotland Act allowed Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to step in to stop the bill reaching royal ascension.
It comes after newly-appointed First Minister and SNP leader Yousaf spoke at length during his leadership campaign about the "unconstitutional" nature of the blocking. After it was confirmed that the Scottish government would be challenging the move, he said: “Today, I have announced that the Scottish Government will challenge the undemocratic Section 35 veto on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
“While we all know there are a range of views on this Bill, this Tory Government’s veto on devolved matters is not about the substance of the Bill, but about the principle of undermining the Scottish Parliament. If unchallenged, it sends a signal that the UK Government can veto any legislation they disagree with, at a whim.
“Westminster gave no advance notice of this attack, asked for no amendments to the Bill in its nine-month passage through Parliament, and refused outright to work with the Scottish Government on any potential changes. A legal challenge is now our only means of defending our Parliament’s democracy from the Westminster veto.”
The gender reform debate has ignited in controversy over the past few months. The proposed reforms would lower the age of which a person can legally change gender in Scotland from 18 to 16, as well as loosening the requirements around the medical requirements to legally change gender.
'These matters should be legally tested'
Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scottish justice secretary said: “In seeking to uphold the democratic will of the Parliament and defend devolution, Scottish ministers will lodge a petition for a judicial review of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s decision. The UK Government gave no advance warning of their use of the power, and neither did they ask for any amendments to the Bill throughout its nine-month passage through Parliament.
“Our offers to work with the UK Government on potential changes to the Bill have been refused outright by the Secretary of State, so legal challenge is our only reasonable means of resolving this situation. It is important to have clarity on the interpretation and scope of the Section 35 power and its impact on devolution. These matters should be legally tested in the courts.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to reporters in Belfast about the issue. He justified Westminster's decision to block the legislation, saying that ministers believed that it would impact the UK-wide Equalities act.
Sunak said: “We had concerns, as the UK Government – the Secretary of State – set this out at the time, about how Scotland’s gender recognition act would interact with reserved powers, about the operation of the Equalities Act, the protection of women elsewhere in the UK as well.
“That’s why we took the decision to block the GRR. Obviously there’s a court process, we will follow that through.”
The Scottish Tories also accused the SNP of attempting to distract from their own recent controversies. Following Yousaf's appointment as party leader, the party was plunged into trouble after former chief executive Peter Murrell was arrested, and later released without charge, amid a high-profile police investigation into party funding and finances.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “This is a painfully transparent attempt by Humza Yousaf to divert attention from the civil war engulfing the SNP and the huge question marks over the party’s finances. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the beleaguered First Minister has reached for the nationalists’ playbook and is manufacturing grievance with the UK Government.”
However, the Scottish Greens warned that the use of section 35 could set a "dangerous precedent". Equalities spokeswoman Maggie Chapman said: “If the Tories get away with overriding our Parliament on such a clearly devolved area, then it will set a dangerous precedent that could be used time and again.
“That is why everyone who believes in equality or devolution must support this challenge and oppose the Tory veto.”