Scottish government ‘fundamentally’ rejects offer to work with Tories on revised gender bill

A photo of First minister Nicola Sturgeon sitting behind a desk in Holyrood, Edinburgh

The Scottish government has rejected an offer from Rishi Sunak to assist with a revised version of the Scottish gender recognition reform bill after the Conservatives blocked it. 

On Monday (January 16), the UK government announced it would block the bill which was passed by the Scottish parliament on December 22, by 86 votes to 39. 

The new law would make it easier for trans people to update the sex marker on their birth certificates, as well as lowering the application process to 16 and 17-year-olds for the first time. 

In a statement last night, Scottish secretary Alister Jack confirmed he will use a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the Scottish bill from becoming law because he is “concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”.

However, the Tory minister went on to say the UK government would be willing to work with the Scottish government to create a revised bill. 

“If the Scottish government chooses to bring an amended bill back for reconsideration in the Scottish parliament, I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK parliament legislation,” he said. 

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This offer was categorically rejected by the Scottish government. 

Scottish National Party cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government – Shona Robinson – told the BBC’s Today programme that the move to block the bill was “more about the politics than it is about the legislation”. 

Robinson added if the government believed it had legal grounds to challenge the bill because of its impact on UK equality law, it would have used a Section 33 order instead of a Section 35 one. 

Section 33 or Section 35?

Section 33 of the Scotland Act allows the UK or Scottish government to refer a bill to the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether or not it is legal under the devolution settlement that reserves some matters to Westminster. 

Under section 35 of the Scotland Act, however, a UK secretary of state can stop a bill getting royal assent if they have reasonable grounds to believe the law in question would have an adverse effect on legislation reserved to Westminster.

It is the “nuclear option”

Robinson said: “Using the section 35 nuclear option, I think, reveals that they don’t have a legal basis to challenge it, and this is more about the politics than it is about the legislation.

“And I don’t think the UK government are going to come forward with a suggestion of a tweak here or a tweak there. They are fundamentally against this bill. They don’t like this bill.

“They are using their power to stop the democratically elected Scottish parliament taking forward legislation that had the overwhelming support for that parliament.”

Last night, shadow secretary of state for Scotland Ian Murray said these issues are “too important to be reduced to the usual constitutional fight”.

The Labour MP for Edinburgh South told the Evening Standard that the Tory and SNP governments must “not use this for political posturing, but instead get round the table and find workable solutions that address legitimate concerns”.

He added: “We should all be focused on reducing prejudice, including transphobia, misogyny and homophobia.

“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.”