SNP politicians accuse Tories of ‘rank hypocrisy’ for supporting devolution ‘where it suits them’

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaking at the PinkNews reception in Stormont.

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has been called out for hypocrisy after he backed devolution at a PinkNews event while his party blocks gender recognition reform in Scotland. 

Speaking at the PinkNews Pride Reception in Stormont, Belfast, on Wednesday (28 June), Heaton-Harris said “locally elected representatives” should be making decisions on devolved issues – not Westminster – amid the ongoing collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

There has been no functioning government in Stormont since the assembly elections in 2022. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to form an executive because of the UK’s Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

Heaton-Harris, the Tory MP for Daventry, in Northamptonshire, was discussing sex education for children in Belfast when he said: “I remain firmly of the belief that these sorts of decisions are best made by your own locally elected representatives. It should not be left to Westminster to do these things.”

Given that, in January, the Conservative government blocked Scotland’s democratically passed gender recognition reforms (GRR), the minister’s comments have caused disquiet within the SNP.

Hannah Bardell, SNP MP, pictured at the PinkNews Awards in 2017.
Hannah Bardell, SNP MP, at the PinkNews Awards in 2017. (Getty)

“There is rank hypocrisy on display here from the Tories who seem to have adopted a policy of being suddenly pro-devolution, but only where it suits them,” SNP MP Hannah Bardell told PinkNews.

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“The rights of LGBTQ+ communities in Scotland have been directly threatened by Westminster who have stood in the way of GRR laws the Scottish parliament overwhelmingly passed.

“That, in no way, can be seen as the actions of a UK government who support decisions being made locally, or of a UK government committed to supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Throughout this sorry saga, the Tories have shown exactly why Scotland needs the full powers of independence, to protect its parliament and empower communities marginalised by Westminster.” 

That sentiment was echoed by fellow SNP MP, John Nicolson. 

“If the secretary of state for Northern Ireland believes that ‘local’ politicians and devolved parliaments should make the decisions, why has his Tory Cabinet colleague for Scotland vetoed, on behalf of Westminster, the Gender Recognition Reform legislation passed by the Scottish parliament?” Nicolson asked.

“It seems ‘local’ decision-making is only paramount as a principle when it suits the Tories and their culture war, anti-LGBT agenda.” 

John Nicolson, SNP MP.
John Nicolson accused the government of having an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. (Supplied)

The latest row comes as frustrations continue to ferment in the Scottish government over the Tories’ unprecedented decision to block gender recognition reform using a Section 35 order.

Politicians have broadly argued that the decision to block the bill is an attack on the parliament’s right to legislate on behalf of the Scottish people. 

The GRR bill was passed in December, but just weeks later the Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, stopped the bill from going for royal assent due to concerns about the impact it would have on the 2010 Equality Act. 

Tensions immediately deepened, with senior SNP figures questioning why they were given no warning that the bill would be blocked.

In April, the Scottish government announced that it had lodged a petition for a judicial review of the decision.