- 18 Jan 23
For the first time ever, the UK has blocked Scottish legislation from passing. Officials fear the establishment of a precedent.
On December 22nd, Scotland parliament passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. On January 16th, Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, blocked it from proceeding for royal assent to become law.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill's goal was to change the process of attaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC). A GRC is a document that legally recognises a person's gender to be different from what they were assigned at birth.
The previous GRC process was outlined in Gender Recognition Act of 2004. The reform would have changed who can apply for a GRC, how to make an application, and the qualifications for approval.
Some changes include allowing 16-year-olds to qualify for a GRC and removing diagnosed body dysphoria as a requirement for qualification.
Once introduced, the Bill had to go through three stages: examination and review, proposed changes, and the vote on passing the Bill. The country's Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed the vote in Scottish parliament but was vetoed before it could be sent for royal appeal.
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, called the veto a "a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and it's ability to make it's own decisions on developed matters."
"I think it will be using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable, stigmatised groups in our society, as a political weapon."
Summary of my views on UK gov attempt to veto @ScotParl decisions - covers both the attempt to block this particular piece of legislation (passed by a substantial majority, inc MSPs from all parties) and the very significant wider issue of principle . https://t.co/1V5w55D5Sd
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 16, 2023
Section 35 of the Scotland Act allows the to deny a bill from receiving royal assent. It is enabled to preserve pre-existing Westminster legislation from possible conflicting or negative effects that may result from newer bills.
The Scotland Act established the Scottish Parliament in 1998. This is the first time since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament that Section 35 has been used.
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill was believed to conflict with the pre-existing Equality Act of 2010. The Equality Act's primary directive is to protect people from workplace and societal discrimination. It replaced several previous Acts covering discrimination, including the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, 1976 Race Relations Act, and 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.
"I have not taken this decision lightly," Scottish Secretary of State Alister Jack said. "The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other thinks, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action."
Scottish Secretary says UKgov is using a S35 order to block a Holyrood bill (for the first time) due to concerns that the gender reforms would have “an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation” https://t.co/O53m3lqRxD pic.twitter.com/PP8GxX84SS
— Philip Sim (@BBCPhilipSim) January 16, 2023
While the UK says it's use of Section 35 was appropriate and legal, outlining their reasons in a statement, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland plans to challenge the UK's decision.
It is not just the Scottish government expressing concern about the blocked bill signifying the threat of returning to direct rule.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford commented that "The UK's government decision to use powers that have never been used in our history of devolution is a very dangerous moment. I agree of the First Minister of Scotland, this can be a very slippery slope indeed. "
Welsh First Minister, Labour's Mark Drakeford, has just said that the the UK Government's blocking of Holyrood's GRR Bill is wrong, a dangerous move, and he agrees with First Minister @NicolaSturgeon that it could be a slippery slope. pic.twitter.com/VIilk4HyQg
— Sarah Masson (@_sarahmasson) January 17, 2023
Celebrities and public figures have taken to social media both in support for the trans community and Scottish autonomy.
Britain's first out transgender newsreader, India Willoughby, posted two videos criticising the decision and supporting fellow transpeople.
LGTBQ+ charity Stonewall's official statement said that "trans people are at high risk of experiencing hate crime. They wait years and years to get a first appointment with healthcare specialists that can support their transition. Trans children are bullied in our schools. Trans adults are bullied in their workplaces. "
"The UK Government should be focused on developing and implementing a strategy that improves the lives of all LGBTQ+ people, including trans people, not causing them more harm."
One of the architects of Scottish devolution, Harry McLeish, has told the UK Government to “grow up” in its dealings with the SNP administration in Edinburgh, and expressed fears that its decision to veto Holyrood’s gender reform Bill could set a dangerous precedent.
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