This is democracy, says Jack as he refuses to revoke Section 35 order

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said “this is democracy”, in response to calls for him to revoke an order blocking gender reforms in Scotland.

Mr Jack announced this week he was issuing a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from being given royal assent, over fears it would impact on the UK-wide Equality Act.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly stressed changes in the Bill – which would make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) – would not interfere with the Act, despite concerns from opponents.

On Thursday, as supporters of the legislation staged a protest against Mr Jack’s use of Section 35 outside the Scotland Office in Edinburgh, Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison urged him to revoke the order.

Alister Jack
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack addressed the issue during a visit to Kilmarnock (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He later told journalists during a visit to Kilmarnock: “No. This is democracy.

“The democratic act is the Scotland Act 1998.

“It was brought forward by a Labour government. It created the Scottish Parliament, it was voted for by the SNP at the time and supported by the SNP.

“In there is a Section 35 order, which is available for the Secretary of State to use. If there are adverse effects on a GB-wide piece of legislation.

“In this case there is and it’s the Equality Act, and I’ve had to use Section 35 because the legal advice I have says that citizens’ rights across the United Kingdom, including Scotland, are impacted by those adverse effects by this legislation, so that is why I’ve stopped it going for royal assent.”

Mr Jack went on to say the “ball is in (the Scottish Government’s) court”, suggesting it could “look at the legislation again”.

It is the first time the provision of the Scotland Act has been used to block Scottish Parliament-approved legislation, and Mr Jack said he “didn’t take this decision at all lightly”.

He added: “I’m sorry that it involves gender and the trans community and they’re not part of my thinking at all.

Trans rights rally
Trans rights campaigners have protested against the decision to block the legislation (Jane Barlow/PA)

“This is entirely the legal opinion, the constitutional situation, and a piece of legislation that has adverse impacts on other legislation within the UK.

“No more than that.”

In a statement earlier on Thursday, Ms Robison said the UK Government had been kept aware of the provisions in the Bill throughout its progress through Holyrood, saying concerns were only raised in “the final moments” – an assertion a spokeswoman for the Westminster Government rejected.

Ms Robison said: “At every stage of the Bill’s progress and development, the Scottish Government kept the UK Government informed through normal routes of engagement.

“At no point did they ask to amend the provisions in the Bill – neither during the extensive periods of public consultation nor during the drafting and parliamentary stages.

“The Scottish Parliament was treated the same way and did not hear from the UK Government during the passage of the Bill.

Shona Robison
Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has urged the UK Government to revoke the order (Jane Barlow/PA)

“Put bluntly, this was a one-way conversation up until the final moments this Bill should have gone for royal assent and become law.

“So for the Scottish Secretary to announce this week that he was unilaterally vetoing the Bill is fundamentally disrespectful to Scotland’s Parliament and the MSPs who have been part of its scrutiny, consideration and passing.”

And she was clear: “The Scottish Government is absolutely determined to vigorously defend the Bill and the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament.

“The Secretary of State says he wants to find a constructive way forward. If he really wants to work together in a partnership of equals, then he should acknowledge his announcement is completely incompatible with such a partnership, and he should immediately revoke the Section 35 order.

“That would show the UK Government is serious about improving the lives of trans people and respecting Scottish democracy.”

A spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would “do what we deem necessary to defend the Parliament and defend devolution”.

Regarding the call to discuss possible amendments to the Bill, he added: “We’re always happy to talk, but the First Minister has been very clear, it is not the job of UK Government to draft devolved policy.”

Meanwhile, Mr Jack was invited before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee at Holyrood next week to give evidence on the decision.