Next first minister should challenge Section 35 – Ed Davey

Whoever ends up as Scotland’s next first minister should challenge the UK Government’s block on gender recognition reforms, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has said.

Speaking at the Scottish Lib Dems’ conference in Dundee, he said the next SNP leader should seek to overturn the UK Government’s use of Section 35 of the Scotland Act.

This legal instrument was used by UK ministers for the first time in January to prevent Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill from becoming law, despite a majority of MSPs voting for it.

Before announcing her resignation, Nicola Sturgeon had indicated she would go to court to seek to overturn the use of Section 35.

Scottish National Party leadership election
Three candidates are racing to replace Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/Andrew Milligan/PA)

However two of the three candidates vying to succeed her as SNP leader – Kate Forbes and Ash Regan – have said they would not go down this route.

Humza Yousaf has said he would challenge Section 35 in court, saying its use represents an attack on devolution.

Sir Ed spoke to journalists after addressing Lib Dem members in Dundee.

He said the Conservatives were trying to “pick a fight” over the Bill, adding: “Scotland’s had its own gender recognition laws since 2004.

“I don’t see why, suddenly, the Westminster government wants to intervene.”

He continued: “Liberal Democrats are clear that on the issue of devolution, the Conservatives should not have issued the Section 35.

“There’s not any alternative for whoever is in the Scottish Government that they should challenge this if they believe in the devolution settlement.”

Lib Dem MSPs have been clear in their support for the Bill, he said.

Sir Ed also claimed his party could capitalise on rifts in the SNP, pointing to a win in an Edinburgh council by-election earlier this week.

He said: “A lot of SNP voters are absolutely put off by the divisions in the SNP and they don’t think any of the leadership candidates are capable of actually leading Scotland.

“And many of them are switching to the Liberal Democrats, as we saw in Edinburgh last night.”

He said this was a “huge opportunity” for his party and the Lib Dems were seeking to make gains at the next general election.