Sturgeon: Blocking gender law would be using trans people as ‘political weapon’

Nicola Sturgeon has accused the UK Government of “using trans people as a political weapon” if they seek to block gender reforms passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The deadline for Rishi Sunak to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill using provisions of the Scotland Act is Wednesday after the legislation was backed by MSPs across the political spectrum in December.

The Bill would make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC), including by reducing the minimum age, the time required to live in their acquired gender and removing the need for a medical diagnosis as part of a process called self identification.

Under the Scotland Act, which formed the Scottish Parliament, the UK Government can use Section 33 to refer a Bill from Holyrood to the Supreme Court, or Section 35 as an effective veto.

Multiple reports have suggested legal advice would provide the necessary political cover for the Prime Minister to use Section 35 and block the legislation with a decision expected ahead of the Wednesday deadline, according to the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.

In a briefing on NHS pressures on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon said any such move would be an “outrage”.

“In my view there are no grounds to challenge this legislation,” she told journalists at the briefing in Edinburgh.

“It is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, it doesn’t affect the operation of the Equality Act and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament after very lengthy and very intense scrutiny by MSPs of all parties represented in the Parliament.

“So if there is a decision to challenge, in my view, it will be quite simply a political decision and I think it will be using trans people – already one of the most vulnerable, stigmatised groups in our society – as a political weapon.

“And I think that will be unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful.”

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon was speaking at a briefing on NHS pressures on Monday when she was asked about the issue (Russell Cheyne/PA)

The First Minister said the move to block the legislation would create a “very, very slippery slope indeed”, adding that it could “normalise” and “embolden” the UK Government to do the same in other areas.

“I think it is that serious. I think the import and significance of this would go beyond the particular subject matter of the legislation”, she said.

The Scottish Government would “robustly and rigorously and with a very, very high degree of confidence” defend the Bill.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, at the weekend, voiced his concerns with the legislation, saying 16 was too young for such a decision to be made.

Sir Keir also told LBC Radio on Monday he was concerned the Bill was being used as a “sort of devolution, political football” by the Scottish Government.

The Bill was backed by the Scottish Labour Party, with the exception of two MSPs who resigned their frontbench positions to vote against it.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer said on Sunday he believed 16 was too young for a person to receive a GRC (Brian Lawless/PA)

Addressing the Labour leader’s comments, the First Minister said: “Finally, on this issue of Keir Starmer, I start to wonder, and I suspect I am not the only one who starts to wonder, if there is anything Keir Starmer is willing to stand up and be counted on in the face of Tory attacks.

“I don’t think the UK needs a pale imitation of this Tory Government, it needs an alternative to this Tory Government.

“But, on this particular issue, this is legislation that was scrutinised and voted for by Keir Starmer’s own party in the Scottish Parliament, so if he backed any move by the Government to block this he would be showing utter contempt for his own Scottish party as well as the Scottish Parliament.”

According to the Financial Times, Mr Sunak, who said during a visit to Scotland last week that he was concerned by the gender law, is preparing to block the Bill from entering the statute books, with a decision coming as soon as Monday.

The newspaper reported that the legal advice given to the Conservative Party leader states the Bill passed by Edinburgh “cuts across” UK-wide legislation on equalities.

The FT report described Scotland Secretary Alister Jack as being “fully supportive” of an intervention by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that no decision had yet been reached on the issue, but that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack will be tasked with announcing the position ahead of the deadline.

A spokesman for the UK Government said it shared “the concerns that others… have with the Bill, particularly around safety issues for women and children”.

The spokesman added that the Government is “looking closely” at the legislation and its potential impacts on the Equality Act – which the Scottish Government has repeatedly said will not be hampered by the Bill.