Analysis: Humza Yousaf's court battle over gender reform is risky but not unexpected

Humza Yousaf’s decision to launch a court battle over the UK Government’s blocking of Scotland’s controversial gender reforms should come as no surprise.

The new First Minister made challenging Westminster’s "undemocratic veto" a key part of his pitch for the SNP leadership. It was a matter of principle for him, as he repeatedly made clear. Simply seeking to amend the legislation would be dancing to Westminster’s tune.

However, he also said he would listen to legal advice. "If the legal advice is that there is simply no stateable case whatsoever, then of course that would have to be taken into consideration,” Mr Yousaf said during the leadership race.

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A cross-party majority of MSPs passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill before Christmas. The legislation would allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis, but has proved hugely controversial.

Picture: David CheskinPicture: David Cheskin
Picture: David Cheskin

The UK Government blocked it earlier this year using a never-before-utilised section of the 1998 Scotland Act. It had concerns the Bill would have an “adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”.

Just a couple of weeks into the job, Mr Yousaf is gearing up for a constitutional clash that could lead all the way to the UK Supreme Court. It will not be cheap, and public money is on the line. But the First Minister made his intentions clear. If he backed down at this stage, it would have looked like a humiliating U-turn.

The co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Greens also includes a commitment to reforming the gender recognition process. The latter would not be happy if the Scottish Government walked away without a fight.

The problem for Mr Yousaf is that the reforms themselves are so controversial. Prominent critics include the author JK Rowling, and the issue has proved divisive even within the SNP. Meanwhile, polling indicates the Scottish public is not convinced.

Mr Yousaf may hope the constitutional clash will direct some attention away from the SNP’s ongoing implosion. It at least allows him to grab some headlines that are not related to a certain police investigation and the party’s internal woes.

But with success in the courts far from guaranteed and plenty of opponents willing him to fail, it's a risky move.



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