UK ability to block Scottish laws an 'offence to democracy', says Nicola Sturgeon

The UK Government’s ability to block Scottish legislation “on a whim” is an offence to democracy and should be tested in court, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said she was looking at “all options” following the decision by Scottish secretary Alister Jack to knock down her controversial gender reforms.

MSPs passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 votes to 39 before Christmas, approving changes which would allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

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But the legislation has been blocked by the UK Government using a mechanism – section 35 of the Scotland Act – never before deployed in the history of devolution.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Ms Sturgeon has vowed to fight the move, with the next step likely to be a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. However, she would not say when a petition for review would be lodged.

Speaking at a Scottish Government press conference in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said there was also “a real public interest in getting some judicial interpretation of section 35 and what are the circumstances that it can be used, can’t be used, what tests need to be passed, what evidence does the UK Government need to put forward”.

She added: “Right now, as things stand, as was demonstrated last week, this is a power than can be used pretty much on the whim of the UK Government any time they have a political disagreement with the Scottish Government on a piece of legislation and they can find a spurious ground to invoke section 35 – that seems to be what can happen.”

The First Minister said she was worried the use of the provision for the first time in the near 25-year history of the Scottish Parliament could lead to it being utilised more often, citing the UK Government’s repeated passage of legislation without the express consent of Holyrood – known as the Sewell convention – in recent years.

She said: “It seems to be so unfettered and completely at the whim of the Secretary of State that it would be very difficult to say with certainty that any Bill, should the UK Government choose, wouldn't be vulnerable to that. That's a completely unacceptable position for a democratically elected parliament to be in.”

Ms Sturgeon said the UK Government seems to have “pretty much unfettered discretion”, adding: "That is an offence to the very notion of democracy.”

A UK Government source said: “It is nonsense for Nicola Sturgeon to suggest that use of section 35 will somehow become more common. This is the first time it has been used in devolution’s history and it was used for very specific legal reasons."

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Elsewhere, the First Minister condemned placards present at a pro-trans rights rally in Glasgow at the weekend,

SNP MPs Kirsten Oswald and Alison Thewliss and MSP Kaukab Stewart were photographed in front of a sign which said “decapitate terfs” – referring to trans exclusionary radical feminists. They said they were unaware the sign was there.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The placards that I have seen in no way – absolutely no way shape or form – accord with my views and I would condemn the way in which those views were expressed and the views that were expressed there. And I don’t think it’s fair or credible to suggest that the elected representatives that were there in any way share or condone those views.”

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