SNP social justice secretary Shona Robison said the move was “harmful to trans people” and the Scottish Government was “absolutely determined to vigorously defend the Bill”. However, she said ministers were still “digesting” the UK Government’s reasons for the decision.
MSPs passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 votes to 39 before Christmas, approving reforms which would allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) without the need for a medical diagnosis.
The Bill will also allow 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for a GRC for the first time, and would reduce the amount of time a person has to live in their acquired gender before they can be granted the document. However, the move has sparked controversy, with concerns from some politicians, women’s rights groups and others the changes could impact on safe spaces for females.
On Monday, Scottish secretary Alister Jack confirmed he would make a section 35 order – a never-before-utilised section of the 1998 Scotland Act – to prevent the Bill from gaining royal assent.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon branded the move a “full-frontal attack on our democratically-elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters”.
In a new statement, 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.
“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.
“The announcement from the Scottish secretary is harmful to trans people, who have waited long enough for improvements to apply for a gender recognition certificate.
“Being forced to consider the prospect of legal action before those changes can be enacted only raises further uncertainty. I want to be clear that while we are still digesting the UK Government’s statement of reasons for the s35 order, 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 that yesterday’s 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 UK Government spokeswoman said it had “raised a number of concerns relating to the impact of the Scottish Government’s proposals with Scottish ministers, as part of our constructive approach, in advance of the legislation passing”.
She said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland has made an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from proceeding to royal assent.
“This was done after thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications. This legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.
“Transgender people deserve our respect, support and understanding. Our decision is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.”