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by Kirsteen Paterson
12 December 2023
'Emerging pattern of interference' by UK Government in Scotland, minister claims

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville

'Emerging pattern of interference' by UK Government in Scotland, minister claims

Westminster's Section 35 veto of gender reforms is part of an "emerging pattern of interference in devolved matters," it is claimed.

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the UK Government had "ignored" decisions taken by MSPs, and the Conservative administration "routinely now ignore constitutional convention that the UK Parliament will not legislate for devolved issues without the consent of the Scottish Parliament".

She gave the block to the incorporation of the UNCRC treaty on children's rights and the enactment of UK internal market laws as examples of such interventions.

She said: "Once this sort of intervention has happened the UK government will find it easier to justify using this power again and further eroding devolution."

Under questioning from deputy Scottish Conservative leader Meghan Gallacher, Somerville said no decision had yet been taken about whether the Scottish Government will return to court over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

It was passed last year but has never been incorporated into law because Scottish Secretary Alister Jack used Section 35 veto powers built into the devolution settlement to block it.

The Court of Session ruled that his decision, based on the likely impacts of the introduction of self-ID for trans people on the UK-wide Equality Act, was not unlawful.

The Scottish Government was given a 21-day window in which to lodge an appeal.

The case has cost the Scottish Government around £230,000 so far and this week Jack told MPs that while he could see not grounds to use the veto against other legislation coming through the Scottish Parliament, he would do so again if legal experts advised him to.

Gallacher said the "scandal of the double rapist Isla Bryson," which emerged shortly after the GRR Bill was passed, proves that "predatory men will try to exploit self-identification to gain access to vulnerable women's spaces" and accused the SNP of having "ignored" warnings from women's groups.

Somerville said she had met with LGBTQI and women's organisations since the court ruling and "heard about the disappointment and dismay in the trans community". She said the Scottish Government "remains committed to the LGBTQ equality" and is working to improve access to NHS gender identity services.

Alba's Ash Regan, who quit the Scottish Government over the bill, said the court judgment had "vindicated the concerns of women's rights campaigners" and asked Somerville if she would apologise to women's rights campaigners for dismissing their concerns as 'not valid'".

Somerville, who said ministers will "come back with our decision or an appeal in due course", said the Section 35 order had drawn "a coach and horses through the devolution process".

She went on: "That's something I'm disappointed that the member is not more concerned about."

Jamie Greene MSP, who voted for the bill, asked for the publication of legal advice to the Scottish Government "to demonstrate that it acted in good faith".

Somerville said neither the Scottish nor UK governments routinely publish such guidance.

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