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by Louise Wilson
16 January 2023
Gender Reform: Nicola Sturgeon ‘very, very, very’ confident of defending bill

Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK Government of using trans people as a 'political weapon'

Gender Reform: Nicola Sturgeon ‘very, very, very’ confident of defending bill

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her government is “very, very, very” confident of defending the Gender Recognition Reform Bill should the UK Government attempt to block it becoming law.

The legislation, which was passed by MSPs last month, seeks to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender but there are concerns that it changes the Equality Act, a reserved piece of legislation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other ministers have indicated the UK Government will attempt to use powers in the Scotland Act 1998 to prevent the bill receiving Royal Assent.

Reports suggest this announcement could be made on Tuesday, though Wednesday is the ultimate deadline for the UK Government to intervene.

Speaking at a press conference in Monday morning, Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK Government of using trans people as a “political weapon”, adding that moving the stop the legislation would be “unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful”.

The UK Government is thought to be mulling a Section 35 order, which prohibits the bill from receiving Royal Assent. A Section 33 order is its other option, whereby the bill would be referred to the Supreme Court to consider whether it was within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

A Downing Street spokesperson said on Monday that no decision had yet been taken by the UK government, and that any action out be outlined by the Scottish Secretary before Wednesday's deadline. 

Sturgeon said: “We will vigorously defend the legislation, depending on if there is a challenge – and I hope there won’t be, but the indications would suggest that may be what we are looking at – but it would depend what route for that the UK Government takes.

“If it’s a Section 33 challenge then that will go to the Supreme Court as I understand it and we will defend the bill in the Supreme Court. A Section 35 challenge, that would require I think the Scottish Government to judicially review that decision.

“These are technicalities but what I will say in general is that we will absolutely robustly and vigorously, and with a very, very, very high degree of confidence, defend the legislation.”

She also said the move would be evidence of the UK Government’s “complete contempt for the Scottish Parliament”.

She added: “If the UK Government is able to normalise action to block legislation democratically passed by the Scottish Parliament within our areas of competence on this issue, that will embolden them to do it on others. We would be on a very, very slippery slope indeed.”

She also accused Labour leader Keir Starmer of showing “utter contempt for his own Scottish party” after he said he had “concerns” about the legislation.

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