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by Kirsteen Paterson
25 January 2023
Section 35 Order dispute 'will grind away for months', former top civil servant says

Philip Rycroft worked for the Scottish and UK governments

Section 35 Order dispute 'will grind away for months', former top civil servant says

The Section 35 Order dispute "will grind away for months to come" as the Scottish and UK governments use the issue for political gain, according to a senior civil servant who worked for both.

Philip Rycroft was the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU before his retirement in 2019, and previously served as the Scottish Government's director general for education.

Now he says gender politics have become "entangled in a bitter constitutional row which looks simply intractable", as the Nicola Sturgeon's government focuses on grievance and Rishi Sunak's administration "sticks it to the insufferably holier-than-thou SNP".

Writing for the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, Rycroft said it will take "months" to resolve the dispute between the UK and Scottish governments over the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill.

The Scottish legislation has been blocked by Alister Jack, the secretary of state for Scotland, in a move that has seen the UK's veto powers under Section 35 of the devolution settlement used for the first time.

Jack has said the legislation, which brings in a new system of self-identification for transgender people in Scotland, would impact on UK-wide equality laws, to the detriment of some services for women and girls.

However, the Scottish Government has defended the legislation and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her administration is "looking at all options", including potential court action, to challenge the veto.

According to Rycroft, it will take months to resolve the matter and he has accused both sides of using the "sensitive" issue for political gain.

He said: "For the SNP, a UK Government veto is more grist to the grievance mill; the wicked Tories have launched a malign assault on the devolution settlement and the improvement in the rights of a vulnerable community.

"For the UK Government, this is a chance to proclaim to their base a robust rejection of unconscionably woke virtue-signalling and to stick it to the insufferably holier-than-thou SNP.

"Both SNP and Tories can enjoy the spectacle of the Labour party floundering in its own uncertain anxieties about the bill.

"So more fuel is poured on the fire of inter-governmental conflict. A bemused public will look on, wondering just who will benefit from there political pyrotechnics."

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