SNP leadership hustings: Candidates split on gender reform legal challenge
The three candidates to become the next leader of the SNP have offered different solutions for dealing with the current impasse over gender reform.
The UK Government has used section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill which seeks to make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate.
At a leadership hustings in Cumbernauld on Wednesday evening, candidates Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf were asked whether they would challenge the UK Government’s use of section 35.
Yousaf said the Conservative government’s actions amounted to a “power grab” which had to be resisted.
He told party members: “We must challenge section 35. We absolutely must. In this room there are going to be a range of views on GRR, I accept that. On this panel, there are a range of views on GRR, I accept that.
“But this is about the principal of our democracy. If we cave in, if we roll over to a Westminster power grab, they will come after legislation after legislation after legislation. If we cave in what kind of message would that send to the Scottish people that we’re not willing to stand up for devolution?”
Forbes said she would “seek legal advice” but hoped the matter could be resolved by the Scottish Parliament without going to court.
She said: “We know the UK Government are on a mission. They are on a mission to dismantle the devolution settlement. They are on a mission with their muscular Unionism to hinder as much as possible the work we are doing.
“It’s been well documented there are differing views on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. But a grown-up independent country sorts out its problems itself. It doesn’t have to have recourse to another government.
“I think we can sort out the Gender Recognition Reform Act ourselves. I think we can track a course that recognises it has become a very challenging toxic debate and find a way forward that ensures we do not stigmatise the trans community further and also give that security to women and girls when it comes to safe spaces. We can do that ourselves. Yes, I would seek legal advice, but I would far rather sort out the legislation ourselves without having to go to court.”
Meanwhile, Ash Regan, who resigned as a Scottish Government minister amid concerns over the legislation, said the issue could be looked at by a “citizens’ assembly”.
She said: “I think we have really lost the trust of the country in the way this was handled. I wouldn’t challenge the section 35, not because I think it’s okay for the UK to challenge our legislation but for the simply reason that we’re going to lose that court case.
“We’re going to be throwing possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money into something that the public doesn’t support. Bringing it back to the parliament and potentially opening it up again, which is another option, wouldn’t be a good idea. I think we need to draw a line on it…”
Elsewhere in the hustings, the three candidates were asked about faith in politics, nursery provision and how they would secure independence for Scotland.
The new leader of the party will be announced on March 27.