Douglas Ross backs Westminster’s move to halt Holyrood’s Gender Bill

The Scottish Tory leader said he believes many voters think Nicola Sturgeon ‘rushed’ the Bill through Parliament.

Katharine Hay
Monday 16 January 2023 22:22 GMT
Douglas Ross backs Westminster’s move to block Scotland’s gender reform bill (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Douglas Ross backs Westminster’s move to block Scotland’s gender reform bill (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has thrown his weight behind the UK Government’s move to block Holyrood’s controversial reforms of the gender bill saying the legislation “seriously damages the rights of women”.

His comments come after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack confirmed he would make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, the first time the UK Government has sought such an order, which will now prevent the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going forward for royal assent.

The MP for Moray said Nicola Sturgeon had “rushed” the Bill through Parliament and that “a majority of voters” are against the reforms.

He said a statement on the reasons for the move will be read in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The First Minister of Scotland hit out at Westminster’s decision, branding it as a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament.

In an interview with LBC radio on Monday evening, Mr Ross said: “I would say a majority of voters, when they’re polled on this, oppose this legislation.

“They oppose the Scottish government plans to do this.

“They can’t understand why Nicola Sturgeon rushed it through the Scottish Parliament.”

The Scottish Tory leader said the controversial legislation blocked by the UK Government “seriously damages the rights of women” and “has a huge impact on the UK wide Equality Act”.

When asked if he fully supported Westminster’s decision, Mr Ross added: “I support this decision because I want to see an improvement in this legislation that will protect women’s rights, and we’ll see legislation that can work across the United Kingdom because at the moment, people could travel from other parts of the United Kingdom to Scotland to get a gender recognition certificate for a new gender, having lived in that gender for only three months, rather than two years at the moment.

“Crucially, (the legislation) also reduces the age from 18 to 16.

“These are all issues that the Scottish Conservatives raised during the debate, had serious concerns about, (and) put forward reasoned amendments on it.”

Leading LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall accused Westminster of using the “nuclear option” following its decision to halt Holyrood’s Gender Bill legislation.

“It is the only time that Section 35 of the Scotland Act has been used since 1998, in an unprecedented move which significantly undermines the devolution settlement and will unlock constitutional and diplomatic strife,” chief executive Nancy Kelley said.

“This is the nuclear option.”

Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South Ian Murray MP said: “These issues are too important to be reduced to the usual constitutional fight.

“The Tory and SNP Governments must not use this for political posturing, but instead get round the table and find workable solutions that address legitimate concerns.”

He added: “We should all be focused on reducing prejudice, including transphobia, misogyny and homophobia.

“That’s why we need real cooperation from both of Scotland’s governments, starting with clear guidance on how Scotland’s reforms can be implemented in a way that protects single-sex spaces, challenges transphobia and avoids a cross border, bureaucratic nightmare for anyone seeking to access their legal rights.”

The use of a Section 35 order to block the Bill was described as “outrageous” by Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, who said it was “a dark day for trans rights and a dark day for democracy in the UK”.

Scottish Greens equalities spokesperson Maggie Chapman said blocking the Bill “sets a very alarming new precedent” and should “concern everyone who believes in devolution and wants the Scottish Parliament to exist”.

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