Sturgeon using gender bill as a political weapon - Sue Webber

Not a day goes by that Nicola Sturgeon is not howling at the latest outrage foisted on the Scottish people by the evil Westminster government.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

It’s therefore impossible to differentiate between default fury and genuine shock, so this week’s rage after Scotland Secretary Alister Jack used the Scotland Act to block what has become her signature legislation, the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, was entirely predictable.

But there was a subtle difference in her language. This, she said, was not an attack on Scotland or Scottish people, but on the Scottish Parliament It was a “full-frontal attack” on Holyrood’s “ability to make it's (sic) own decisions on devolved matters,” she tweeted.

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The difference is because a clear majority ─ and a significant chunk of her party, including a now ex-minister ─ disagree with the GRR changes. Sixty per cent disagree with scrapping the need for a gender dysphoria diagnosis and 66 per cent oppose lowering the age limit to 16, the most recent survey found.

But after the Supreme Court overturned her plans for a referendum this year, Ms Sturgeon said Westminster was “showing contempt for Scotland’s democratic will”, despite two-thirds of people consistently opposing a vote this year and the last independence opinion poll, 51 per cent rejected separation. So, as far as forcing through GRR is concerned, who is showing contempt for whom?

If there is a full-frontal attack, it’s on devolution because of Ms Sturgeon’s uncompromising determination to ram through the Gender Recognition Reform Bill without any accommodation for the many sensible amendments proposed as she whisked it through the Scottish Parliament.

Had she not done so, then Alister Jack would not have had to invoke Section 35 of the Scotland Act ─ Labour legislation, supported by the SNP, designed to prevent cross-border legal confusion ─ to prevent the GRR Bill receiving Royal Assent, because the legal issues would have been addressed.

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That it has had to be invoked is because the SNP-Green coalition cynically chose this as a battleground, especially as the Scottish Parliament had recognised the importance of a uniform UK system for obtaining Gender Recognition Certificates when it consented to the original UK Gender Recognition Act in 2004. The only mystery is why a now embarrassed Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar fell for it.

The UK Government’s 13-page justification for intervention is a technical explanation of where the Bill cuts across reserved UK legislation and deftly avoids wider political arguments because it is not about the rights and the wrongs of the bill but the impact on British law, and ensuring there is legal clarity across the United Kingdom.

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Yet Labour’s Lord Falconer seems to back the GRR Bill because few people will be affected, but a former Lord Chancellor should know legal clarity is not a numbers game but the essence of good legislation.

By contrast, former Supreme Court deputy president Lord Hope believes Ms Sturgeon is wasting her time mounting a court challenge, a process which could easily go beyond the next general election and, not for the first time, cost tax-payers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Transgender people in the process of changing their legal sex deserve respect and understanding, but using their hopes and fears as another weapon in Nicola Sturgeon’s war against Westminster is beyond cynical.

Sue Webber is a Lothian Scottish Conservative MSP