New Times,
New Thinking.

Will the gender reform battle boost support for Scottish independence?

Westminster’s veto has turned a debate over policy into one over Scotland’s power to govern itself.

By Freddie Hayward

Rishi Sunak’s government has used section 35 of the 1998 Scotland Act to block a Scottish bill to make it easier for people to legally change their gender. This power has not been used before.

The blocked bill would have allowed people to obtain gender recognition certificates from the age of 16 and without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The UK government argues that it would conflict with UK equality law, power over which is reserved to Westminster. The Scottish government disagrees. Keir Starmer has said that he has “concerns” about the bill, particularly about lowering the minimum age and the potential impact on single-sex spaces, but it is not clear whether the Labour leader supports the UK government’s decision. If he does, that sets him up for a conflict with his MSPs at Holyrood, most of whom voted in favour of the reform.

Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction – she called the decision a “full-frontal attack” on devolution – suggests her government will submit a legal challenge rather than amend the bill, setting up yet another devolution battle in the courts. The First Minister’s argument that blocking the bill undermines democracy neglects the fact that the Scottish Parliament’s authority ultimately derives from Westminster through the 1998 Scotland Act. It’s tricky to claim that using a provision contained in the very act that brought about devolution is an attack on devolution. The question is whether the UK government has correctly applied that provision – which the courts will probably decide.

In any case, what polling we have suggests the bill is unpopular in Scotland. A poll from YouGov last month found that 66 per cent of people in Scotland were opposed to reducing the minimum age from 18 to 16, for instance. The veto has, however, allowed Sturgeon to turn an unpopular policy into a symbol of Westminster overreach. The question for the SNP, therefore, is whether they want this issue to become a crucial battleground for Scottish independence.

[See also: Is Boris Johnson coming back?]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy