The gender recognition reform bill was voted through Holyrood, the Scottish parliament, on the 22nd of December. The Bill has caused constitutional friction between the devolved government and the UK government due to concerns from the UK government about the content and implications the Bill would have on equality in the UK.
Under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, which granted a devolved government to Scotland, the UK government reserves the right to intervene in some instances by preventing the Bill from receiving royal assent and becoming law.
It is the first time in the history of devolution that this power has been used, sparking a potential constitutional crisis and deepening the already fractures relationship between Holyrood and Westminster.
The independence movement has been growing in Scotland, and direct intervention from Westminster in the democratic process of Scotland has the potential to exacerbate the independence sentiment of the people and Holyrood.
The Bill will reduce the age a person can change their gender from age 18 to 16, eliminates the necessity of a medical diagnosis for gender dysphoria, and a person would only have to live in their acquired gender for three months, reduced from 2 years.
The Bill makes significant amendments to the gender recognition act 2004, which introduced a single UK-wide system for gender recognition.
The secretary of state for Scotland, the RT Hon. Allister Jack MP announced on the 17th of January that they would be blocking the Bill.
He said that after intense assessment with the Minister for Women and Equalities, they concluded that the Bill would have a ‘serious adverse impact, among other things, on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.
The adverse effects include impacts on the operation of single-sex clubs, associations and schools, and protections such as equal pay.’
In his statement to parliament, he continued to outline the government’s concerns by saying, ‘The Bill also risks creating significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the UK.’
Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, told the BBC that the UK government is conducting a ‘direct attack on the institution of the Scottish parliament.’
Sturgeon had come under intense scrutiny from her party, the citizens of Scotland, Westminster, and the media over the gender reform bill. Many were speculating that the situation echoes that of Margret thatcher’s poll tax incident, which forced her to resign.
Despite this, Sturgeon’s resignation announcement sent shockwaves through the political world. A seemingly infallible leader has run out of steam and called it quits on her time as leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland, marking an end of an era of the SNP.
Many will now wonder whether the resignation will damage the independence movement. Independence has long been associated with the cult of personality of Nicola Sturgeon.
It is undeniable that in recent years the independence movement has been strongly associated with her. The SNP will need to navigate this situation shrewdly by shifting focus from Sturgeon’s association with the movement and ushering in a new era.
The following weeks will be important for the SNP. They have the opportunity to elect a leader with the political gravitas that will emerge out of the shadow cast by Sturgeon and take up the fight for Scottish independence, simultaneously bringing a fresh strategy for independence and governance of Scotland.
The Gender recognition reform act must be brought to a definitive conclusion, the SNP leadership will have to hold firm against the backlash from the UK government.