Section 35: wrong issue for constitutional clash between Holyrood and Westminster

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Last week the UK Government brought forward strike busting legislation against the heroes of the pandemic; nurses, ambulance crews, fire and rescue teams, teachers, and many others.

As a Unison member, I unequivocally support the right of workers to withdraw their labour.

At PMQs I asked Rishi Sunak if he believed the public would buy his government’s line that it’s those dedicated workers who are the reckless ones, when it’s plain as day that the blame lies squarely at the feet of his out-of-touch government.

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Yet, the Scottish Government appears every bit as ludicrous when they suggest that the Secretary of State for Scotland’s (SoSS) decision to block their controversial Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill was a surprise.

Pro gender recognition bill supporters Scottish Trans hold a "Rally for Trans Equality" (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)Pro gender recognition bill supporters Scottish Trans hold a "Rally for Trans Equality" (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)
Pro gender recognition bill supporters Scottish Trans hold a "Rally for Trans Equality" (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)

Despite pushing the narrative that this is the most consulted upon and scrutinised legislation ever, it’s clear they have only listened to anyone who agrees with the First Minister, as any attempt at constructive engagement has been met with hostile dismissal.

The notion that GRR is a mere administrative change is laughable given its implications for the careful balancing of equality and rights. We’ve needed a constructive discussion on equality, rights and safeguarding for years, but that has consistently been denied.

Whatever your view on how this is resolved, I’m clear this is wrong issue for Holyrood and Westminster to have a constitutional clash over.

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Although I know there will be women of every political hue across Scotland who heaved a sigh of relief that GRR has now been blocked, using a Section 35 order was the wrong approach. There are other, less nuclear, mechanisms available to maintain legislative consistency.

Using Section 35 has allowed the Scottish Government to shift the focus away from the substantive issues surrounding GRR to the constitution resulting in women’s rights and safeguarding getting lost in the noise.

In most recent polling the GRR Bill secured just over 20% of the Scottish public’s support, yet the Scottish Government whipped MSP to vote in favour of the Bill. Sadly, many like David Torrance appear to have unthinkingly fallen into line.

None of this was necessary. Everyone rights and protections matter. However, the violent misogynistic rhetoric on display from trans campaigners this weekend makes it clear, this is not a kind, inclusive, or peaceful movement.

As more women and men, LBG and T, wake up to this there is hope we can begin the important work of balancing rights constructively together.