SNP to launch legal action against PM's block on gender reforms

Humza Yousaf vows to push on with Nicola Sturgeon’s gender identity reforms as he confirms he WILL launch legal action against PM’s block on Holyrood legislation despite warnings SNP does not ‘have a cat in hell’s chance of winning’

  • Scottish Government seeking judicial review over PM’s use of Section 35 order

The SNP-led Scottish Government will launch a legal challenge against Rishi Sunak’s block on Holyrood’s controversial gender identity reforms, it was confirmed today.

First Minister Humza Yousaf is pushing ahead with the contentious legislation –  introduced by his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon – by attempting to overturn the Prime Minister’s use of a Section 35 order.

He has repeatedly hit out at Mr Sunak’s ‘undemocratic veto’ of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill and this afternoon it was confirmed he will seek a judicial review of the PM’s action.

This is despite Mr Yousaf being warned by a former SNP minister that he does not ‘have a cat in hell’s chance’ of winning a case at the UK Supreme Court.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill sparked controversy when it was passed by the MSPs in December.

It seeks to make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) – a legal recognition of their acquired gender – by introducing a system of self-declaration.

The Bill was blocked by Scotland Secretary Alister Jack in January, who used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to stop it becoming law, amid concerns about UK-wide legislative chaos.

Mr Sunak today signalled he would not back down in his refusal to allow the Bill to receive Royal Assent by promising to ‘follow through’ with his block on the legislation during possible court proceedings.

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, has repeatedly described the use of a Section 35 order as an ‘undemocratic veto’ of Holyrood legislation by Westminster

Speaking on a visit to Belfast, where he met with US President Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak signalled he would not back down in his fight with Holyrood

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill sparked controversy when it was passed by the MSPs in December

It came after Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s social justice secretary, this afternoon announced a judicial review will be sought over Westminster’s use of a Section 35 order.

She described Mr Sunak’s action against the Bill as a ‘unprecedented challenge’ to the Scottish Parliament and claimed legal action was the ‘only reasonable means of resolving this situation’.

‘The Gender Recognition Reform Bill was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament, with support from members of all parties,’ the Scottish minister said in a statement.

‘The use of Section 35 is an unprecedented challenge to the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate on clearly devolved matters and it risks setting a dangerous constitutional precedent.

‘In seeking to uphold the democratic will of the Parliament and defend devolution, Scottish Ministers will lodge a petition for a judicial review of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s decision.

‘The UK Government gave no advance warning of their use of the power, and neither did they ask for any amendments to the Bill throughout its nine month passage through Parliament.

‘Our offers to work with the UK Government on potential changes to the Bill have been refused outright by the Secretary of State, so legal challenge is our only reasonable means of resolving this situation.’

Responding to the Scottish Government’s announcement, the PM vowed to ‘follow through’ with his Section 35 order in the face of the legal challenge.

He told broadcasters on his visit to Belfast to meet with US President Joe Biden: ‘We said at the time it was a decision we made after taking very careful and considered advice.

‘We had concerns as the UK Government about how Scotland’s Gender Recognition Act would interact with reserved powers, about the operation of the Equality Act, the protection of women elsewhere in the UK as well.

‘That’s why we took the decision to block [the legislation] and, obviously, if there’s a court process we will follow that through.’

Earlier today, former SNP MSP Alex Neil – who served in both Alex Salmond’s and Ms Sturgeon’s governments – said instead of mounting a legal challenge Mr Yousaf should reintroduce the gender legislation and deal with its ‘deficiencies’.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ‘My own view is in terms of the challenge to the UK Government it would be far better just to reintroduce a Bill.

‘And this time, in the Bill, deal with concerns of women about places of safety for women and also deal with the UK Equality Act.

‘We know that going to the Supreme Court, and every lawyer I have spoken to has told me, we don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of winning at the British Supreme Court.

‘Let’s not hand this over to the Supreme Court in London. Let’s sort it out ourselves and pass a Bill that we can all unite behind and all be proud of.’

Mr Neil urged Mr Yousaf to ‘sort out the anomalies in this Bill, sort out the deficiencies in the Bill, sort out the clash apparently with the Equality Act’.

‘Let’s do it ourselves. Let us sort it out ourselves and not resort to a court case we can’t win,’ he added.

The latest constitutional row between Edinburgh and London has been set up amid new developments over the police probe into the SNP’s finances.

It has been claimed a £110,000 campervan seized by police from outside the home of Ms Sturgeon’s mother-in-law was bought by the SNP to act as an election ‘battle bus’.

Detectives probing the SNP’s finances took away the state-of-the-art Niesmann + Bischoff vehicle from outside 92-year-old Margaret Murrell’s home last Wednesday morning after arresting her son Peter, 58, the party’s ex-CEO.

It was reported today that it was purchased to ferry around Ms Sturgeon and her team on the 2021 Holyrood election campaign so they would not need to use hotels.

However, a source told the Daily Record it had not been used because Covid restrictions had been eased by the time the vote took place in May.

It had spend a couple of years outside the house in Dunfermline, Fife, before it was removed last week, as first reported by the Mail on Sunday.

It came as Mr Neil, a former member of Ms Sturgeon’s government, said ‘forensic accountants’ should be brought in to go through the SNPs finances covering the latter part of her time in power.

He spoke out after it emerged the party’s auditor quit six months ago.

The SNP are currently being investigated by Police Scotland amid questions over the whereabouts of more than £600,000 of donations from supporters.

Police probing SNP fraud claims have seized a £110,000 luxury motorhome from ex-chief executive Peter Murrell’s mother’s house

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly denied that a police investigation involving her husband and hundreds of thousands of pounds in allegedly ‘missing’ party funds contributed to her shock resignation in February

Alex Neil, who served under Ms Sturgeon and predecessor Alex Salmond when they were first ministers, spoke out after it emerged the party’s auditor quit six months ago.

Mr Neil, who backed Mr Yousaf’s rival Kate Forbes in the leadership election last month, told BBC Scotland the First Minister had been handed ‘a complete bed of nails.’

A police probe saw Ms Sturgeon’s husband, former SNP CEO Peter Murrell, arrested last week.

Mr Neil said SNP members need to know why accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael had resigned from the role and why no one had been told until this week.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf revealed on Tuesday the firm had quit in ‘about October’. 

Mr Neil, who backed Mr Yousaf’s rival Kate Forbes in the leadership election last month, told BBC Scotland the First Minister had been handed ‘a complete bed of nails.’

‘These difficulties appear to be as a result of mismanagement of the party’s finances,’ he said.

‘We really have to get to the bottom of this. My own view is Humza should bring in special accountants, called forensic accountants, to look at every aspect of party funding and report back to the party at the earliest opportunity. Let’s get to the bottom of this, let’s get it sorted and move on.’

The SNP confirmed Johnston Carmichael had informed the party in September last year it would not be able to carry out the 2023 audit, with the decision coming following a review of its client portfolio.

The party contacted alternative firms late last year, but found they were ‘experiencing capacity issues’ and were unable to take on new clients.

The party has now informed watchdogs at the Electoral Commission – which it has to submit accounts to in July – of a ‘difficulty in identifying replacement auditors’.

News that the auditors had quit emerged just days after Police Scotland officers searched both SNP headquarters in Edinburgh and the home of former first minister Ms Sturgeon and her husband Mr Murrell – who was SNP chief executive until last month.

Mr Murrell was arrested by police investigating SNP finances, but was later released without charge pending further inquiries.

Mr Yousaf said on Tuesday that appointing new auditors is one of his ‘major priorities’.

But Mr Neil, who backed rival candidate Kate Forbes in the recent leadership contest to succeed Ms Sturgeon, said: ‘We haven’t been told why the auditors resigned, we need to know why, what reason was given for them resigning.’

Mr Neil also urged Mr Yousaf to bring in a new business convener to replace Kirsten Oswald, and for members of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee who had previously opposed reforms to the system of governance to consider their position.

He said: ‘It’s not doing the party any favours, day after day having drip after drip of new information, it is all bad news and I think what Humza needs to do is bring in a new business convener of the party, bring in a new chief executive, and in the meantime get forensic accountants in to tell us the real state of the party’s finances.’

With Mr Yousaf having already pledged a review of governance and transparency in the SNP, Mr Neil added that this should ‘not be carried out by those who have failed in governance in the first place’ and ‘should be done independently so we get people in who are professional advisers on governance and get our structures right’.

Mr Neil continued: ‘People who opposed the governance reforms that were put forward, if they are still on the national executive, because this was two or three years ago, I think they should certainly consider their positions.’

Source: Read Full Article