The celebrations of the trans community and their allies following the passing of the Gender Recognition Bill at Holyrood just before Christmas seemed like a distant memory when the UK Government signalled last Monday that it was going to block it.
Use of a Section 35 order to block a devolved act of the Scottish Parliament is nothing less than a full-frontal attack on devolution and on democracy itself. It is a political decision that is in keeping with Westminster’s contempt for devolution and the Scottish Parliament.
The fundamental fact is that the Gender Recognition Bill cannot and will not affect the Equality Act. The UK Government knows what it is doing by taking this political stance.
This is a cross-party bill with amendments from across the parties and MSPs from every single party voted for it, giving it a two-thirds majority, so what else can this move by the Tories be, than an attack on democracy.
The truth is that this is the latest in a long line of anti-democratic actions by the UK Government – including challenges to Holyrood legislation on Brexit, incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the denial of a democratic vote on Scotland’s future, which a majority of MSPs were elected to deliver.
Having spent, along with colleagues, countless hours on this bill, including two nights in the Chamber until 2am, I had many feelings about Whitehall turning around and saying “no”. But there’s not much time to be angry when you have to get on with the day job in Parliament.
This included having the opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, what steps are being taken by the Scottish Government to tackle to root causes of the poverty-related attainment gap, mitigating the damaging actions of the Westminster Tory government.
In response, Shirley-Anne said it was right to point out that tackling the issue was best done at source, by tackling the drivers of poverty. However, she said it was exceptionally frustrating and disappointing that the Scottish Government continues to try to do this with one hand tied behind our back, because of the changes that the UK Government has made to welfare, the continuation of which will push more and more children into poverty over the coming years.
She pledged that the Scottish Government would continue to do what it could through the Scottish Child Payment and the Scottish Welfare Fund, though stressing that it was exceptionally difficult when the UK Government makes life harder rather than easier for Scotland’s children and young people.
While the UK Government makes things harder, the Scottish Government tries to make things easier. For example, Holyrood recently heard that 561,623 young people were benefitting from the Young Person’s Free Bus Travel Scheme. This is fantastic news, but so many are still eligible and missing out. I want to make sure that even more young people take advantage of this, which is why I am writing to all Highlands and Islands local authorities to see how we can improve access to the application process for the scheme.
This is a regular column by Emma Roddick, SNP. All Highlands and Islands Regional MSPS have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.
For more on the Young Person’s Free Travel Scheme click on this link: Young People Free Bus Travel – Apply Now