SHONA Robison has hit out at Alister Jack’s “flat refusal to engage” with SNP ministers to resolve the constitutional standoff over Scotland’s gender recognition reforms.
The Scottish Government’s Social Justice Secretary has criticised the Scottish Secretary over an “inadequate approach to finding a constructive way of working together”.
The war of words comes after Mr Jack and Ms Robison spoke on Tuesday to discuss a way forward to resolve the matter.
The gender recognition reforms would mean trans people in Scotland would no longer require a gender dysphoria diagnosis to obtain a gender recognition certificate, with a move to a self-ID system.
The plans would also lower the minimum age from 18 to 16 years old.
But Mr Jack has confirmed the UK Government will use section 35 of the Scotland Act for the first time in the history of devolution to block the legislation from becoming law.
The Scottish Secretary has claimed that the proposals will impact UK-wide legislation such as the Equalities Act and has also raised concerns about two parallel systems being in operation, despite the matter being devolved.
Following the meeting, Mr Jack wrote to Ms Robison, insisting he would “fully respect the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate within its competence”.
He suggested SNP ministers “prepare a revised bill” that UK law officers would be happy “to provide a view on a revised bill ahead of it going to the Scottish Parliament” to ensure it meets the UK Government’s standards.
In a letter in response, seen by The Herald, Ms Robison has claimed Mr Jack “will not engage with the Scottish Government in any way” on the issues “short of Scottish Government accepting there are adverse effects on reserved law and bringing forward a revised bill for your officials to consider – without specifying what these revisions could be”.
She added: “You will not discuss in any way evidence for or against your reasons, any mitigations of the adverse effects you claim, or potential compromises or alternative approaches.
“Your proposal that the Scottish Government revise the bill for your consideration, and present this to the Scottish Parliament as the only option acceptable to the UK Government, ignores the democratic role of the Scottish Parliament in legislating on devolved issues.
“Your unwillingness now to engage with the Scottish Government on your section 35 order, and ways to address your concerns, continues your inadequate approach to finding a constructive way of working together on this issue and this bill, recognising the differences but respecting devolved, democratic decision-making.”
Ms Robison added: “At the very least I would have expected a discussion on the type of amendments that might address your concerns – without impacting on the principles of the bill – so we could consider with other parties in Parliament.
“Your flat refusal to engage in such discussions, together with the lack of previous engagement before vetoing a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament, leaves me with no reason to believe that you are in any way interested in finding a way…to resolve any difficulties through discussion.”