HUMZA Yousaf is expected to announce plans this week for court action against the UK Government after it blocked legislation passed in Holyrood to make it easier for people to change their legal gender.

During the SNP's leadership race, the First Minister championed a challenge to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack's unprecedented use of a legal order which stopped the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from obtaining royal assent allowing it to become law.

The Scottish Greens regard contesting the use of the Section 35 order essential to their party continuing with the co-operation deal with the SNP in Holyrood made under the Bute House Agreement.

Mr Yousaf's main rival in the SNP leadership election Kate Forbes supported a compromise over the legislation, while Ash Regan, the third candidate wanted court action ruled out.

Speaking to journalists at Bute House as the deadline approaches in mid April for the Scottish Government to lodge a judicial review, the First Minister signalled the move to take legal action. He said there would be an announcement on the challenge 'imminently'.

The Herald:

Activists for trans rights outside Holyrood as the Gender Recognition Reform Bill was being debated.  Photo PA.

He drew attention to the case he made for opposing the use of the order by Mr Jack which Mr Yousaf has argued amounts to a "power grab" on Holyrood.

"I made it abundantly clear in the course of the leadership contest that my starting principle is to challenge the Westminster veto over the GRR Bill. As you can imagine I have been having intense conversations in that regard," he told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday.

"And I will be making an announcement on the particular challenge of the Section 35 order imminently given that deadline."

Asked if he was committed to the Bute House Agreement for the remainder of the parliament which will sit until 2026, he said: "Yes, we are committed to it. There is a review mechanism in it and we will keep the Bute House Agreement under regular review.

"We are committed to it, and not just committed to it, our party membership, when it was put to a vote, those of whom voted, 95 per cent of them endorsed the Bute House Agreement."

The Herald:

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking to the press with Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater after signing the Bute House Agreement in August 2021.  Photo PA.

The reforms in the GRR Bill were backed by all parties in Holyrood apart from the Scottish Conservatives when the legislation was passed in December.

They reduced the age from 18 to 16 and the amount of time a person has to live in their new gender before obtaining a gender recognition certificate. They also removed the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and introduced a process of self-declaration.

The bill was blocked by Westminster over concerns that they would undermine the Equalities Act and threaten women’s rights in Scotland and across the UK.

The reforms provoked a row about the housing of transgender prisoners in women’s prisons after the trans rapist Isla Bryson was initially sent to a women’s jail. The outcry saw the SNP’s poll ratings fall before Ms Sturgeon resigned.

The deadline for lodging a judicial review into the veto falls is April 17, shortly after the Scottish Parliament returns from its Easter recess which runs until April 16.

However, last weekend a poll suggested fewer than one in five voters in Scotland support a court challenge to the UK government’s veto of a Holyrood bill to reform gender laws.

Research by Panelbase for the Sunday Times found that 18 per cent thought Mr Yousaf should launch a legal challenge against the UK government’s decision to block the legislation.

Some 44 per cent said he should abandon the bill completely, 24 per cent think a compromise should be found with the UK government and 14 per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t know.

Excluding undecideds, 51 per cent thought the law should be dropped altogether.

Even among SNP voters in the poll, 35 per cent supported Mr Yousaf’s view, while 28 per cent wanted a compromise with the UK and 26 per cent said that the bill should be dropped completely. Eleven per cent said they didn’t know.

According to the Panelbase findings gender recognition reform is a priority for a tiny number of Scots with only four per cent saying it should be one of Mr Yousaf’s main priorities.

In an interview last week, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said transgender rights should not be allowed to over-ride women's rights.

Speaking about the GRR Bill he told the Sunday Times: “The lesson from Scotland is that if you can’t take the public with you on a journey of reform, then you’re probably not on the right journey. And that’s why I think that collectively there ought to be a reset in Scotland.”

Scottish Labour backed the reforms but in Holyrood but the party told its MPs to abstain when the SNP brought forward a motion to challenge the UK Government's use of the Section 35 order.

Confirming after his win in the SNP's leadership election that he wanted to take court action to try and force through the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, Mr Yousaf said: “I see it as a veto, as a power grab, by the UK Government.

“I don’t think they have any right to use that Section 35 power, given that the majority of Holyrood, of course, backed the GRR Bill. So, of course my first principle, my starting principle, is to challenge that Section 35 order.”

The legislation caused tensions inside the SNP and saw nine of its MSPs failing to support the government in an unprecedented rebellion for the party. 

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland made an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from proceeding to Royal Assent.

 “This was done after thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications. This legislation would have an adverse effect on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.”