The Scottish and UK Governments are on course for another major constitutional court battle after Humza Yousaf confirmed he would challenge the decision to veto controversial reforms to gender recognition laws.
The new SNP leader said the unprecedented decision by Westminster to block the legislation, which was passed by MSPs before Christmas, could not be ignored.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill is currently in a state of limbo after being prevented from becoming law by the UK Government through a Section 35 order.
The legislation would have made it easier for people in Scotland to change their legally recognised gender without needing medical reports from two doctors and details of undertaken treatments.
It would also have lowered the age at which someone could apply to change gender north of the border from 18 to 16.
The UK Government has claimed that having two different regimes within the UK would undermine equalities legislation, on which only Westminster is allowed to make laws.
Before she announced her resignation, Nicola Sturgeon said a judicial review of the veto was “inevitable”, describing it as a “full-frontal assault” on devolution.
Asked if he planned to follow the same strategy, Mr Yousaf replied: “I’ve made my position absolutely clear on Section 35. I see it 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 backed the GRR Bill.
“That’s of course my first principle, my starting principle, to challenge that Section 35 order.”
On the campaign trail, he made clear that he would only proceed with the challenge if the legal advice is that there is a reasonable chance of victory. Legal experts have differed over whether the Scottish government’s claim has merit.
Mr Yousaf was the only candidate in the SNP leadership election to support the gender reforms, with both Kate Forbes and Ash Regan speaking out against the plans.
Ms Forbes, who was on maternity leave when the bill was passed, said she would not have voted for it and would not have challenged the UK’s veto in the courts.
Any decision to launch legal action would be a risk for Mr Yousaf, as a protracted court battle could be costly and is unlikely to win over Scottish voters.
A poll of more than 2,000 people conducted shortly before Ms Sturgeon’s resignation found that half of Scots believe the UK Government was right to use its veto, with only 33 per cent saying it was wrong.
Responding to Mr Yousaf’s comments, Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said: “I think we’ve set out our views here and we are acting in a way which is proportionate and right. We will wait to see what actions the Scottish Government may or may not take.”