Nicola Sturgeon has condemned the UK government’s decision to refer two bills passed by Holyrood unanimously to the supreme court as “morally repugnant” amid an outcry from Scottish MPs.
The Scottish parliament passed the United Nations convention on the rights of the child bill and the European charter of local self-government bill in the weeks before it went into recess.
Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, had requested changes be made to the children’s bill, which aims to ensure Scottish public authorities comply with the rights laid out in the charter, before it was passed. No changes were made before it moved through Holyrood.
The UK government said it referred that bill and the local government bill to the supreme court due to concerns that technical aspects of both pieces of legislation could impose legal responsibilities on UK ministers.
A spokesperson said: “UK government law officers have today referred two bills from the Scottish parliament to the supreme court under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998. [Their] concerns are not about the substance of the legislation, rather whether parts are outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament.”
The move has led to anger among Scottish MPs, with the first minister leading the charge against the government decision.
In a tweet branding the action “jaw-dropping”, Sturgeon wrote: “The UK Tory government is going to court to challenge a law passed by scotparl unanimously. And for what? To protect their ability to legislate/act in ways that breach children’s rights in Scotland. Politically catastrophic, but also morally repugnant.”
John Swinney, deputy first minister of Scotland, last month hailed the children’s bill as “a revolution in children’s rights” and a “major cause for celebration”.
He accused Westminster of wanting to breach children’s rights by referring the bill to the supreme court. He said the unopposed bill had been “certified independently by the presiding officer as being within the powers of the Scottish parliament”.
The deputy first minister added: “Now the Tory Westminster government is trying to veto those rights. That is not just morally repugnant, but it is also deeply menacing.”
He pledged to fight the challenge, saying that only those “who want to breach children’s rights” need “fear this bill”.
The Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, joined the SNP in its attack on the decision, labelling the Conservatives as “bereft of compassion” and having “completely lost their way”, though he also took a swipe at Labour’s rivals by saying that Scotland “deserves a better opposition” in a time of national crisis.