FORMER Labour first minister Henry McLeish has expressed fears that the UK Government’s decision to veto Holyrood’s gender reform legislation could result in a “slide towards independence”.

McLeish was central to the passing of the Scotland Act in Westminster and has told the UK Government to “grow up” in its dealings with the Scottish Government.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was accused of “not having a clue” on Tuesday as he addressed the Commons on the UK Government’s reasons for blocking Scotland’s gender reform.

Jack said he had not taken the decision lightly as he gave a statement in which he told MPs the bill would have a “serious adverse impact” on the Equality Act 2010.

McLeish, who previously served as a minister of state for home affairs and devolution in Tony Blair’s government, told The Scotsman he was concerned about the impact of the first ever use of a Section 35 Order.

He said: “It appears that this bill is within the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence, but what’s confusing, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has not spelt it out, is what is the basis for them suggesting it’s impacting the Equalities Act 2010.

“Until he does that, and I fear he may wait until there’s a court session to do it, it’s an extremely complex position that, in my judgement, Westminster is making worse.”

It comes as divisions amongst the Labour Party started to appear after Labour MSP Monica Lennon said she was “very disappointed” with Keir Starmer’s comments on the bill and claimed he was “undermining” Scottish Labour.

McLeish questioned the intervention by Starmer, who said he had “concerns” over the bill, specifically about how it means 16-year-olds could legally change their gender.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has said that the row over the bill will “inevitably” end up in court.

McLeish continued: “The danger for me is that this sets a precedent. Westminster wants to respond negatively to a lot of things that happen in Scotland.

“Remember that devolution was about difference – it was about giving an ancient, but ambitious nation opportunities, and Westminster must not get into the habit of taking on the Scottish Government, because it’s not in the interests of Scotland.”

McLeish served as first minister and leader of Scottish Labour from 2000 to 2001 and said that he had never before seen such a “poisonous relationship” between the two governments.

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“There are obviously going to be differences, but my fear is that with the best of devolution still to come, and the potential of the Scottish Parliament still to be realised, the last thing we want when there are multiple crises facing every Scot is conflict.

“I think Westminster has to grow up and realise devolution is a reality. It should be trying to make devolution a success, because if it doesn’t, people will slip away towards independence.”

He believed that the bill was within Holyrood’s legislative competence and dismissed claims from SNP MPs that the UK Government’s move marked the “end of devolution”.