DIVISIONS in Labour which have been exposed over the UK Government’s blocking of gender reform legislation are reflective of the party’s difficulties in Scotland over the last two decades, an expert has said.

While a majority of Scottish Labour MSPs supported the Bill in Holyrood, UK leader Keir Starmer expressed “concerns” about provisions in the legislation enabling 16-year-olds to ­legally change their gender.

He also said he would wait to see what action the UK Government would take when asked whether he would block Scotland’s ­Gender ­Reform Recognition Bill if he was prime minister, in an interview before the Section 35 order was ­officially ­issued.

His comments sparked a ­backlash from some, with Labour MSP ­Monica Lennon saying she was “very ­disappointed” and that it had ­“undermined Scottish Labour”.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar faced criticism for two days of silence on the issue before attempting to play down differences with the UK leadership.

He said the Section 35 was the “wrong approach” but the party would not take action to oppose it to avoid being drawn into a ­“constitutional fight”.

Dr Jonathan Parker, lecturer in politics at Glasgow University, said: “I think it is emblematic of their ­difficulties just of the last two ­decades of Scottish politics really.

“They are always in the situation of trying to sort of sit on the fence and balance these things in a way – really trying to articulate themselves as a kind of Scottish party, but at the same time often being kind of constantly undermined by the UK party.

“This is just a really common theme with Scottish Labour and something which hasn’t tended to happen with Welsh Labour to the same extent, which has managed to kind of ­figure out much more [how to] get a distinctive ­identity and niche for themselves.

“This is the latest saga in a kind of running theme for them – the ­Scottish party does one thing, tries to assert itself a little bit and is then suddenly forced into a difficult position by the interests of the UK party.”

Parker said conflict stemmed from UK Labour trying to compete in a two-party system in England, which meant they were always going to ­prioritise winning seats south of the Border.

“Obviously, England makes up 80% of the UK, so it is always ­going to at the end of the day prioritise ­winning seats in England more than in ­Scotland,” he said. “This is just the logic of the size of the UK because it’s such an ­unbalanced Union.”

He added: “Almost all the [Labour] MSPs voted in favour [of the Bill] in the Scottish Parliament, they were very much on board with the process the whole way through.

“As soon as people in England start paying attention to, as soon as it gets catapulted into the UK limelight, then Keir Starmer has to feel like he will definitely take this position which is much more with an eye to England than with an eye to Scotland.”

Parker also pointed out most ­Scottish Unionists are also strongly pro-devolution.

“So really having something which seems to be quite so obviously ­undermining the devolution settlement and a kind of a confrontation between the UK and Scottish governments is not a good look for Scottish Labour really at all,” he said.

“They really need to be seen as on the side of the Scottish ­devolution ­settlement and in that role of ­standing up for Scotland, which is something that Welsh Labour with Wales kind of articulates quite well and quite ­often, but Scottish Labour seems to be quite unable to do.”

He added: “I think it’s kind of ­noticeable that they’ve not really pushed back too much on what ­Starmer has been saying as well, which I thought was a bit of a ­strategic blunder on their part as well.

“They could have really taken the opportunity to show a bit of ­distance.”

Alex Charilaou, co-chair of ­Labour For Trans Rights, said they also ­believed the leadership should have taken a stance to defend the legislation, both in terms of trans rights and the devolution settlement, and it risked alienating young people who will be the electorate of the future.

“Monica Lennon has been very clear in her support for trans rights and came out to say something to the effect of Starmer has let Scottish ­Labour down,” they said.

“I think that’s right – this is both a problem in terms of trans rights and in terms of the devolution settlement.

“The devolution settlement was probably Labour’s proudest ­achievement in government and to undermine it in the way it has by not coming out strongly enough against Section 35 is just awful.

“I think it will continue to cause tension in the party.”