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Nicola Sturgeon’s blind spot on transgender law was key to her fall

The resignation of Nicola Sturgeon as the leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister is being widely attributed to her handling of a controversial transgender law, in addition to issues around Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon faced a storm of criticism from women’s rights groups, and a public backlash, because of her dogged support for measures which would allow people to change gender easily and quickly, a move critics said would endanger women.

The proposed changes to obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate – legally changing sex – sought to remove the requirement for a gender dysphoria diagnosis, moving Scotland to the “self-ID” model which is established in Ireland.

The Scottish proposal also sought to lower the age limit for gender change to 16.

Opinion polls, such as one for YouGov, found that just 20% of Scots surveyed agreed with most of proposals, while 60% disagreed.

The controversy crystallised around the case of a rapist, born Adam Graham, who claimed to be a transgender woman named Isla Bryson, and was placed in a women’s prison in Stirling last month.

After a public outcry, Ms Sturgeon came under pressure from the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during First Minister’s Questions.

Mr Ross read a quote from one of Bryson’s victims, who said: “I don’t believe he’s truly transgender. I feel as if he’s made a mockery out of them using it. As far as I’m concerned, that was to make things easier for himself.

Ms Sturgeon’s responses were generally viewed as being unconvincing – and she stumbled again this week at a news conference on Monday where she tried not to reference Bryson’s gender at all, referring instead to “the individual”.

“My comments about her, err, the person, being a rapist is in context of what should happen to them within the prison service,” she said.

Quizzed by a journalist as whether the use of the word ‘her’, meant the First Minister believed the rapist was a woman, Sturgeon floundered.

Her handling of the issue was generally viewed as a disaster.

At this stage, the UK Government has already intervened to block gender recognition in Scotland saying that it contravened the Equality Act.

Polling showed that not only were voters were in a different place to Sturgeon on the issue, they thought it was a resigning issue.

A Panelbase survey for the Sunday Times, published in the past week, found than four in 10 voters in Scotland thought First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should resign immediately.

The survey found that 42% of respondents thought she should stand down now, while 45% said she should remain as First Minister at until at least the next Holyrood election, and 13% didn’t know.

The poll also found that the majority of those who expressed a view had safety concerns around the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by MSPs in December and blocked by the UK Government.

Support for the SNP’s key issue – independence from the United Kingdom – also waned according to some polls under Sturgeon’s watch, while other controversies are believed to have added to the strain.


Sturgeon has been the dominant figure in Scottish politics for the past eight years, and her resignation came as a surprise to many.

Announcing her resignation just now she said: “I have always believed that part of ‘serving well’ would be to know, almost instinctively, when the time is right to make way for someone else, and when that time came – to do so.”

Some commenters predicted that the trans prisoners issue would be Sturgeon’s undoing. It seems they were correct.

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