Gender reforms not ‘final straw’ for Sturgeon to quit but loomed large

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The gender identification reform controversy may not have been “the final straw” in Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to quit as First Minister, but the row has loomed large over her leadership in recent months.

Outside Bute House in Edinburgh, where she announced her plan to step down on Wednesday, some opponents of the reforms gathered and shouted slogans.

Ms Sturgeon had spoken out in strong support of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, and it was passed by members of the Scottish Parliament in December.

The reforms include allowing trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) without the need for a medical diagnosis and enabling 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for such a certificate for the first time as well as reducing the amount of time a person has to live in their acquired gender before they can be granted the document.

The bill was passed despite concerns from some politicians, women’s rights groups and others that the changes could impact on safe spaces for females, with Ms Sturgeon and her Government repeatedly rejecting such claims.

But the UK Government used its veto to block the reforms, with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack using Section 35 of the Scotland Act due to  “serious adverse effects” on the operation of UK-wide equalities legislation.

Some critics of the bill sought to link the proposed changes to the case of transgender woman Isla Bryson, the 31-year-old who raped two women while identifying as a man.

Bryson was sent to Cornton Vale women’s prison near Stirling in a placement that caused public uproar.

Ms Sturgeon was later forced to come to Holyrood to state that no transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women would be placed in a female prison.

Ms Sturgeon was asked at Wednesday’s press conference whether the gender identification row was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “No, that issue wasn’t the final straw.

“I’m long enough in the tooth, I’ve been in politics a long, long time.

“I’m not going to stand here and insult your intelligence and say that I live in a world that is divorced from the reality of what is going on around me.

“But it is not the case that this decision is because of short-term issues.

“I’ve faced more short-term issues from time to time in my years in politics than I care to remember.

“And if it was just that, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Stonewall – which campaigns on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – praised Ms Sturgeon for “unwavering commitment to advancing the rights of all marginalised people in Scotland”.

Colin Macfarlane, director of nations at the group, said: “In the past few months, the media’s focus has been on the passing of the Gender Recognition Reform bill, an Act that would ensure transgender rights in Scotland are in line with international best practice and the equal of some of the most progressive countries on the planet.

“Throughout this process, Ms Sturgeon has approached this subject in the way we hope all leaders would: with compassion and understanding, and with judgments that are grounded in facts and evidence.”

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