Minister quits and SNP MSPs defy whip to vote against gender recognition Bill

A minister has quit the Scottish Government and SNP MSPs have defied the whip to vote against gender recognition legislation.

Ash Regan’s surprise resignation from the position of community safety minister was announced shortly before MSPs began debating the first stage of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

A total of seven SNP MSPs broke with the whip to vote against the Bill: Stephanie Callaghan, Fergus Ewing, Kenneth Gibson, Ruth Maguire, John Mason, Michelle Thomson and Ms Regan.

Two SNP MSPs abstained, Annabelle Ewing and Jim Fairlie.

The Bill passed stage one in the Scottish parliament with 88 votes in favour, 33 against and four abstentions.

Glasgow Caledonian University nursing campaign
John Mason spoke in opposition to the Bill (Peter Devlin/PA)

John Mason, the MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, voiced his long-standing opposition to the reforms in the Scottish Parliament and said he could not back the legislation.

During his contribution in Thursday, Mr Mason said he represented a “minority view” within the SNP and praised Ms Regan’s decision to resign.

He said: “We may disagree as to the best way forward on gender recognition, but I hope we can all respect each other for genuinely held beliefs as to what is best for all of our society and for the people who have questions about their gender.”

After referring to his Christian faith, he continued: “Certain things we need to accept as scientific or medical facts.

“The Earth goes round the Sun once a year, days are shorter in winter.

“These are facts, whether we like them or not, and we have to accept them.

“And as I understand it to be a fact there are two sexes, male and female.”

He said biological sex could not be changed, while he saw gender as a “much more fluid concept”.

The Bill would blur the distinction between men and women, he said.

Mr Mason added: “If it becomes less clear as to who is a man and who is a woman, then almost inevitably it becomes more difficult to ensure that women are paid equally or equally represented in Parliament or elsewhere.

“And it becomes more difficult to ensure that women have access to safe spaces, including prisons, where they can be reasonably certain that no man will be present.”

Scottish Conservative equalities spokesperson Rachael Hamilton MSP applauded Ms Regan’s resignation.

She said the fact that nine SNP members felt compelled to rebel against this legislation “shows the seriousness of the objections held by MSPs right across the chamber”.

Ms Hamilton added: “It’s a shame that two of the SNP members who raised their concerns over these plans in 2019, today chose to toe the party line rather than stand up for the legitimate views of much of the Scottish public.

“This issue cuts across party divisions, so it’s deeply disappointing that the other Holyrood parties seem determined to silence valid concerns in their own ranks.

“The Scottish Conservatives will make all stages of this debate a free vote, in order to give this Bill the honest, good-faith debate it warrants – and I urge other parties to follow our lead going forward.”

Ms Regan’s resignation came hours after she visited a school in Edinburgh to launch a firework safety campaign.

In a letter to the First Minister, Ms Regan said: “I have considered the issue of gender recognition reform very carefully over some time.

“I have concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the Government at the stage one of the Bill this afternoon.

“Consequently, I am writing to resign my position in the Scottish Government as minister for community safety.”

In a terse response, Ms Sturgeon said “at no stage have you approached me… to raise your concerns” about the Bill.