Scottish Government minister quits in opposition to gender reform Bill

Nicola Sturgeon has accepted the resignation of one of her ministers over her opposition to controversial gender legislation just hours before the Bill was due to go to a vote.

Community safety minister Ash Regan said her “conscience” would not allow her to vote with the Scottish Government and back the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill at stage one on Thursday.

The MSP was on a ministerial visit to a school in Edinburgh, launching a firework safety campaign, in the hours before her resignation.

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.

The controversial legislation will look to clear its first parliamentary hurdle on Thursday.

The Bill will remove the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria when seeking a gender recognition certificate, while also reducing the length of time an applicant must live in their acquired gender from two years to three months, with an additional three-month reflection period.

The minimum age for applying will also be reduced from 18 to 16.

Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accepted her minister’s resignation (PA)

Some women’s groups have raised concerns the change in the law could put women and girls’ rights at risk.

Responding to Ms Regan’s resignation, the First Minister said: “As you are aware, a key requirement of the ministerial code is collective responsibility – a principle essential to effective governance, and which applies across all matters of government policy irrespective of the issue.

“I note that at no stage have you approached me – or indeed the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – to raise your concerns about the Gender Recognition Reform Bill or the vote this evening.

“However, in circumstances in which a minister is unable to support the Government, it is the case that the only options available are resignation ahead of the vote or dismissal thereafter.”

The Bill is likely to pass despite the resignation, with reports of SNP members being whipped to vote in favour, while Scottish Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are also expected to back the legislation.

The Scottish Conservatives have been given a free vote, with most expected to oppose the change.

In a statement ahead of the vote, Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “Legal gender recognition has been available for 18 years but many find the current system for obtaining a gender recognition certificate to be intrusive, medicalised and bureaucratic.

“The Bill aims to simplify and improve the process for a trans person to gain legal recognition, giving them better access to their existing rights.”

Ms Robison added: “Our support for trans rights does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to uphold the rights and protections that women and girls currently have under the 2010 Equality Act. This Bill makes no changes to that Act.”

But Scottish Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton – a member of the committee which scrutinised the Bill and one of the two MSPs to oppose it on the panel – said she was “deeply concerned” about the Bill.