Nicola Sturgeon has been called on to clarify the Scottish National party’s stance on transgender rights following the leak of private messages between three prominent female MSPs that claim the first minister is “out of step” with her party.
The conversation, which was tweeted as a screenshot on Tuesday evening but timestamped February, appears to have been prompted by Sturgeon’s comments in an interview that she recognised some women had concerns about the implications of her government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004, such as allowing individuals to change their legal sex by means of self-declaration.
Sturgeon described these concerns as “misplaced”, adding: “As an ardent, passionate feminist, and have been all of my life, I don’t see the greater recognition of transgender rights as a threat to me as a woman or to my feminism.”
The leaked messages between the SNP MSPs Ruth Maguire, who is convenor of Holyrood’s equalities and human rights committee, the Aberdeenshire East member, Gillian Martin, and the community safety minister, Ash Denham, appear to express derision at Sturgeon’s remarks.
They also discuss concerns that the first minister is not aware of their concerns “because no one has conveyed [MSP] group feelings to her”.
It is not clear whether the MSPs were referring to concerns about the process or framing of the proposed legislation, or a more deep-seated anxiety about the policy.
The SNP activist Jordon Henderson, who revealed the messages on Twitter and previously worked for one of the MSPs involved, said he was sent the screenshot by a current party staffer with whom he had worked at Holyrood, who wanted to raise the issue but remain anonymous.
Deeply concerning to see this conversation between SNP elected members claiming the FM is out of step for backing trans rights in Scotland. @theSNP and @NicolaSturgeon must act pic.twitter.com/FrZnFmpaMl— Jordon (@Montague90) April 16, 2019
Henderson said: “I would like to hear Nicola Sturgeon confirm that she is not rolling back on her commitment to trans rights but, more immediately, this obviously raises concerns about Ruth Maguire remaining head of the equalities committee.”
When Sturgeon originally pledged to radically reform gender recognition law for trans people in 2016, she said the move would be as important in her next parliamentary term as equal marriage was to the last. But the proposals were not included in last autumn’s programme for government, which has been taken by some as an indication of the concern within the SNP about the policy.
Responding on Twitter, the director of Stonewall Scotland, Colin Macfarlane, called on the Scottish government to publish its response to the GRA consultation, stating: “It’s been over a year since the consultation closed. The lack of response is causing real anxiety among trans people.”
The leaked conversation reflects other concerns about trans policy in Scotland. In February, a group of 25 academics, activists and former MSPs signed an open letter calling on Sturgeon to commit to carrying out a full equality impact assessment of the proposed reforms to the GRA.
In the same month, a highly critical report on proposed changes to Scotland’s census – such as adding a third non-binary alternative to the male/female sex question – found that serious lack of consultation with women’s groups had led to the publication of legislation that was “not fit for purpose” and conflated sex and gender identity.
Fiona Robertson, the SNP’s national women’s and equalities convener, said: “The SNP, like most other parties, ran on a manifesto promise to support GRA reform, non-binary recognition and self-ID. I am working with trans and non-binary members of the party to make our community more inclusive and to build solidarity between equalities groups, and I encourage any elected representatives with concerns to talk to us.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “The SNP supports trans rights and women’s rights as part of our firm commitment to human rights and equality,” adding that “it is important that any discussion on trans rights and women’s rights is conducted respectfully”.
Maguire, Martin and Denham have been approached for comment.