Scottish minister quits Nicola Sturgeon's government over gender reforms

27 October 2022, 16:01 | Updated: 27 October 2022, 16:12

Ash Regan has quit Nicola Sturgeon's government.
Ash Regan has quit Nicola Sturgeon's government. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Nicola Sturgeon's community safety minister Ash Regan has dramatically quit as a matter of conscience over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which the First Minister is championing in Holyrood.

Ms Regan resigned shortly before MSPs began a Stage 1 debate on the Bill which aims to change the process by which a transgender person can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.

She had previously been one of 15 senior SNP signatories to a letter which urged Nicola Sturgeon not to "rush" into "changing the definition of male and female".

The letter also raised concerns about the potential implications for women of allowing people to self-identify their sex.

Another signatory was Cabinet Secretary for the Economy Kate Forbes who is currently on maternity leave and will not vote in today's debate.

In her resignation letter, Ms Regan said she had "considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time" and had "concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government at the Stage 1 of the Bill this afternoon."

The Scottish Government's proposals will remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the need to live in an "acquired gender" for two years to three months. It will also lower the age limit from 18 to 16 years old.

Critics of the Bill have argued that the changes to bring in self-identification of gender in law could impact on women’s rights and make it easier for sexual predators to abuse others by pretending to be transgender in order to access women’s safe spaces such as refuges and changing rooms.

In her response, Nicola Sturgeon 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. I therefore accept your resignation."

Ms Regan's resignation is expected to embolden other SNP MSPs who have concerns about the Bill, despite being whipped to vote in its favour.

Labour has also whipped its MSPs to vote for the Bill, but the party is expected to lay amendments when the Bill reaches Stage 2 in the process.

Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats are in favour, while the Scottish Conservative Party has allowed its MSPs to have a free vote.

Her resignation is believed to be the second in the history of devolution of a minister leaving government on a matter of conscience. Former Scottish Labour communities minister Malcolm Chisholm resigned in 2006 after voting with the SNP to oppose the replacement of Trident nuclear submarines, in a move Nicola Sturgeon described at the time as a "body blow" to then First Minister Jack McConnell.