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Nicola Sturgeon cites ‘society raining down on trans people’ as resignation factor

Transgender people are being used as a political "battering ram," the former Scottish first minister has stated

By Dale Fox

Nicola Sturgeon wearing a black suit and red top against a blue background
Nicola Sturgeon (Image: COP26/Flickr)

Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that the abuse she received over her government’s plans to reform transgender laws contributed to her decision to step down from the role.

Speaking at the Charleston Literary Festival in Sussex on Sunday (19 May), Sturgeon said she faced more vitriol on this issue than any other during her time in office.

“I’ve had more abuse hurled at me over the issue of trans rights than probably any other issue I’ve discussed, including Scottish independence probably, so it has been really, really difficult,” Sturgeon said, as reported by the Daily Telegraph [via Politico].

The former SNP leader expressed concern that transgender people are increasingly being used as “a battering ram” in political debates. “It seems like everyone in society is raining down on trans people,” she said.

Scotland’s proposed gender recognition reforms, which aimed to make it easier for individuals to legally change their gender, sparked significant controversy. Key changes included lowering the age requirement from 18 to 16, removing the need for a gender dysphoria diagnosis, and reducing the time someone must live in their acquired gender. However, the UK government ultimately blocked the bill, arguing it infringed upon reserved powers.

“Maybe the politics, the discourse and the debate in Scotland will be a bit more healthy” – Nicola Sturgeon reflecting on the backlash

Sturgeon’s tenure was also marred by other challenges, including setbacks in securing a second independence referendum, a falling out with her predecessor Alex Salmond, and an ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s fundraising practices. Sturgeon herself was questioned as part of the probe, while her husband and former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell was charged.

Reflecting on the backlash she faced, Sturgeon said she had hoped that by resigning, she could take herself “out of the equation” and foster a healthier political discourse in Scotland. “Maybe the politics, the discourse and the debate in Scotland will be a bit more healthy,” she mused, before conceding, “it hasn’t quite worked out that way.”

In April, controversy was caused after Scotland introduced the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, including the offence of “stirring up hatred.” The characteristics protected by the law are age, disability, religion or, in the case of a social or cultural group, perceived religious affiliation, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics.

Critics of the law include author JK Rowling, who said at the time “I look forward to being arrested” in response to the new law.