A Scottish government minister has resigned ahead of a Holyrood debate on a new law to streamline how transgender people can change their legal sex, understood to be the first time a serving minister has stood down over a matter of conscience since the founding of the Scottish parliament.
The community safety minister, Ash Regan, resigned in order to vote against the government’s bill, prompting Nicola Sturgeon to accuse her of failing to raise her concerns with colleagues.
News of Regan’s resignation broke less than an hour before the start of the chamber debate on plans to introduce a system of self-declaration for legal gender recognition, removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and reducing the age for applicants from 18 to 16.
In her resignation letter, Regan, who is one of several Scottish National party MSPs known to have significant concerns about the bill, wrote: “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.”
Accepting her resignation and thanking Regan for her contribution, the first minister replied: “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.”
Sturgeon continued: “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 gender recognition reform bill is supported by every party in Holyrood bar the Scottish Conservatives, but has also been the subject of angry protests outside the parliament and fiercely contested by some groups. They argue it will fundamentally alter who can access women-only services and believe they have not been adequately consulted.
Speaking to reporters after first minister’s questions, Sturgeon’s official spokesperson said Scottish government ministers were obliged to vote in line with government policy. He said the SNP parliamentary group decided whether or not to insist that backbench MSPs voted in line with government policy, ministers were “covered by the usual protocols” and had no leeway. It has been previously reported that some senior SNP figures wanted a free vote on the draft bill.
The government is expected to win tonight’s vote, and the bill will move on to the second stage where amendments will be considered.