Nicola Sturgeon to Resign as Scotland’s 1st Minister After Gender Bill Blocked by UK Parliament

Nicola Sturgeon to Resign as Scotland’s 1st Minister After Gender Bill Blocked by UK Parliament
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a press conference on winter pressures in the NHS, at St. Andrews House in Edinburgh on Jan. 16, 2023. (Lesley Martin/PA Media)
Chris Summers
2/15/2023
Updated:
2/15/2023

Nicola Sturgeon has announced she is to resign as First Minister of Scotland, saying: “My decision comes from a place of duty and of love, tough love perhaps, but nevertheless love [of] my party and my country.”

Her decision to step down comes a month after the UK Parliament blocked radical gender reforms which had been passed by the Scottish government, a move she described as a “full-frontal attack.”

On Jan. 17, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the UK government was making a section 35 order prohibiting the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from gaining royal assent in its current form. It was the first time since devolution was introduced in 1998 that the UK government had pushed through such an order.

Under the legislation, Scotland became the first country where people could legally change their gender based on simple self-identification.

The bill allowed anyone over the age of 16 to self-ID via a statutory declaration to obtain a new birth certificate, which changes the recording of their registered sex at birth to their chosen gender.

But a few days later Sturgeon, 52, came under pressure from campaigners, MPs, and Downing Street after they expressed concerns that a transgender rapist convicted of attacks on two women was set to be sent to a female jail.

Sturgeon eventually confirmed Isla Bryson—who had changed his name from Adam Graham—would not be incarcerated at Cornton Vale women’s prison and would be held in a men’s jail prior to sentencing.

She did not refer to the gender reform bill in her resignation speech but said she had been wrestling with two questions, “is carrying on right for me? And is it right for the country and the party and the independence cause I’ve devoted my life to.”

Sturgeon said: “I’m very proud of what has been achieved but the time is right for someone else to take over. In my head and in my heart the time is right now.”

She was asked by a journalist if she thought Scotland could achieve independence.

Sturgeon replied: “It will be hard because now we have the dual challenge—not only do we have to convince a solid, sustainable majority of the merits of independence, but secondly, a challenge that is new, in the face of Westminster’s anti-democratic opposition to allowing the will of the Scottish people to be expressed and I believe that my successor, whoever he or she may be, will lead Scotland to independence and I'll be there cheering him or her on every single step of the way.”

‘I Will Always Be a Feminist’

Another journalist asked her about the gender reform bill and she replied: “I have been and will always be a feminist. I will fight for women’s rights and I will stand up against threats to women’s rights every day that I have breath in my body.”

“But I'll also stand up for the stigmatised, discriminated against, marginalised, and vulnerable in society and I believe an optimist at heart. I believe in a progressive liberal inclusive society, we should be able to find ways of co-existing. I will do everything I can to turn that into a reality.”

On Wednesday Alison Thewliss, the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, wrote on Twitter in response to the news of Sturgeon’s resignation: “Absolutely gutted about this. Nicola has been an incredible leader.”

But historian Tom Holland wrote on Twitter that she had been, “brought down by the improbable pairing of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and Isla Bryson.”

Political scientist Sir John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, told the BBC there was “no obvious successor” to Sturgeon and he said he doubted whether anyone could voice Scotland’s demands for independence as successfully.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (L) and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented the White Paper for Scottish independence in Glasgow on Nov. 26, 2013. (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (L) and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented the White Paper for Scottish independence in Glasgow on Nov. 26, 2013. (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

Sturgeon has been Scotland’s first minister since November 2014, when she took over from Alex Salmond following the independence referendum.

Salmond was acquitted in 2020 of charges of sexual assault and portrayed himself as the victim of a conspiracy to drive him out of public life.

He won £500,000 in legal costs from the Scottish government after its handling of an investigation into his behaviour was ruled unlawful.

In 2021 Salmond launched a rival pro-independence party, Alba, which directly challenged Sturgeon’s SNP.
Sturgeon has been pushing for a second referendum on independence and said she wanted to hold it in October 2023 but the British government had rejected that. The Conservative Party said the 2014 referendum vote was a “once in a generation” vote and there was no justification for a second ballot yet.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, wrote on Twitter: My thanks go to Nicola Sturgeon for her long-standing service. I wish her all the best for her next steps. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish government on our joint efforts to deliver for people across Scotland.”

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, wrote on Twitter: “Nicola Sturgeon has been at the forefront of not just Scottish but UK politics for over two decades. She’s served with dedication and passion. I wish her all the best for her next steps. Labour stands ready to be the change that Scotland needs.”

In December Ian Blackford stepped down as the SNP’s leader at Westminster and was replaced by Stephen Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South, who defeated Thewlis.

PA Media contributed to this report.
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