Nicola Sturgeon: I was part of the problem on trans issues

Nicola Sturgeon says that trans rows contributed to her downfall
Nicola Sturgeon says that trans rows contributed to her downfall - PA/Jane Barlow

Nicola Sturgeon has said she was “part of the problem” on transgender issues and this was partly why she stood down as first minister.

The former Scottish leader said she had received more abuse for her views on trans rights than any other topic, as she condemned “despicable” culture wars.

But she suggested that the trans rows that engulfed her, which peaked with the furore around sending male-born rapist Isla Bryson to a female jail, contributed to her downfall.

Explaining her decision to resign, the 53-year-old told the Charleston literary festival in Sussex: “I think in politics you reach a point where you know in yourself that you don’t have as much to give anymore.

“I also thought that politics in Scotland, like politics everywhere right now, is pretty polarised”, she said, adding that the country also has the divisive “independence issue” in the mix.

‘How they thought about me’

Ms Sturgeon said she had “got to the point where I thought I was part of that problem” because there is no one in Scotland who “doesn’t have an opinion about me whether good or bad – and I’m not sure many people are indifferent”.

“It felt as if every issue people were coming at that issue in terms of how they thought about me – that felt true on the trans issue, it felt true on a number of issues – so I thought, well, if I take myself out of that maybe the politics, the discourse and the debate in Scotland will be a bit more healthy.

“It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but yes that is why I decided to stand down.”

The final months of her nine-year tenure leading the Scottish Government were dominated by criticism from women’s rights campaigners such as JK Rowling, which has since continued over new hate crime laws that she championed.

The case of Isla Bryson and the decision to house the male-born offender in a women’s prison after following a conviction for raping two women sparked a major backlash. Ms Sturgeon was later forced to intervene and Bryson was moved.

Ms Sturgeon previously spoke about the divisiveness of Scottish politics in her resignation speech but did not name trans issues specifically.

But she insisted on Sunday that it was mere “coincidence of timing” that she resigned 21 days before her husband Peter Murrell was charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the SNP.

‘Live how they want to be’

Ms Sturgeon also doubled down on her view that transgender women are women, and said in the on-stage interview with trans novelist and activist Juno Dawson that “people should be able to live how they want to be”.

She warned that “it seems like everyone in society is raining down on trans people” and despite forming 0.5 per cent of the population, they were used as “a battering ram” and that gay people and other marginalised groups were becoming “collateral damage”.

“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,” she added.

During her Charleston talk, the former leader said young people were entering politics “for all the wrong reasons” if they saw it as a career choice rather than believing in something.

“I think politics, including in my own party now, is probably too full of young people who have just come through the political ranks,” she added.

Ms Sturgeon also spoke about her fury over potholes plaguing Britain’s roads: “I only passed my driving test about six months ago so I can rant for Scotland and the entire UK over potholes right now – the good thing is I am now able to say without any hesitation I blame the Government.”

She said potholes were one of the issues voters were being distracted from. “I don’t think any culture war is going to save Rishi Sunak or the Tories from a general election grubbing. But their efforts to cling on for as long as possible and then to cling on to as much as possible means they will throw any vulnerable group under the bus if it suits their purposes and it is despicable and shameful.”

‘Head in my hands’

Ms Sturgeon was asked about working with Boris Johnson in the Covid pandemic, and claimed that in Cobra emergency meetings she would “sit with my head in my hands as he wittered on about something completely irrelevant and tried to be funny all the time”.

She added that when a message she had sent describing the former prime minister as a “f------ clown” came out in the Covid inquiry, she “got grief from my mum” who said “I did not bring you up to use language like that”.

At one point Dawson asked her who she would “snog, marry, avoid” out of Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer, to which Ms Sturgeon joked: “Am I allowed to just go off men at this point?”

She said she “regrets” that Scotland did not become independent during her time in power, but insisted “we will” and that it was not “a rejection of England”.