Nicola Sturgeon losing the argument on gender among Scots, survey finds

Nicola Sturgeon, pictured addressing an Abortion Summit at Scottish government offices in Leith on Tuesday, has faced criticism from her predecessor, Alex Salmond - Jeff Mitchell/Reuters
Nicola Sturgeon, pictured addressing an Abortion Summit at Scottish government offices in Leith on Tuesday, has faced criticism from her predecessor, Alex Salmond - Jeff Mitchell/Reuters

Only a third of Scots oppose the UK Government's decision to veto Nicola Sturgeon's gender reforms, a poll has shown as Alex Salmond warned her position could become "untenable".

The Ipsos survey found 50 per cent backed the Scottish Secretary's move to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, compared with only 33 per cent who opposed it. The remaining 17 per cent did not know or did not want to say.

In a major blow to Ms Sturgeon, even 31 per cent of SNP voters said the UK Government should have blocked the legislation, which would have allowed Scots to self-identify their legal gender.

The poll also found that her popularity with the public has declined markedly since October, although Scots continued to have a more favourable opinion of her than the opposition party leaders at Holyrood.

Increased attacks

The survey was published as Mr Salmond stepped up his attacks on Ms Sturgeon amid the furore over transgender rapist Isla Bryson being initially placed in a women's prison.

Mr Salmond told Times Radio that her position as First Minister would be "untenable" if she does not drop the gender Bill and said she had been reduced to "stumbling incoherence" on the issue, with people "laughing" at her.

Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly refused to say whether she regards Bryson as male or female but, in a rare slip, referred to the rapist as "her" in a press conference on Monday.

Court chiefs had wanted to send Bryson to Glasgow's men-only Barlinnie prison but the rapist was instead initially sent to Cornton Vale women's jail after being convicted last month.

Scottish Prison Service (SPS) guidance already states that trans criminals should be sent to the prison that matches their self-identified gender that they were living in prior to their conviction.

Bryson was named Adam Graham when committing the rapes and has not legally changed gender. Following a huge public outcry, the rapist was moved to a men's cell in Edinburgh's Saughton jail.

The furore came shortly after the UK Government blocked Ms Sturgeon's gender reforms over concerns they undermined UK-wide protections for women. The First Minister has threatened legal action to try and overturn the veto.

Choppy waters

Unveiling the poll results, Emily Gray, Ipso’s managing director in Scotland, said: "These findings highlight the choppy waters that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP find themselves in.

"While Nicola Sturgeon remains the most popular of the political leaders we asked about, her personal ratings have fallen."

The survey, which was conducted on Jan 31 and Feb 1, found 43 per cent of Scots had a favourable opinion of Ms Sturgeon and 43 per cent an unfavourable one, giving her a zero net rating. This was eight points down on October.

Asked if Ms Sturgeon's position as First Minister was tenable, Mr Salmond told Times Radio: "At this stage, yes, but if you continue to conduct the argument about Scottish self determination, Scottish independence, having this issue as the touch point and the conflict between Westminster then it would be untenable."

Meanwhile, the SPS said it had completed an "urgent lessons learned review" into the Bryson case and it had been submitted to Teresa Medhurst, the chief executive, "who has carefully considered its findings and determined what actions must now be taken”.

A spokesman said the "final conclusions" would be handed to Keith Brown, the SNP's Justice Secretary, who has previously said Bryson is a woman.

The Scottish Government refused to say whether the full review would be made public, or if information about the rapist would be withheld.

A spokesman said: "As the Justice Secretary said to parliament last week, he will update the criminal justice committee on the outcome this week."

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP's business convener, said: "This is the second poll in a week showing Nicola Sturgeon as the most popular leader of any political party in Scotland by a long shot."