Nicola Sturgeon’s U-turn cannot save her from how she will be remembered - Brian Monteith

Humility is not Nicola Sturgeon’s middle name, so it is little surprise she is not known for her public apologies or regrets, never mind screaming handbrake turns that change her government’s direction fully 180 degrees.

I have recently been reading a methodical and detailed dissection of the First Minister’s political life by Scottish legal expert and writer Ian Mitchell. The first volume, Nicola Sturgeon – The Years of Ascent, lays bare the frosty, divisive and partisan nature of her relentless rise in the Scottish Parliament. There are still two more volumes to come but I fear a fourth shall now be required.

For it was with genuine surprise last Thursday the First Minister announced a U-turn on the intent of her gender recognition policy that no-one saw coming.

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The day before, the Scottish Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown, had asserted in the strongest possible terms the decision to place Adam Graham, a now convicted male double-rapist who wishes to transition to become a trans-woman called Isla Bryson, in the women’s prison, Cornton Vale, would be taken independently by the Scottish Prison Service following a risk assessment.

Isla Bryson, formerly known as Adam GrahamIsla Bryson, formerly known as Adam Graham
Isla Bryson, formerly known as Adam Graham

The double-rapist had originally been placed in Cornton Vale after deciding to seek gender transition, following him being charged with the rape of two women. It was not for the Scottish Government to intercede Brown told MSPs, insisting an SPS risk assessment would take place and he had every confidence in those procedures.

Unbelievably, after being charged, Adam Graham was allowed to attend a beauty therapy course in Ayrshire alongside girls unaware of his sex or the charges he faced. Then apparently, after conviction, Graham was directed to be sent to Barlinnie but was instead sent back to Cornton Vale.

Who took these various decisions is not known – was it within the SPS or was there ministerial agreement or oversight? It certainly undermines any credibility of the risks assessments the SPS undertake.

Moreover, only a day later, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament the convicted double rapist would not now be going to a women’s prison but would be placed in a men’s prison. This political assurance trumped any arms-length independence of the SPS.

Suddenly Brown’s words were made meaningless, his political name crushed by the wheels of the bus that his boss had thrown him under. Sturgeon made it clear that being a trans-woman would not be treated the same as being a woman by the SPS after all – no matter that was what her GRR Bill would have established in law.

Then in a subsequent media interview, rather than search for any humility and apologise for the division and distress her imperious approach has caused, Sturgeon sought to blame opponents by suggesting many were “transphobic, deeply misogynist, often homophobic, probably some of them racist as well”

The sweeping and general nature of the tirade tarred all opponents with the same disgusting brush – but we are entitled to know who she actually meant. Did she include Ash Regan, her former Minister who resigned to vote against the Bill? Did she mean SNP MP Joanna Cherry KC, or author JK Rowling, or Douglas Ross the Scottish Tory leader? And if not them, then who?

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Unsurprisingly the First Minister’s actions have generated more questions than she sought to solve. What now is the point of the GRR Bill she had made members work late two nights in a row before Christmas to get passed? At a time when the cost of living crisis began to bite, when heating, electricity and food costs were the nation’s main concern she pushed through a Bill that sought to give legal certainty to procedures and protocols that were already being adopted by the Scottish Prison Service – ahead of the law being changed.

And just in case you think that is the end of the matter it is now being reported that Andrew Burns, a strong violent man convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl – who has since identified as a female called Tiffany Scott – is also set to be transferred from Edinburgh’s Saughton Prison to a female establishment. Burns has a history of violence in prison towards fellow prisoners, warders and nurses.

The Daily Record reported in 2016 female prison officers refused to strip-search him after he declared he was transgender.

No surprise then that Keith Brown had to put out a rushed statement yesterday saying “no transgender person already in custody” nor “any newly convicted or remanded transgender prisoner with any history of violence against women will be placed in the [SPS’s] female estate.”

There are many victims in the relentless pursuit by Nicola Sturgeon in pressing ahead with her unpopular legislation without amendments to ensure the safety of vulnerable women prisoners and female prison staff. As well as the obvious threat to women and children who’s private same-sex spaces can be violated and used for abuse and assault there is also the damage being done to all transgender men and women who have now been weaponised by the First Minister as a means to create an invented grievance with the UK Government.

No matter how private and reputable their lives, the risk of being stereotyped with criminals placed on the sex register who seek to exploit Sturgeon’s new policies is very real.

Had Adam Graham gone through the new process to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate as proposed in Sturgeon’s GRR Bill, he could have obtained it within three months and have the force of law to go to Cornton Vale on his side. Will Sturgeon still defend this in court?

Nicola Sturgeon has reversed her own divisive policy – without a scintilla of regret. It is reputational damage she cannot ever recover from.

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Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and Editor of ThinkScotland.org

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