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Nicola Sturgeon’s promise to tackle transphobia is too little, too late, former SNP members say

Vic Parsons February 4, 2021
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Nicola Sturgeon vow to tackle transphobia is too late, SNP members say

Nicola Sturgeon's promise to tackled transphobia in the SNP is "too late", former party members say. (Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images)

Former Scottish National Party (SNP) members who quit the party over transphobia have said that promises to address the issue are too little, too late.

Teddy Hope and Emma Cuthbertson both left the SNP after leaders failed to deal with complaints about transphobic abuse and hatred, amid an exodus of younger SNP members unhappy with the party’s commitment to trans rights.

Hope, a trans officer for the official LGBT+ wing of the SNP, Out for Indy, quit in January claiming the SNP is a “hub of transphobia” and called for an independent inquiry into the extent of transphobia among its ranks.

On 27 January, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon condemned transphobia in a video posted to social media, saying that “no debate can be a cover for transphobia”.

The ‘debate’ has centred over reforms to gender recognition laws, which “gender-critical” campaigners oppose. The improvements to the current law would make it more accessible to trans people who want legal recognition of their gender.

Sturgeon’s pledge was followed by a statement from Kirsten Oswald MP, the SNP’s business convenor, and deputy leader Keith Brown MSP, who said the party needs to have an “open conversation” about de-toxifying discussions about transgender people. The duo also said a definition of transphobia would be discussed by the SNP’s National Executive Committee.

But Hope and Cuthbertson, a former Women’s Officer in the SNP who quit last summer claiming that more than 20 complaints she’d made about receiving transphobic abuse from councillors, MPs and MSPs had been ignored, have told The Herald that Sturgeon’s message is not enough.

Hope said: “I feel that this has come far too late and it goes too deep.

“The thing that I’m worried about is that we’ve left the SNP to their own devices to fix this before. This is what people have been trying to do internally for years, but they haven’t fixed anything at all.

“Transphobia has become normalised within the party, with such prominent members able to say things that are transphobic and no action is taken.

“That’s why I’ve said there should be a fully independent inquiry, led by the EHRC [Equality and Human Rights Commission] because I don’t think the SNP is capable of dealing with this issue by itself.

“Another reason why I’m sceptical is because we submitted a definition of transphobia to the National Secretary, and others, last year. We never heard anything back. and nothing was done.”

And Cuthbertson said that Sturgeon’s commitment is “a very small step on a very long journey for the SNP”.

“It is good that they are now apparently taking things seriously, but actions are what is needed here,” she said.

“Until they start taking action against people who are transphobic then these are just words.”

Sturgeon said her message had not been scripted, and was instead a “message from the heart”.

On reports of “significant numbers” of young SNP members leaving the party over the transphobia accusations, Sturgeon said: “I know many of you personally, I consider you friends, I’ve campaigned alongside you. You are a credit to our party and our country.

“It grieves me deeply that you’ve reached this conclusion after much soul-searching because you consider, at this stage, the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people.”

Sturgeon’s unambiguous pro-trans message was welcomed by scores of Scottish MPs, including Mhairi Black, Kirsten Oswald, Alison Thewliss, Gavin Newlands, Richard Thomson, Peter Grant, Alyn Smith and Anne McLaughlin, all of whom retweeted the video.

Cuthbertson added:  “When it was individuals raising complaints and concerns about abusive behaviour, they took no action but when a whole group of people started quitting and affecting them financially, or potentially at the polls… that’s when there seems to have been a decision to finally do something.

“It is hard to take it seriously when I know that nothing was done when people were being abused and victimised just because of who they were. They were ignored by the party.

“Its going to take a lot more than just adopting a definition of transphobia, and getting MSPs to tweet a picture of a trans flag every now and again to sort this out in the SNP, and it might be too late for them to properly get a grip on it.”

Related topics: emma cuthbertson, Nicola Sturgeon, SNP, teddy hope

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