Nicola Sturgeon has strongly condemned accusations of transphobia within the SNP and said there is no place for it in her party.

In a strongly-worded, apparently unscripted, message on social media, the First Minister said that "silence was not an option" on the issue any longer. 

The message was delivered amid reports of young people leaving the SNP in 'significant' numbers the SNP's stance on trans rights. 

The SNP leader, who said she didn't care if she was accused of being "woke", acknowedged there is "debate" on gender reform within the party, but said: "No debate can be a cover for transphobia.

"Trans people have as much right as any of us to be safe, secure and valued for who they are."

READ MORE: SNP 'transphobia - Twitter reacts to Sturgeon's speech

She said: "This is a message from me as SNP leader on the issue of transphobia. I don't have much time for anything other than the fight against Covid just now, but on some days silence is not an option.

"This message wasn't planned, it's not scripted, I haven't consulted with armies of advisors - that might be obvious.

"But what you're about to hear comes from my heart."

Ms Sturgeon continued: "Over the course of the day I have heard reports of mainly young people in significant numbers leaving the SNP. I know many of you personally, I consider you friends, I have campaigned alongside you.

READ MORE: Calls for independent probe into SNP transphobia as former member reveals extent of abuse​

"You are a credit to our party, and our country. It grieves me deeply you have reached this decision, after much soul-searching, because you consider the SNP to be, at this stage, not a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people.

"That's not acceptable to me as SNP leader, and I will do everything I can to change that impression and persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and that you should come home where you belong."

The issue of trans rights has been a thorny one for the SNP, with accusations the Scottish Government backed away from supporting trans people by failing to reform the Gender Recognition Act. 

The Herald:

Joanna Cherry, MP. 

Prominent members of the party such as the MP Joanna Cherry have come in for criticism for their support of alleged anti-trans campaigners, and for their views on transgenderism.

Last week, a prominent equalities campaigner in the SNP quit the party and called for an independent inquiry into the extent of transphobia among its ranks.

Teddy Hope, a former transgender officer for the official LGBT wing of the SNP, Out for Indy, claimed the party has become a “core hub for transphobia” in Scotland, and said the SNP has turned its back on the transgender community.

It comes after Teddy, who is non-binary, said they were abused at a branch meeting last year when asked to attend to discuss transgender rights and equalities, and that the SNP failed to investigate fully. 

READ MORE: SNP equalities campaigner Teddy Hope quits, claims party ' hub of transphobia in Scotland'

Seeking to head off an apparent head of steam building against the SNP, Ms Sturgeon said:  "Yes, we have differences of opinion on gender recognition reform. We should debate them openly and respectfully. 

"But no debate can be a cover for transphobia. Trans people have as much right as any of us to be safe, secure and valued for who they are. Transhobia is wrong and we must treat it with the zero tolerance we treat racism or homophobia.

"Those are the principles I want to characterise the SNP and the country I am priviledged to lead. They are also the principles and values I want to underpin the independent Scotland I have spent my whole life campaigning for."

The Herald:

Teddy Hope said the SNP was a core hub for transphobia

Ms Sturgeon added: "I don't support that as an end in itself. But as a means to a better, fairer, more just Scotland. 

"Now, some will criticise this message - say it doesn't go far enough. Or that the words are hollow unless we prove we mean them.

"But I am determined we will. No doubt others will accuse me of being woke - I don't care. Sometimes, particularly as a leader, it's vital to speak up for what is right and against injustice.

"That is why I'm posting this message, and I'm grateful for you for listening."