NICOLA Sturgeon faces a revolt over plans to make it easier for a person to change their legally recognised sex as SNP rebels call for a free vote on the reforms, according to reports.

Ministers intend to publish their bill on Thursday, setting out proposed measures for people born male to be declared female and vice versa without having to provide medical evidence of gender dysphoria as long as they have been living in their acquired gender for three months.

Changing the legislation “at the earliest opportunity” was a key part of the SNP’s manifesto at last year’s election, with the party promising to address concerns from feminist campaign groups and politicians “through informed and respectful discussion.”

The Sunday Times reports today that it understands that about ten SNP MSPs oppose the reforms, which have been vigorously contested by some feminist campaigners, who are concerned about the effect they could have on female-only spaces.

It reported that some of the rebels have deeply held religious beliefs. They regard the changes as a conscience issue, and want party whips to allow a free vote as they did over the same-sex marriage bill in 2014, which several ministers voted against.

SNP MSPs who have previously expressed concerns about the new bill include Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.

Other ministers, however, are adamant that the legal proposals, which would see the minimum age for gender recognition changes fall by two years to 16, do not fall into the “conscience” category. Instead, they view them as straightforward changes to an existing system that would reduce trauma for trans people.

Some SNP MSPs have concerns about potential electoral consequences if the Scottish Government proceeds with legislation opposed by many voters, although most of the party's Holyrood group back the legislation and want it passed quickly.

One SNP MSP who is against the reforms said the debate was highly toxic and that there were other priorities for Holyrood.

He told the Sunday Times: “I will be voting quietly, without song and dance, against this legislation. It is wrong-headed and could lose us votes.
“I also have a duty to protect my staff from social media abuse and threats.”

Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary, met other parties last week to assess if the government has enough support to get its legislation through if there is an SNP rebellion.

The Conservatives, except for Jamie Greene, are expected to oppose the proposals but it is likely that there is a majority to pass the legislation as the Greens and Lib Dems are firmly in favour.

The bill is set to be scrutinised by the equalities, human rights and civil justice committee and ministers have not ruled out concessions, including keeping the minimum age to obtain a gender recognition certificate at 18.

Currently, under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, trans people seeking a gender recognition certificate must have a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria and live in their “acquired gender” for two years.

The evidence then needs to be reviewed by a Gender Recognition Panel, made up of legal and medical members, who will make the ultimate decision on whether a GRC is issued which would then allow a transgender person to be legally recognised in the gender they identify with and to legally change their birth certificate to reflect that.

The Scottish Government first started formally reviewing the legislation in November 2017, with a vow to bring it into line with “international best practice”.

That led to ministers proposing a self-declaration system, ending the need to provide medical evidence and proof of living in the acquired gender for two years.

The first consultation on the new law between 9 November 2017 to 1 March 2018 received 15,967 responses, with 60 per cent of respondents in favour of reforming legal gender recognition.

However, there were concerns raised by campaigners for sex-based rights over the impact of the new legislation on the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act.

They also expressed fears the change in law could potentially place women in danger from men who might abuse a self-identification system.

The SNP, in particular, was bitterly split over the self-declaration changes, with a number of high profile clashes between the party’s elected representatives.

The Scottish Government then pushed back legislation until after last year’s Holyrood election, instead holding a further consultation between December 2019 and March 2020.

Proposals in that second consultation were to have applicants living in their acquired gender for a minimum of three months, rather than two years.

Applicants would also have to confirm they intend to live permanently in their acquired gender and would be required to make a statutory declaration, in front of a notary public or a justice of the peace.

More than 17,000 replies were received. Analysis published in September last year suggested that “a small majority of organisations” supported “changing to a statutory declaration-based system”.

Groups backing the reforms included the “considerable majority” of organisations representing children and young people, as well as LGBT groups, trade unions, local authorities and third sector bodies.

However, the report acknowledged that “around four in 10 organisations did not support” the changes, and about one in 10 either did not have a view or did not make it clear.

Those who are opposed were “very concerned about the potential impact of the proposed changes on society in general, but on the safety and wellbeing of women and girls in particular”.

However, shortly after the results of the consultation were published, Ms Sturgeon said these concerns were “not valid”.

She told the BBC: “Gender recognition reform is about changing an existing process to make it less degrading, intrusive and traumatic for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society.

“We should focus on the real threats to women, not the threats that, while I appreciate that some of these views are very sincerely held, in my view, are not valid.”