NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of misleading the public by one of her former ministers. 

Ash Regan said the First Minister was “well aware” of her concerns over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

However, last week the SNP leader claimed that “at no stage” had the MSP approached her to raise those concerns. 

Ms Regan dramatically quit her role as Community Safety Minister last Thursday, just hours before Holyrood debated the new legislation. 

In her resignation letter, she said she had "considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time" and had "concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government.”

The legislation aims to reform the process by which trans people can obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Currently, they need a medical diagnosis and a two-year period of living as that gender.

However, the new Bill removes the need for medical assessment, and allows someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate after six months.

It would also reduce the minimum age for application from 18 to 16.

Some critics of the law have raised concerns that the new legislation could have an impact on the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act, and could potentially place women in danger from men who might abuse a self-identification system.

In her response to Ms Regan’s resignation letter, the First Minister said: “I note that at no stage have you approached me - or indeed the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice - to raise your concerns about the Gender Recognition Reform Bill or the vote this evening.”

In a statement to journalists on Tuesday, Ms Regan said she was not convinced the legal protections to prevent women from being discriminated against “could continue to be upheld” if the legislation passed. 

“And my conscience would not allow me to vote for a bill where I could not be 100 per cent certain that women and girls would not be in danger. 

“But I want to be really clear on this point, I am not against reforms that make the lives of trans people better, but I want us to get into a place where we can respect everybody's rights.” 

The ex-minister said she thought the SNP should have allowed a free vote rather than whip their MSPs.

She said: "I think that healthy debate is important. I think that robust challenge is, after all, how we create good law. And I think that actually, that's a strength and it's not a weakness."

Asked about the First Minister’s reaction, Ms Regan said: “The First Minister was well aware of the concerns that I held.”

She declined to say if she would be leaving the SNP, though her press conference took place at the same time as the weekly meeting of the party's parliamentary group.

Earlier today, the Daily Express reported that Ms Regan had "several conversations" about her opposition to the Bill with Colin McAllister, the First Minister's chief of staff.

The First Minister was also reportedly warned that Ms Regan could resign.

Scottish Conservative Equalities Spokesperson Rachael Hamilton said: “Ash Regan has made it abundantly clear that she believes she made Nicola Sturgeon fully aware of her concerns over this bill, in complete contrast to the First Minister’s version of events.

“The former SNP minister should be applauded for staying true to her principles and resigning ahead of the vote last week.

“However, she would not have had to quit if Nicola Sturgeon had agreed to Scottish Conservative calls to make it a free vote and allow SNP MSPs to vote in line with their conscience.

“The onus is on Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to ensure that valid concerns from their own MSPs are listened to as the bill progresses.

“Currently, Ash Regan and her fellow SNP rebels feel – as women’s groups do – that their concerns are being dismissed, which left them with no option but to defy their party last week.

“The Scottish Conservatives will allow our MSPs a free vote at every stage and Nicola Sturgeon should do likewise.”

Responding to Ms Regan's statement, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: "A Minister who considers they cannot comply with collective responsibility should approach the First Minister to discuss the issue.

“Ms Regan was free to do so – at any stage from her accepting appointment as a Minister, in full knowledge of Scottish Government policy on this issue, up until the parliamentary vote last week – but chose not to.

“Ms Regan’s concerns were well known, publicly and privately, and the First Minister’s letter does not say she was unaware of Ms Regan’s views.

“Rather, the letter makes clear that at no point did Ms Regan make use of the well-established practice by which any Minister can approach the First Minister when they have a difficulty.

"Nor did she make use of the specific facility to meet with the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice on this issue, as other MSPs have done.”  

The stage one vote of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill passed easily, with 88 MSPs backing the legislation, and 33 opposing. Another four abstained.

Seven SNP MSPs voted against it, Stephanie Callaghan, Fergus Ewing, Kenneth Gibson, John Mason, Michelle Thomson, Ruth Maguire and Ms Regan.

Annabelle Ewing and Jim Fairlie abstained.

The Bill will be in front of MSPs again soon when amendments to the legislation will be discussed.

During last week's debate, Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government insisted that the bill could have no impact on the Equality Act 2010 as it was a reserved matter.

She told MSPs: "Helping one group to better access their rights does not mean diluting or diminishing the rights of another group.

"We have set out why the bill will not change the provision of single-sex services or the arrangements with regard to prisons or sport, because none of those is dependent on possession of a GRC.

"That view is supported by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.

"I am glad that the majority of members of the [Scottish Parliament's Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice] Committee have also concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that the rights of women and girls are impacted negatively by the bill."

Over the weekend, Harry Potter author JK Rowling praised Ms Regan for quitting her government post.

She told her 13.9m followers: “This is what a principled politician looks like. @AshtenRegan will rightly be seen as a heroine when future generations of Scottish women look back at the profoundly misogynistic legislation currently being pushed through by the Sturgeon government.”

The SNP has been approached for comment.