Transgender rapist Isla Bryson's removal from Cornton Vale women's prison must mean the end of Nicola Sturgeon's policy of self-ID – Susan Dalgety

The end, when it came, was swift. Within ten minutes of rising to her feet in the parliament chamber on Thursday for First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon had killed off her controversial policy of self-ID.

Pushed by Tory leader Douglas Ross, she admitted, after his fourth question on the subject, that double rapist Adam Graham, now known as Isla Bryson, would be removed from Scotland’s all-female prison immediately.

It was an ignominious end. Her cheeks tinged an angry pink, her lips – as always – pursed in disdain, the First Minister grudgingly read out her script, so carefully crafted by her advisers. “It is my expectation that, before the 72-hour period that Douglas Ross has referred to expires, that prisoner will not be in Cornton Vale prison. I think that, for most reasonable people, that would be a very clear explanation of the situation.”

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What she really meant was that most reasonable Scots had been piqued by the sight of rapist Graham, his shaven head and face tattoo hidden by a cheap blonde wig, masquerading as a woman.

His self-declared transition from male to female had only come after he was charged with double rape in 2020, forcing the judicial system to refer to his genitalia as “her penis”. Graham, dragging a pink trolley case into court every day, became the face of extreme gender ideology and the public did not like what they saw.

Nicola Sturgeon has been well warned that her plans for self-ID – where anyone over 16 could change their legal sex simply by filling in a form – was full of risks. Long before the passage of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill last month, which now languishes in legal limbo after being blocked by the UK government, grassroots women’s rights campaigners, such as For Women Scotland, told the First Minster there was a risk that predatory men would use self-ID to gain access to women’s safe spaces. Her response was to dismiss their concerns as “not valid”.

Rona Hotchkiss, the former governor of all-female prison Cornton Vale, and independent policy experts Murray Blackburn MacKenzie helped expose the experiment that saw the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) accept self-ID from 2014.

Speaking to STV News earlier this week, Hotchkiss said: “The thought that a double rapist can identify his way into a women’s prison should shock everyone. The other shocking aspect of that, of course, is the Scottish Parliament could have chosen to legislate against that happening and they didn’t.”

Isla Bryson, 31, formerly known as Adam Graham, raped two women (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Isla Bryson, 31, formerly known as Adam Graham, raped two women (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Isla Bryson, 31, formerly known as Adam Graham, raped two women (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

Instead, the prison service decided on a case-by-case basis where a trans-identified prisoner should be housed. A male-bodied man did not need a gender recognition certificate to gain access to Cornton Vale – an assertion that he was now a ‘she’ sufficed. In return for its “person-centred approach” the SPS won a special recognition award from pro-trans rights charity Stonewall Scotland.

Even when one of the most famous women in the world, author JK Rowling, spoke out against Sturgeon’s self-ID crusade, the First Minister was unmoved. “I’m a real feminist,” she snarked, in response to Rowling’s assertion that self-ID was “the biggest assault on the rights of Scottish women and girls in her lifetime”. Rowling has since set up Beira’s Place in Edinburgh, a sexual support service for women, run by women.

As Sturgeon surveys the wreckage of the policy she believed would win her international plaudits, but has instead left her humiliated at home, what next for gender reform? A sensible, consensual First Minister would rip up the bill that was passed on December 23 and start again, only this time listening to the public as well as her fan-girls in civil society.

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Society has changed significantly since 2004 when the UK-wide Gender Recognition Act was passed. That law made it easier for the small number of transsexuals in Britain to change their birth certificate.

Sturgeon argued that her reforms were simply an administrative tweak to the 2004 Act. She was disingenuous. Her changes are long-reaching, extending the right to change one’s legal sex to anyone over the age of 16 without even a cursory medical check.

Scotland’s civil society, long cowed by successive SNP governments, queued up to laud Nicola Sturgeon as the queen of kindness. Hordes of young men, dressed as parodies of women, cheered with delight at the prospect of living out their sexual fantasies in real life.

And saddest of all, a growing number of vulnerable young women, terrified of their changing bodies and burgeoning sexuality, believed they could become male because the First Minister said it was possible.

It was all a lie. Human beings cannot change their biological sex. Some people have deeply rooted gender dysphoria that requires medical intervention and – for some – a change to their legal status. The law should be modernised to make the process as easy as possible for them.

But there is no place for self-ID. Women and girls cannot be put at risk, their boundaries swept aside in favour of young men who get a sexual frisson out of wearing pink heels and a slash of red lipstick. Or worse, predatory men who pretend to be something else to carry out their abusive behaviour.

Even after her U-turn on Thursday, the First Minister appeared confused about what was the right approach. She told journalist Lewis Goodall that, “as a general principle, someone who rapes a woman should not be in a women’s prison”, but then qualified her statement by adding, “there’s a danger with a blanket approach because you catch cases that you shouldn’t”.

Nicola Sturgeon has a decision to make. Admit she was wrong, gather people together and craft a bill that serves everyone well. Or she can plough on regardless, and risk being remembered, not as a progressive First Minister, but as a so-called feminist who put the rights of sex offenders before those of women and girls.



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