Who is Ash Regan? SNP leadership candidate hoping to replace Nicola Sturgeon in election

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Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Regan is in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister

Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Regan is launching her bid for the SNP leadership today (Friday, 24 February), as nominations close for candidates in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Regan, who is up against Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, has been an MSP for seven years. She is probably best known for resigning from her job as a Scottish Government minister in protest at the gender reform legislation introducing self-ID for trans people wanting to change their legal gender. And that issue will be a key part of her leadership campaign as she pledges not to pursue a legal challenge to the UK Government’s use of a Section 35 order to stop the Bill passed at Holyrood from becoming law.

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But Ms Regan also has a bullish stance on independence, arguing that with UK governments refusing to allow a referendum, the SNP should take a majority of votes at an election as a mandate to start negotiations. And ahead of her campaign launch, she said in an interview she wanted to reconstitute the Yes campaign from the 2014 referendum and “get the band back together”.

Ash Regan resigned as Community Safety Minister over gender reform, which is likely to be a key issue in her campaign.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.Ash Regan resigned as Community Safety Minister over gender reform, which is likely to be a key issue in her campaign.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Ash Regan resigned as Community Safety Minister over gender reform, which is likely to be a key issue in her campaign. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Who is Ash Regan? Career in politics

Ash Regan was born in Glasgow, but moved with her family to Devon when she was 10. She studied International Relations at Keele University and then went into public relations in London before getting married and moving back to Scotland in 2003. She has twin boys and is now divorced. She studied Development Management at the Open University and graduated with a Master of Science degree in 2012. Before becoming an MSP she was head of campaigns and advocacy at the Common Weal think-tank.

She became involved in the Yes campaign in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, joining Women for Independence and getting elected to its national committee. She joined the SNP in the wake of the referendum and In August 2015 she was selected as SNP candidate for Edinburgh Eastern at the following year’s Scottish Parliament elections after sitting MSP Kenny MacAskill announced he would be standing down.

Her selection for a constituency which includes some deprived communities proved controversial when it emerged her children were at a private school. But she won the seat with a majority of more than 5,000 over Labour’s Kezia Dugdale. And she doubled her majority when she was re-elected at the last Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021. In June 2018, Ash Regan entered government when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appointed her Communty Safety Minister in a reshuffle. And she was kept in the post after the 2021 elections.

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Ash Regan resignation and Gender Recognition Reform views

In 2019, Ash Regan was one of 15 SNP politicians who urged ministers to delay the controversial gender reform legislation designed to make it easier for transgender people to legally change their gender. And soon afterwards, a Twitter exchange between her and fellow SNP MSPs Gillian Martin and Ruth Maguire was leaked, showing them claiming Nicola Sturgeon was “out of step” with the rest of her party on how trans rights may impact feminism.

On 27 October 2022 Regan resigned her ministerial role rather than vote for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. In her resignation letter, she wrote: "I have considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time. I have concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government at the Stage 1 of the Bill this afternoon. Consequently, I am writing to resign my position in the Scottish Government as Minister for Community Safety.”

She was one of nine SNP MSPs who rebelled over the Bill – seven voted against and two abstained. Launching her leadership campaign, she said: “Women’s rights will never be compromised with me.” And she indicated that, following the UK Government veto, she would allow the legislation to drop. “I would not be progressing the GRR Bill, it’s caused a lot of division, it’s extremely flawed and I wouldn’t want it to take up any more time.”

And she said the recent row over whether trans rapist Isla Bryson should be held in a men’s or a women’s prison. “The public can clearly see the problems with using self-identification in decision making when allocating prisoners. I would be looking to end that policy and hold people according to their birth gender. One of the options would be a trans wing on the prison estate. What I want to do is make sure everybody’s rights are protected. Women prisoners are particularly vulnerable – and putting dangerous, violent sex offenders into the women’s prison state is not a good policy.”

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What has Ash Regan said on Twitter?

After announcing she was standing for the leadership, Ash Regan has kept a low media profile until now. But she has used social media to set out some of her positions on issues. She made clear she believed a majority vote for the SNP in a Holyrood or Westminster election should be taken as a mandate for independence: "50%+1 of combined votes from pro-independence parties in any WM or HR election is a clear instruction from the electorate that we commence withdrawal negotiations from the U.K. Independence - nothing less”.

She also indicated support for North Sea oil and gas workers, tweeting: “I will not support an accelerated net zero path which sees us turn off the North Sea taps, throw 10s of 1000s of oil workers out of jobs, hollow out NE & H&I communities whist still using and importing hydrocarbons. I will stand up for our oil workers and their communities.”

And after the latest delay to the upgrading of the A9, she tweeted: “The dualling of the A9 must be accelerated & A96 must commence without delay. There are too many accidents and near misses. We need these completed to release the full economic potential of the NE and Highlands and to connect communities. This is my #1 infrastructure priority.”

What has Ash Regan said about the 2023 SNP leadership election?

Amid the furore over Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’ comments on same-sex marriage, Ash Regan criticised the way her rival candidate was being treated. She tweeted on February 20: “I am utterly appalled by the misogynistic attacks on Kate Forbes because of her faith. Kate is and always will be a great friend and colleague and it distresses me to witness this. It must stop immediately.”

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And two days later, she called for an end to “mudslinging” between candidates in the race to become the new First Minister. She told STV: “I just want to put out a call for calm with everything that has happened over the past few days.”

What does Ash Regan say about the route to independence?

In an interview ahead of her campaign launch, Ash Regan said she wanted to increase the involvement of the wider Yes movement in the drive for independence and explained her strategy in the face of Westminster refusal to allow Holyrood to hold another referendum.

She said: “In recent years the wider Yes movement has become marginalised in the fight for independence. If elected, I intend to change that. As a party I don’t think we’ve listened enough to the groups who got us here. I know these people because I campaigned side by side with them throughout the first referendum. The party has effectively dismantled the Yes campaign, but I want to reconstitute it once more. I want to get the band back together, if you like.

"We’ve exhausted the legal routes to a referendum and it’s clear that neither the Tories nor a future UK Labour government will grant a Section 30 order. So we must ensure that in any national election – Holyrood or Westminster – at least 50 per cent of votes plus one are cast in favour of independence. This offers the best chance of securing the endorsement of the international community for us to open negotiations directly without a referendum.”