NICOLA Sturgeon has spoken out about accusations of transphobia within the SNP amid reports of young people leaving the party in "significant" numbers over the issue.

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

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 right now but on some days silence is not an option.

"This message was not planned, it's not scripted, I haven't consulted with armies of advisers. That might be obvious. But what you're about to hear comes from my heart. Over the course of the day I've heard reports of young people in significant numbers leaving the SNP.

"I know many of you personally - I consider you friends, I have campaigned alongside you. You are a credit to our party and our country. It grieves me deeply that you've reached this conclusion after much soul searching because you consider at this stage the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people.

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She went on: "It's not acceptable to me. As SNP leader, 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. 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. Transphobia 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 that I am privileged to lead.

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The First Minister continued: "They are also the principles and values that I want to underpin the independent Scotland I've spent my whole life campaigning for. 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 and say it doesn't go far enough or that the words are hollow and unless we prove we mean them and 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 am posting this message and I am grateful to you for listening."