NICOLA Sturgeon has responded to reports voters were being turned away from the SNP over Scotland’s gender recognition reform row and insisted backing the bill was “right”.

Over the weekend, a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times reported the First Minister’s personal approval rating had dropped into negative territory (+7 to -4), her net favourability was at its lowest (-32) and showed support for Scottish independence fell from 53% to 47% amongst respondents.

It comes after the UK Government blocked Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from becoming law, and as the story of transgender rapist Isla Bryson and which part of the prison estate she should be housed in gathered more attention and criticism was levelled at the FM for her handling of the case.

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The Bryson row dominated a conference held by Sturgeon on Monday allowing Scottish journalists to ask her questions on any topic, but she also spoke to queries on if SNP members critical of the reforms should have to leave the party, the looming teacher strikes on Tuesday, and issues around alcohol advertising.

Asked if the gender reforms had damaged her personally, the SNP and the independence cause, as suggested in the poll, the FM said she was “always cautious” as they can work both ways.

She said: “As far as I'm concerned the relevant factor here is that the individual is a rapist and has been dealt with within the prison service accordingly and that is appropriate. In terms of polls about party, personal ratings - polls go up and down.

“I've been doing this for a long time now, as you all know, I've seen polls go up, I've seen polls go down.

The National: A recent YouGov poll suggested the FM's popularity rating had plumettedA recent YouGov poll suggested the FM's popularity rating had plumetted

“What I would say about recent polling over the weekend is what I think you are, and I stress it’s your words not mine, describing as not the best ever poll for the SNP still puts the SNP significantly ahead of any other party in Scotland I think would lead, if there was an election for either Westminster or Scottish Parliament tomorrow, lead to as winning a landslide victory.

“And in a Westminster context lead to both Douglas Ross and Alister Jack losing their seats.

“So, you know, I think perhaps that gives a bit of perspective to the polls that you're asking me about.”

During the press conference, the FM was asked on numerous occasions if Bryson is a “man or a woman” and if what she had said on the issue had led to the drop in the polls as the issue had caused concern in the public.

She said she believed voters are “capable” of listening to her and “making their own minds up”, before adding that there are individuals in every minority group who do wrong, and Bryson’s case should not be used to “take rights away from the whole group”.

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“I think that is a really important principle in any society, and in any democracy,” Sturgeon added.

The First Minister was later asked by the Financial Times if she feared she had spent her “political capital” defending the gender reform policy and if she would do it again.

Sturgeon said that during her time as a politician she has become more convinced she should “be driven by what you think is right”.

She added that the issue for her wasn’t “ideology”, but to make life easier for a “very, very small group in our society”.

The FM added: “Now, it's important that we do that without infringing on the rights of other groups and I believe that legislation passed in Parliament before Christmas struck the right balance.

“Obviously, it's not in force yet because of the reasons we are aware of but I believe parliament was right to pass the legislation.”

Critics of the gender reforms within the SNP should not have to leave the party, Sturgeon also told journalists, adding that disagreements were “internal party democracy”.

It comes after Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said rebels who voted against the reforms should “question” if they want to stand for the SNP at the next election, following comments made by SNP MP Alyn Smith that politicians who disagree with the policy should stand down.

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SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who has campaigned against the reforms, said she would not be leaving the party in response to Smith’s comments.

Asked if politicians should be standing down from the SNP if they disagreed with the Scottish Government’s stance, she said: “No I don’t.”

Sturgeon said that for every party, there is a general expectation that politicians will stand on its platform.

She added: “Equally, in probably every party that is a democracy in every democracy in the world, there are individuals who can’t accept the position on particular issues and vote accordingly.

“That is internal party democracy. It may be rare in the SNP, it is rare in the SNP but nevertheless I think we should see it in that way.”

The National: The FM was also asked about looming teacher strikesThe FM was also asked about looming teacher strikes

The FM also said her position on challenging Section 35 had not changed, saying it is important to have “clarity” on the circumstances in which it can be used.

It comes as Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is doing “everything in our power” to avoid the need to use contingency plans for dealing with any disruption to exams due to industrial action from teachers.

Sturgeon said the contingency plans would be set out in full if required, but stressed she wanted to reach an agreement with teaching unions to ensure they are not. However, she added any agreement would involve compromise on both sides and needed to be fair and affordable.

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And following an outcry from the drinks industry around alcohol advertising plans under consideration by the Scottish Government, the FM said she will “carefully consider” the issues around the policy.

She stressed the need to take “responsible steps to protect public health” and insisted there was evidence that adverts which “glamorise” drinking could lead to “over-consumption of alcohol”.

The measures under consideration could see a ban on booze sponsorship at sports and live events, leading to over 100 firms which produce alcohol - including the Budweiser Brewing Group, Lanson Champagne, Diageo, Whyte & Mackay and Tennent’s Lager - signing a letter to Scottish ministers.