'That's a cop out!': SNP candidates clash over controversial gender recognition reform in LBC hustings

20 March 2023, 20:07 | Updated: 20 March 2023, 20:17

The party leadership candidates debated gender recognition reforms
The party leadership candidates debated gender recognition reforms. Picture: LBC

By Will Taylor

The SNP leadership candidates have become embroiled in a fresh row about gender recognition reform.

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Speaking during LBC's hustings on Monday evening, Humza Yousaf – seen by critics as the Nicola Sturgeon continuity candidate – said he wanted to see leadership from the party so minority rights, like trans people's, are protected.

Rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan differed, with Ms Forbes saying she did not want to pause the reform but stopped short of backing its continuation in its current form, while Ms Regan said she wanted a "citizen's assembly" to decide the issue.

The party, and Scotland, have been divided over the reforms, which make it easier to change a person's legally recognised gender but led to criticism over whether it could be exploited by sex offenders.

Read more: Iain Dale challenges Kate Forbes on her views about gay rights

The long-running argument reached a critical moment when double rapist Isla Bryson was sent to a women's jail despite having a penis, having said she now identified as a woman.

Mr Yousaf was angered over Ms Regan's position that the reforms would not be allowed in court, with Westminster blocking the legislation, and her questioning of whether a majority of the public even backed it.

"The parliament passed the bill by a majority, Ash. When it comes to the advancing of rights, my goodness, this just demonstrates why as a minority I can speak about this," he said.

"If you expect that in every single case you've got to advance the rights of minorities it should be put to a public vote only, sometimes in a position of leadership you have to demonstrate that leadership.

SNP Leadership Candidate Humza Yousef says his rights have been 'under attack'

"Particularly when it's for the most marginalised communities. You've got to take people on the journey with us, for sure, but you can't just not back the right of minorities because the majority of the public might not back it. That's not leadership, that's a cop out."

His response came after Ms Regan, who quit the Scottish Government over the bill, said she wanted some form of a "citizen's assembly" to develop the way forward in the row.

Ms Regan said: "I don't think we should be spending taxpayer's money on something that the public don't support.

"However, what I've said is this is the ideal type of issue to go to a citizen's assembly so that way the public can look at this issue and if there is a desire for that they can find a way forward."

Ms Forbes, whose views on issues like gay rights have been questioned given her religious views – with the politician insisting she can govern for all Scots – said: "You have to speak to people with lived experience before you make any decision.

"There is quite a few (trans people) I've spoke to… I also spoke to women and girls.

"I think the Gender Recognition Act does need to be reformed. It does need to be reformed in a way that destigmatises the trans community. It is extremely onerous to go through with the process (of transitioning)."

Candidates fielded questions on high profile resignations, including Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon's husband, over membership figures, and a potential investigation into police action over the SNP's finances.

Iain also challenged Ms Forbes over her stance on gay rights, asking if he is a "sinner", with the former Scottish finance secretary claiming she would "defend [people's] rights to live and to love without fear".

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