Amending controversial gender reforms would be “dancing to Westminster’s tune”, Humza Yousaf has said as he clashed with fellow SNP leadership candidates on the issue.
The UK Government for the first time used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was passed in December.
Mr Yousaf is the only candidate in the race who has pledged to fight the order in court, with Kate Forbes saying she would look to amend the Bill to prevent further blocking and Ash Regan saying she would – if there was a desire from the country to do so – put it to a citizens assembly.
The health secretary voted in favour of the Bill, while Ms Regan quit her government post in protest over the proposed changes and Ms Forbes was on maternity leave – although later said she would have voted against the legislation.
The trio clashed on the issue during a debate on LBC on Monday.
The Health Secretary described Ms Forbes’ plan as “bizarre”, adding: “I don’t understand why any SNP leader would look to simply dance to Westminster’s tune and amend the legislation.”
Mr Yousaf likened the experience of transgender people with his own as an ethnic minority, saying: “My rights don’t exist in some sort of vacuum, they are completely interdependent on your rights and all we’re trying to do with the GRR Bill is make life that little bit easier for probably one of the most marginalised, stigmatised groups in the entire country.”
On Ms Regan’s plan to use a citizens assembly to come to a conclusion on the issue, Mr Yousaf said: “As a Muslim, my rights have been under attack for many years and particularly post 9/11.
“I can’t imagine somebody saying ‘you know what, forget what you guys think let’s just throw this out to the public in a citizens assembly and everyone else in the public can determine what your rights should be’.”
Mr Yousaf went on to say his “first principle” would be to fight the veto, but Ms Regan said she was “almost 100% certain that we will lose” the case.
In a testy exchange between the two, Mr Yousaf repeatedly asked what legal advice Ms Regan was basing her statement on, but the former minister did not say.
On the same issue, Ms Forbes – who has previously told journalists she would have voted against the Bill in December – said she believes the Gender Recognition Act should be reformed to become less “onerous” for applicants, adding: “I’ve said that if we were an independent country, we’d have to sort this out ourselves anyway.
“So, rather than go to court as the first port of call, I think court should always be your last port of call, once you’ve seen the legal advice.
“I’m not spoiling for the fight just for the sake of it.
“I actually want us to get to a position where we have a Bill that works, that reforms the Gender Recognition Act, and also provides that confidence.”