'Unhelpful' Greens are polarising trans debate, says Anas Sarwar

Anas Sarwar has accused a Green minister of polarising the transgender debate and using language that "pushes people to extremes".

The Scottish Labour leader said comments by Lorna Slater were "very, very unhelpful".

Ms Slater, the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, recently sparked a row after comparing those with “anti-trans” views to racists and anti-Semites.

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Critics accused her of equating “those who have legitimate concerns over the impact of this legislation on women’s rights and safety with racists” and said her remarks arguably amounted to a breach of the ministerial code.

Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, who is also a Scottish Government minister

Ms Slater and fellow Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie are both ministers in the Scottish Government following a co-operation agreement with the SNP.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Mr Sarwar said it was “very easy for Lorna Slater and the Greens to think that the twittersphere or social media represents the real world”.

He added: “I think that there are lots of people who are well-intentioned, who want us to come to a sensible place that recognises the need to protect women's rights and also at the same time give greater protections to people who are the victims of transphobia.

"I think to polarise the debate in the way that Lorna Slater has done, I think is very, very unhelpful and pushes people to extremes in a way that is unnecessary."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently backed Ms Slater, accusing critics of mischaracterising her comments.

Ms Slater had said in an interview: “We wouldn’t put balance on the question of racism or antisemitism.

“But we allow this fictional notion of balance when it comes to anti-trans [views]. The whole thing is disgusting.”

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The Scottish Government is seeking to reform the Gender Recognition Act to simplify the process for a trans person to legally change their gender.

Current rules require individuals to obtain a medical diagnosis and spend a minimum of two years living as their chosen gender.

Supporters say the move will streamline a process many find distressing, but critics have raised concerns self-identification will undermine women’s sex-based rights, such as access to women-only spaces.

Mr Sarwar said it was "undoubtedly” a difficult debate featuring “strong opinions”.

He said: "We've got to protect sex-based rights, and at the same time we've got to make sure we're counteracting transphobia.

"And I've never been the kind of politician that likes to pit community against community or minority against another minority, or minority against majority even, in some cases.

"It's about how we build understanding, but we do so in a way that we go through the legislative process, so we have a robust piece of legislation that challenges the complexities but also busts some of the myths, and we do it in a way that we can build a fairer, more equal society at the same time, and not pitting community against community."

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Asked if his party will allow a free vote on the issue in Holyrood, to avoid repercussions if MSPs go against the party whip, Mr Sarwar said he hoped “we can try and find a form of consensus”.

A spokesman for the Scottish Greens said: “Mr Sarwar has deliberately misinterpreted what was said, which was about the nature of discourse in the media.

"The Scottish Greens are clear that discussions surrounding gender recognition reforms must be respectful and free from bigotry which denies the existence of trans people or portrays them as predators.”

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