Andy Wightman resigns from Scottish Greens
A high profile Scottish Green MSP has quit the party amid accusations that there is a culture of “intolerance” and censorship within the party over the debate surrounding transgender and women’s rights.
Andy Wightman, Green MSP for Lothian, has written a letter to the co-leaders of the party, Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater, submitting his resignation.
In it, he criticises a lack of “open and mature dialogue” on questions around sex and gender and accuses party spokespeople of being “provocative, alienating and confrontational” on the subject.
It follows an argument within the party over an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill debated last week, which sought to replace the word ‘gender’ with ‘sex’ regarding a sexual assault victim’s right to choose their forensic examiner.
The amendment passed by 113 votes to nine. Lib Dem and Green MSPs voted against it, but in his resignation letter Wightman admitted he only did so due to a threat of “complaints and disciplinary action leading to possible suspension, deselection or expulsion”.
He later told Holyrood that he felt “ashamed” and should have voted for the amendment, deciding to resign the following day.
In the letter, he said: “I understand that the Scottish Green Party has a strong commitment to equalities and trans rights.
“However, some of the language, approaches and postures of the party and its spokespeople have been provocative, alienating and confrontational for many women and men.
“It has become evident to me that the sort of open-minded public engagement I would like to see take place on this topic is incompatible with a party that has become very censorious of any deviation from an agreed line.
“Put simply, I cannot operate in this kind of environment and Thursday’s vote and the discussions that took place around it were the final confirmation of that.”
Speaking to Holyrood’s Politically Speaking podcast – to be released on Tuesday – Wightman said being able to discuss and debate a range of issues was important to him because it gave him confidence in his views.
He said: “On this debate, I just haven’t been able to talk it through. I haven’t been able to work out what this is all about because in my party there is a substantial, there’s a very, very censorious attitude.”
Wightman is best known for his work on land reform, as well as being one of the politicians behind the legal case on whether the UK could unilaterally decide to revoke its Article 50 notification on leaving the EU.
He was elected as the second Green MSP for Lothian in 2016 but will sit as an independent until May. He had been placed second again for the 2021 election but will now forfeit that position. It is understood that he is still to decide whether he would stand for re-election as an independent.
Responding to his resignation, a spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: “The Scottish Greens are focused on building a greener and fairer Scotland that tackles the climate emergency, so Andy Wightman’s decision not to be part of our movement anymore is a matter of deep disappointment.
“Land reform, empowering local democracy and community empowerment are core Green issues, and Andy’s contribution has been very important, but the Greens remain committed to carrying on this agenda without him.
“The Scottish Greens wish Andy well in whatever he decides to do next.”
Wightman is considered one of the most able MSPs in the Scottish Parliament with a record for standing up to lobby groups and attention to detail in legislation.
The current bill he is taking through is the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which will give councils clearer powers and protect their status as a separate, autonomous level of government.
Wightman has already faced opposition from the party leadership for expressing some concerns about the lack of debate over the Gender Recognition Act reform and wider issues.
Last year he was reprimanded by the party for attending an event at Edinburgh University called “Women’s Sex-Based Rights”.
The advert for the event said it was to discuss the rights enshrined in the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and whether changing language around sex and gender “ultimately risks undermining the protection of women’s human rights”.
However, the meeting drew criticism and protests from some students and staff who deemed it “anti-trans”. All 12 committee members of the university’s staff LGBT+ network resigned, saying the university was “failing to take a stand against transphobic hate on campus”.
One of the speakers was allegedly verbally abused by a trans activist outside the event. Wightman said on Twitter that he condemned “all such violent incidents but especially when directed at women”. This alerted the party to his attendance at the event and led to complaints being made about it by members.
Wightman faced disciplinary action for attending the meeting and later apologised for upsetting members of his party.