SCOTTISH Labour leader Richard Leonard has thrown his weight behind plans to simplify the process for people to change their gender.

Leonard said he is broadly relaxed about the proposals for “self-identification”, which would scrap the requirement for individuals to obtain a medical diagnosis from a doctor.

However, his stance puts him at odds with some of his left-wing supporters, and his MSPs may get a free vote when it comes to Parliament.

Under legislation from 2004, a man or woman is required to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate before making the change.

A certificate can be granted if a diagnosis of gender dysphoria has been provided, as well as evidence that a person has lived in their acquired gender for two years.

Scottish Government plans would scrap the current system by allowing trans people to self-declare - otherwise known as "self-id" - as another gender.

Critics of the status quo believe the present system is humiliating and Amnesty have stated: “The current process by which trans people have their gender legally recognised is dehumanising, long and costly.”

However, the proposals have angered critics who believe that the rights of women and girls are threatened by a system of self-id.

They fear that women-only spaces, such as toilets, and single sex services could be used by men pretending to be trans women.

Although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon backs the changes, the SNP is deeply split on the issue.

Leonard, whose party is also divided on trans rights, has now echoed the First Minister’s support.

On whether he supports the principle of self-identification for trans people, he told this newspaper: “Yes, I do.”

Asked about the concerns expressed by women’s rights campaigners, he said: “The concern that I have had about the debate is that there has been an attempt to shut down the debate. There needs to be an opportunity for people to air views, to exchange differences that exist, to understand that they are reconcilable. Because I believe they are reconcilable differences.”

He continued by saying self-ID throws up “some issues”, but he added: “I’m broadly relaxed about it.”

Edinburgh University rector Ann Henderson, a left-wing ally of Leonard and a member of Scottish Labour’s governing Executive, was accused of transphobia last year after retweeting details of a meeting on how changes to the GRA could affect women’s rights.

The controversy arose as the meeting was promoted and supported by groups that have been accused of being transphobic.

Stephen Low, a Leonard backer who lost his seat on Scottish Labour’s Executive this year, has tweeted messages that are sceptical of self-ID. The Labour group of MSPs at Holyrood, according to one source, is “split down the middle”.

Scottish Labour's 2016 Holyrood manifesto stated: "We will ensure that Scotland’s transgender communities gain new rights. A Scottish Labour Government will change the law to provide legal recognition for people who do not identify as men or women and remove the psychiatric diagnosis requirement from legal gender recognition process."

Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, said: “We welcome confirmation from Richard Leonard that he supports the self-declaration system for gender recognition. That’s consistent with the Labour, SNP, Green and LibDem Holyrood manifestos in 2016, which all committed to reforming gender recognition law, bringing it up to international best practice.”