NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to launch an official investigation into claims Lorna Slater broke the Ministerial Code by comparing critics of plans to reform Scotland’s gender recognition laws to racists and anti-Semites.

At least three complaints have been sent to the First Minister over the comments made in an interview with the Herald on Sunday.

The row risks overshadowing today’s launch of the Scottish Green’s manifesto for next month’s council elections.

Ms Slater, who is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, was described by one Tory MSP as a “radical extremist”.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government tabled new legislation to simplify the process for a trans person to obtain a certificate legally recognising their acquired gender.

Currently, they need a medical diagnosis and a two-year period of living as that gender.

However, the new proposals would remove the need for medical assessment, and allow someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate through self-declaration after six months. It also sees the minimum age for gender recognition changes fall by two years to 16.

Some feminist campaigners have raised concerns that the legislation could have an impact on the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act.

They have also expressed fears the change in law could potentially place women in danger from men who might abuse a self-identification system. This has been rejected by the First Minister. 

The legislation will almost certainly pass through Parliament, but the SNP leader is bracing herself for a sizeable rebellion, with around 10 of her MSPs likely to oppose. Some Labour MSPs will also likely vote against the reforms.

Last month, Shona Robison, the SNP minister responsible for steering the legislation through Holyrood, called for a respectful debate, telling MSPs: “I understand the views and concerns of those who opposed the reforms.

“Just because they disagree with the proposals, people should not be automatically labelled as transphobic. If everyone is respectful, we should all be able to discuss the proposals and views in a civilised manner. It is important that we try to build consensus.”

In her interview, Ms Slater said that the BBC had only recently stopped giving a platform to climate-change deniers because they required balance. “We wouldn’t put balance on the question of racism or anti-Semitism, but we allow this fictional notion of balance when it comes to anti-trans [views]. The whole thing is disgusting,” Ms Slater said.

The minister also claimed that some of the opposition to the reform was being funded by money “from certain right-wing American groups that’s been flooding into organisations in the UK”.

Ms Slater added that trans candidates standing for the Scottish Greens in the council elections are “genuinely afraid for their safety”.

She said: “It’s been absolutely heartbreaking, awful, hideous... these gentle, hardworking women are being portrayed as if they’re inherently dangerous. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

After Ms Slater’s interview appeared, Tory MSP Brian Whittle tweeted: “There should be no place in Government for this kind of radical extremism. Surely she must be removed from post? How many times is this SG minister going to get away with this kind of offence?”

The SNP MP Joanna Cherry tweeted: “Scotland deserves better than this.”

Policy analysts, MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, who have been high-profile critics of certain aspects of the Gender Recognition Act’s reforms, have asked Ms Sturgeon to instruct Ms Slater to “apologise and withdraw these remarks”.

In a statement, co-signed by Fair Play for Women, For Women Scotland, Women and Girls in Scotland, and Woman’s Place UK, and sent to the First Minister, they said: “As women with well-documented concerns about the Scottish Government’s plans to legislate for the self-declaration of sex, we are deeply dismayed at the recent comments made by [Ms Slater] likening us to racists, anti-Semites, and climate-change deniers.

“Ms Slater has also suggested that women with concerns about these proposals should be censored in the media. These remarks are no way to conduct a democratic debate on public policy and fly in face of the call for a ‘respectful debate’ made by the cabinet secretary for social justice on March 3. By intervening in this way, Ms Slater demeans the serious office she holds.”

They also said it was “wholly untrue” that they were funded by right-wing American groups.

Meghan Gallacher, the Scottish Conservatives gender reform spokeswoman, and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the Chair of Alba, have both written to the First Minister to make a formal complaint and asked her to refer Ms Slater’s comments to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code.

In her letter, Ms Ahmed-Sheikh said: “As a woman of colour, who has been subjected to racism throughout my entire life, I find it abhorrent that Ms Slater believes those of us that do not support your legislative agenda, and wish to defend the sex-based rights of women, are ourselves somehow akin to racists or anti-Semites.”

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh said the “slight by Ms Slater on women across Scotland is a breach of the code”, pointing to rules on committing ministers to maintaining “high standards of behaviour” and treating “all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is broad consensus that transphobia should have no place in modern Scotland.

“Ms Slater was explicitly and solely referring to transphobes when she said some people were trying to portray trans women as if they were all ‘inherently dangerous’ and sought to make the point that people who espouse such views should not be given a platform to do so.

“At no point did she suggest that anyone engaging in respectful discussion about reform of the GRA should be excluded from the debate.”