THE independent Scotland that we are building must have equality and liberation at its heart.

Last week I announced my first Private Members Bill for this parliamentary term. With cross-party support I was proud to announce that I would be lodging a bill to create “buffer zones” around sexual health clinics and medical facilities that provide abortions.

This follows a growth of “vigils” by anti-choice campaigners. These are when a group of people set up outside a medical facility, often with leaflets and graphic pictures, to intimidate and harass people who are using the facilities.

It is disgraceful that a bill like this is needed in the first place. Access to healthcare is a right and nobody should be discouraged from attending appointments or have to navigate ugly banners or have their privacy invaded in order to access it.

Buffer zones are not a new idea and have already been introduced in Canada, Australia and some parts of England. They have provided protection and reassurance for medical staff and women accessing services.

READ MORE: Buffer zones at abortion clinics cannot be enforced by councils say legal experts

The Programme for Government for this coming year, which my Green colleagues and I influenced and supported, included a commitment to support any local authority which wishes to establish bylaws to create protest-free buffer zones outside clinics.

However, we have reached a legal impasse between the Scottish Government and local authorities about where the powers for change lie. I don’t want more women or people who are pregnant to have to face so-called vigils while waiting

for politicians to determine who has the power to act. We can’t keep passing it around. We need to break the logjam.

My other concern with the local authority approach is that leaving it to councils to implement buffer zones could result in a postcode lottery, whereby some people are able to access abortion services without fear of harassment, but others are not.

The right of women to healthcare and privacy are non-negotiable. That same security and peace of mind should exist in all parts of our country. That is why I agree with groups like Back Off Scotland who are leading calls for a national approach.

Unfortunately the resurgent anti-choice campaign is not the only regressive and reactionary campaign that is feeling empowered at the moment.

Over the last few years, Scotland has seen a disgraceful and cynical campaign of misinformation and abuse being waged against our LGBTQ+ community. Our trans siblings in particular have been under attack and have borne the brunt of well-funded and co-ordinated smears and hate campaigns.

The lies and abuse are not only coming from fringe voices on the internet. They are being whipped up and shared by far too many, including celebrities, mainstream journalists and politicians.

They may have loud voices and big platforms. But they cannot stop us. Trans rights are human rights and this Parliament will finally pass long overdue reforms to the Gender Recognition Act to allow self-identification while expanding access to trans healthcare services.

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At present, people awaiting surgery are having to wait for up to three years for appointments. Over the course of this parliament we will reduce waiting times and take them down to national waiting times standards.

We will also end the scourge of so-called conversion therapy. It is an incredibly harmful and degrading practice that targets LGBTQ+ people, especially when they are at their most vulnerable, and tells them that they should be ashamed of who they are.

More and more countries are taking steps to ban these interventions. Scotland should join them in taking the step and showing solidarity with our LGBTQ+ communities.

The bigotry and abuse that we are challenging can have devastating consequences. Tomorrow is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day the honours and remembers the people whose lives were lost to transphobic violence.

The independent Scotland we are building must be a better one for all of us. It must have liberation at its core and equality at its heart. We cannot simply entrench the existing inequalities.

Independence is vital, but it is not an end in itself. When I think of the country I want us to build, it is one that is at the forefront of progressive and inclusive change and a world leader when it comes to equality.

For generations, LGBTQ+ activists led the way in campaigning for change. And they still are through groups like End Conversion Therapy and Stonewall. The successful campaigns to scrap Section 28, equalise the age of consent and secure equal marriage are a sign of how far we have come.

​READ MORE: Expert group to advise Scottish Government on conversion therapy ban

But the fact that we are in 2021 and there are still politicians who are opposed to basic and long-overdue changes like ensuring unimpeded access to healthcare and ending “conversion therapy” is a sign that there is still some distance to go.

I will be proud when I lodge my Members’ Bill to secure buffer zones and when I campaign and vote to support rights for LGBTQ+ people. But I wish that it wasn’t necessary. This Parliament should be leading the way in positive and progressive change, not having to battle for rights that should already be non-negotiable.

When I think of the unnecessary pain and suffering that people have endured for so long I know that things need to change. I want future generations to grow up in a country, and in a world, where they can live without fear of bigotry and be themselves.

The fact that a statement like that could even be controversial is heart-breaking. But it deepens my resolve that this parliamentary session will make history and take a huge leap towards the fair, equal and independent Scotland that we want to see.