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I felt demonised by my own party because I just wouldn't 'wheesht'

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 31st May 2024

Yesterday saw the publication of a book which chronicles the long running campaign to protect women's sex-based rights in Scotland.  In “The Women Who Wouldn’t Wheesht” more than thirty women tell their personal stories.  I am proud to be one of them.  My fellow authors include famous established writers such as JK Rowling, respected journalists like former MSP Joan McAlpine and Mandy Rhodes, Labour, Tory, SNP and Alba politicians, and survivors of male abuse who have written anonymously about their experience of being rejected as witnesses by the Holyrood committee that scrutinised the plans for gender recognition reforms.

The anonymous writer known as @Dis_critic on X also explains why she came up with the phrase “Women Won’t Wheesht”. Her phrase sums up the fight against efforts to silence women who wish to question or scrutinise a variety of policies pushed by determined lobbyists who believe that gender identity is more important than sex, that anyone should be able to self-identify into the opposite sex and that women must accept men who do so as women without question.  It is a fight which is still taking place, but which is beginning to be won.

This ideology has taken root in public institutions not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom including our police, our prosecution service, our courts, our prisons, our schools, colleges and universities, our political parties, and our parliament.   Most shamefully it has taken root in organisations set up by women for women such as Women's Aid and Rape Crisis. Just last week an employment tribunal found that a woman was bullied out of her job at Edinburgh Rape Crisis (ERC) for questioning an approach which put adherence to this ideology above the needs of the female victims of male violence who Rape Crisis was set up to serve.  This happened on the watch of a man who self-identifies as a woman appointed as Chief Executive of ERC despite the position being advertised as a job for a woman.  Many are asking why this person is still in their job.

Women have been called “hateful” for questioning this ideology. Grassroots groups like For Women Scotland and LGB Alliance set up by lifelong feminist and lesbian activists have been maliciously labelled as “Hate Groups.” Statements of biological fact such as the statement that a woman is an adult human female have been described as “hate speech”.  Accusations of transphobia have been used to silence perfectly reasonable concerns, women have been removed from social media platforms, had websites and social media forums shut down, been bullied and harassed at work, lost jobs and even been arrested, questioned and prosecuted for speech that was perfectly lawful.

Under the influence of lobby groups like Stonewall and the Equality Network organisations adopted policies and guidance which prevented people using ordinary language about the sexes. It was said that there should be “no debate”. Proposals were made for new laws on hate crimes that could have criminalised those who held the view that sex was more important than gender.

The story of how this came about in Scotland and the story of the fight to resist it is a cautionary tale from which we all must learn.

The editors who had the excellent idea of putting this book together are journalist Susan Dalgety and policy analyst Lucy Hunter Blackburn.  My co-author and former SNP activist Caroline McAllister has pointed out that women's history is rarely recorded by those present and that alone is enough to justify this important book.  However, it is also important because the story of what happened to these women for speaking up for the rights of women and girls and for the rights of lesbians does not reflect well on how we do politics in Scotland and politicians of all parties need to read it and learn the lessons.

I have written a chapter about what happened to me when I spoke out. It tells how I was demonised, ostracised, bullied, and harassed for speaking up for the rights of women and lesbians and how I had to fight against attempts to have me suspended or expelled from the SNP.  It does not reflect well on those who did the bullying or on the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon who famously said the views of women like me were “not valid” and tried to brand us a racists and homophobes as well as transphobes.

People sometimes ask me why I have stayed in the SNP despite this treatment. The answer is quite simple. Firstly, one should never give in to bullies. Secondly, the SNP was founded by intellectuals, artists, poets, and thinkers. The lack of debate and the Stalinist adherence to the leadership line which was expected in the Sturgeon years would have been anathema to them.  Thirdly, I knew that this ideology had been adopted without any proper debate or discussion in the party and that many activists and members were very unhappy about it although they were afraid to say so.  Finally, I knew that the policies being advanced would be damaging to my party and my country as well as women, girls and LGB people and I felt it was my duty to stay and fight against them. I still do.

I am pleased that under the leadership of Humza Yousaf and now John Swinney steps have been taken to distance the SNP from Nicola Sturgeon’s approach on this issue, to encourage respectful debate and an end to the demonising of women who dare to dissent.  I am hopeful that things will now start to improve in the SNP.

However, the lessons which need to be learned from this book go way beyond the SNP.  Politicians from all political parties demonised the Women Who Wouldn’t Wheesht while lionising trans activists some of whom subsequently turned out to have rather unsavoury histories. And yes, Alex Cole Hamilton, I am thinking of you.  The Scottish Green party, unable to cope with the fact that the tide is turning on this ideology, recently expelled several longstanding activists for daring to speak up for women’s rights.

There are also lessons to be learned for the Scottish parliament particularly as it approaches its 25th anniversary and for candidates in the UK General Election. Shallow virtue signalling is no substitute for evidence-based policy making.   Human rights are universal. Sometimes rights conflict, compromise is necessary but compromises that destroy the rights of one group in favour of another are unfair. There is no hierarchy of protected characteristics under the Equality Act and care must be taken to ensure that policy and legislation does not discriminate against one protected characteristic such as sex or sexual orientation in favour of another such as gender reassignment. Safeguarding matters should never be ignored.

Parliamentary committees whose job it is to scrutinise legislation should not be made up of partisan zealots who are only interested in one side of the argument. Parliamentarians are elected to legislate for all, to sift complex information and to weigh difficult choices. We need people in our parliaments who are prepared to do that and who won’t just follow party or lobbyists lines without demur.

Above all, Scotland needs to do politics better in future.