May 2, 2023 - 10:30am

The silence speaks volumes. Where are the politicians showing solidarity with a colleague who has been no-platformed by a leading Edinburgh venue? Joanna Cherry is an Edinburgh MP, a human rights lawyer and a powerful voice for women’s rights. It’s another example of the demonising of women who hold perfectly legitimate views, allowing them to be picked off and isolated from mainstream politics. 

Anyone who claims to believe in basic freedoms should be horrified. So where is Humza Yousaf, leader of the SNP and Cherry’s long-standing colleague? Where is Stephen Flynn, the party leader at Westminster, where Cherry is an MP? The fact that she doesn’t support the SNP’s gender reforms should pale into insignificance when a fellow politician is turned into a hate figure for expressing opinions that are neither illegal nor offensive. 

This is a cross-party issue, affecting elected representatives from other Left-of-centre parties, so where is the outrage from the Labour and Lib Dem leaders in Scotland and the rest of the UK? Even Sir Keir Starmer, who has so signally failed to stand up for one of his own MPs, Rosie Duffield, must by now be aware of what’s going on — and that the law is being broken. 

Starmer is a KC, like Cherry, and leading lawyers have spoken out about the decision to cancel her appearance at The Stand. Roddy Dunlop KC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, wrote on Twitter the decision was “plainly unlawful”. Michael Foran, lecturer in law at the University of Glasgow, agreed that it was “unlawful discrimination”. 

Such things should not be happening in a democratic country, governed by the rule of law. On this occasion, the venue has put out a mealy-mouthed statement, blaming the cancellation on the fact that a number of key staff, including management and box office personnel, “are unwilling to work on this event”. They say they are ensuring that their employees’ views are respected, a position that suggests those views are reasonable.

They are not. Every time this happens, the objections are based on things the victims of no-platforming have not said. None of the individuals who have been targeted, who include poets and authors as well as politicians, have called for legal rights to be removed from transgender people. They have not demanded that trans people should lose their jobs, be prevented from holding meetings or stopped from carrying out academic research. They are simply upholding the rights of another group, women and especially lesbians, to whom all these things are being done in the name of “trans rights”. 

The framing is deliberate because the reality — forcing women to accept biological males in women’s sports, refuges, changing rooms, toilets and prisons — doesn’t sound so appealing. At protests organised by trans activists, we don’t see placards demanding “let men use women’s toilets now” or “make women share cells with rapists”. Instead, we see banners claiming that feminists are calling for “genocide” and comparing a belief in biological sex to Nazi eugenics. 

It couldn’t have happened without the collusion of leading politicians, whose silence in the face of widespread bullying of women undermines their claim to be progressive — or just decent human beings.

Joanna Cherry is one of the bravest, most principled and funniest women I know. The fact that a venue called The Stand hasn’t taken one on her behalf is an indictment of the intolerant culture gripping Scotland, and the political heavyweights throughout the UK who have failed to call it out.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.