February 2, 2021 - 11:00am

The storm that has been gathering within the SNP over transgender rights has now blown up at Westminster with the sacking of Joanna Cherry MP from her front bench role as Spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs.

Cherry’s card has probably been marked for some time. As a vocal critic of plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow self-identification of legal gender, she has upset LGBT activists within the party. But last Tuesday she had the audacity to defend Sarah Phillimore, a fellow lawyer who had been banned by Twitter.

Phillimore is a high-profile critic of self-identification on legal gender, and she has also been outspoken in her opposition to the medicalisation of so-called transgender children. Usually in politics, her opponents would offer counter arguments. But the transgender debate is not normal politics; it is fuelled by rhetoric and emotion, and features ‘cancellation’ rather than discussion. Unless Nicola Sturgeon gets a grip, it risks tearing the SNP apart.

When Out for Independence, the official LGBTQ+ wing of the SNP, attacked the “support given to Sarah Phillimore”, it supplied no evidence to support their accusations of antisemitism or transphobia. Cherry herself described their intervention as “grossly defamatory”. Indeed even Twitter has since had second thoughts, telling Phillimore that, “our support team has reviewed you account and it appears we made an error.”

Sturgeon knows she has a problem. Activists within her party have been entranced by gender identity ideology. Casting aside science, they have tried to be kind to people — like me — who struggle with the expectations placed on us because of our sex. But it isn’t kind to deny truth, and the party is now in a mess.

The SNP government has made concession after concession to the gender identity lobby, and her Scottish Government remains committed to gender self-identification. They redefined “woman” to include anyone who is “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of becoming female”. Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, they remain committed to gender self-identification. But by Wednesday Sturgeon felt she needed to make a personal appeal to party activists. In an unscripted video, she said:

“It grieves me deeply that … you consider at this stage the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people. That is not acceptable to me.”
- Nicola Sturgeon, Twitter

However, she has more to worry about than petulant activists. On Thursday, Kirsty Blackman MP — Cherry’s Westminster colleague — waded into the dispute declaring #IStandWithOFI, seemingly implying that allegations against Phillimore were founded.

When will Sturgeon realise that she can never do enough to satisfy the gender identity lobby? Instead, she needs to be firm, and foster a full debate over policy. Of course, we transgender people should be respected like everyone else, but we should also be subject to challenge like everyone else.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.