August 16, 2023 - 10:00am

Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf, wants to make the world safer for women. He’s said so in a hand-wringing opinion piece this week for the Guardian. He’s horrified by reports of women being stalked, abused, raped and murdered, and he’s going to do something about it. “Men cannot be passive bystanders when it is our actions that are causing such pain, suffering and misery,” he declares.

The pain of being punched in the face for supporting women’s rights, for instance? The suffering that comes from being locked up in a women’s prison with a convicted rapist? Or the misery of being forced to refer to the man who attacked you as “she” in court because he “identifies” as a woman?

Of course not. Giving a woman a black eye results in nothing worse than a caution in Scotland, it seems, if the woman in question happens to be a “terf”. And Scottish prisons policy allowed even violent male offenders to demand transfers to the female estate until January this year, when a disbelieving public was confronted with photographs of “Isla Bryson” arriving at court in a blond wig.

Bryson, who is a trans-identified double rapist, only managed to spend one night in a women’s prison before being transferred to the male estate. His case exposed the extraordinary extent of institutional capture by gender ideology in Scotland, all of it done apparently without a moment’s thought for the impact on women. Politicians from Yousaf’s own party, the SNP, have appeared at rallies next to signs calling for violence against women, claiming that they didn’t notice messages such as “decapitate terfs”.

This is blatant misogyny, making the public space even more unsafe for women, but Yousaf’s article has nothing to say about it. He goes instead for an easy target, the influencer Andrew Tate, who is currently awaiting trial in Romania on charges of rape and trafficking. 

Yousaf denounces Tate as the type of celebrity misogynist who influences men and boys in Scotland, but he doesn’t even mention the raging gynophobia of trans activists who have enjoyed easy access to the Scottish Government for years. They have influenced everything from the aforementioned prisons policy to legislation, with ministers falling over themselves to introduce self-ID at the end of last year despite the obvious risks it poses to vulnerable women.

“As men, we must listen,” Yousaf says in the Guardian, but there is no evidence that he (or indeed the leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar) is listening to women who offer a compelling critique of the reckless Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The most minimal safeguards were voted down during the Bill’s passage at Holyrood, with supporters flatly denying that predators would ever take advantage of the legislation to get access to vulnerable women. Or “identify” as women in order to serve their sentence in a less scary environment. 

You don’t make women safer by allowing men into those spaces, even if they claim to be women. Nor can you expect to be taken seriously if you bang on about “toxic masculinity” while refusing to recognise what’s staring you in the face. 

Politicians don’t get to pick and choose which types of misogyny, and which aspects of male violence, are beyond the pale. Trans activism has created a tidal wave of woman-hating — and the targets are the very campaigners for women’s safety that Yousaf should be listening to.

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.