August 9, 2023 - 10:00am

Does the SNP approve of abusing women? Opponents of the party’s extreme views on transgender rights have long highlighted the poor quality of debate in Scotland, but remarks by a leading SNP politician provide dramatic evidence of a hostile climate towards outspoken women. Mhairi Black, Deputy Leader of the party at Westminster, has dismissed women who disagree with her views on transgender rights as “50-year-old Karens”. 

Speaking at the Edinburgh Fringe, she compared feminists who oppose gender ideology to “white supremacists”, also repeating the slur that opposition to the demands of trans activists is financed by the religious Right. “When you start tracing it back, the money always links back to fundamental Christian groups in America, Baptist groups, anti-abortion organisations,” she claimed. 

This is a smear, and one which exposes the degradation of political discourse in Scotland, where the SNP’s rage at being frustrated in its attempt to pass controversial legislation allowing self-ID appears to have driven some members of the party beyond rational thought.

With honourable exceptions such as Black’s Westminster colleague Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s behaviour has come to resemble that of a religious sect. Either you agree that human beings can change sex, and should be allowed to do so legally even if they have been charged with rape, or you are beyond the pale — a “bad actor”, to quote Black.

A belief in biological sex is now heresy in nationalist circles. Black made one concession, acknowledging that people should be allowed to hold different views from herself, but only as long as they don’t express them. Asked whether someone with a different philosophical position on gender could be “thoroughly decent”, she said to applause, “if you keep it to yourself, aye”.

Black’s remarks were apparently delivered without irony, even though she has blamed a “toxic” culture at Westminster for damaging her mental and physical health. She is standing down as an MP at the next general election after being elected at the age of 20 in 2015. Now 28, she is evidently one of those people who think the name “Karen” is an insult — and that reaching 50 is a poor lifestyle choice.

One of her predecessors as deputy leader at Westminster, Kirsty Blackman, caused hilarity during a debate on the 2010 Equality Act earlier this year when she told MPs she did not have a clue what her chromosomes are. “I have a fair idea of what my genitals look like and how they compare with how other people’s look,” she added, helpfully.

Some observers might think it is a bit rich for a party represented by such confused and incoherent people to pass judgement on the rest of us. But it is much worse than that. The SNP now promotes magical thinking, expecting everyone to go along with its belief that men can become women simply by saying so. It’s telling that Black singled out older women for her vile comments, recycling centuries of prejudice that allowed them to be characterised as witches.

This is pure misogyny, expressed in language designed to silence and shame women who hold perfectly rational views. A feminist organisation, For Women Scotland, has suggested that Black’s comments call into question her fitness for office. But the SNP leadership has bigger questions to answer. Are they going to repudiate Black’s repellent views? Or is misogyny now official party policy?

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.