AT SNP conference last weekend the party elected, amidst some tension, a new Women’s Convenor.

It’s not necessary to offer an assessment of the suitability of any of the candidates to observe that many votes appear to have been cast with only one issue in mind, that of the reaction to the proposed Gender Recognition Act, and to express concern at this.

The remit of Women’s Convenor extends far beyond this issue, which unfortunately remains unresolved by the result. I hope that the new convenor will reach out to those who feel they’ve lost a battle with her election and engage them in positive debate, because the discussion up to now has been characterised by appalling behaviour on both sides.

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I hesitate to call it a debate, as many of the tactics used have been designed precisely to stifle debate. I’m fed up with seeing that video of some Canadian masturbating in a public toilet posted online as if it is incontrovertible evidence of the harm self-ID will wreak on our society. Exposing yourself in public won’t suddenly become legal as a result of self-ID, for anyone, trans or not. The person in this video is not representative of any group other than creeps, and to suggest otherwise is bigoted. Trans people are an incredibly vulnerable minority, who, it shouldn’t need to be said, overwhelmingly don’t masturbate in public places; it is time they received some attention from activists and legislators. Those seeking to improve their situation are not misogynists, because this isn’t a choice between women and trans people.

The pro-self-ID squad are unfortunately behaving just as dimly as their opponents. Simply shouting “transwomen are women” isn’t the zinger of an argument many of them think it is; it is, at best, a football chant, designed to galvanise those already in agreement whilst drowning out opponents. Smearing people as transphobes for simply asking questions of a piece of legislation is lazy and unfair too.

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Both sides issued pledges for candidates to sign, as flags to rally round and blunt instruments to batter opponents with. I stood for NEC but refused to sign either. Signing or not signing marked you out as a transphobe or a misogynist and it was an unfair position to put people in. The veiled threats towards those who didn’t sign absolutely appalled me and amounted to nothing more than another attempt to stifle debate and dehumanise opponents.

I could go on listing the examples of smear and bullying I’ve seen from both sides but people involved in the independence movement should, frankly, know better. Every time you’ve been called a Nazi, or accused of hating the English, you are subject to the same tactics from Unionist opponents as both sides are using in this debate. No reasonable person is obliged to listen to a Nazi, or a misogynist or a transphobe; these people are beyond the pale and they don’t deserve a hearing or a debate, we can cast their views aside. It’s easier to dehumanise and delegitimise our opponents than engage with their concerns, and often this behaviour masks our unwillingness, or inability, to compromise or respect opposing views.

The GRA has been popped off for consultation, and for all its importance I am glad if we can have a break from it for a while. Both sides should use this time for some self-reflection and consider how they will seek to bring opponents along with them. I don’t envy the new Woman’s Convenor, and if we view this election as a victory for some and a defeat for others then we are doomed to continue attacking each other and we will let women and trans people down in the process. The GRA has, rightly or wrongly, triggered a wider-ranging debate than its own provisions deal with, and to do it justice we all must be prepared to listen, to compromise and to approach our opponents with patience and positive regard. In short, it’s time for both sides to wind their necks in.

David Tam McDonald