SO, the gloves are off. I refer not to the battle to be the SNP’s Edinburgh Central candidate in 2021, which has dominated the pages of this paper for the past week, but another skirmish involving Joanna Cherry MP that might – at first glance – appear unrelated.

Under the heading “Nats feud”, The Sun reported on Tuesday that Mhairi Black had used the weekly meeting of SNP MPs to accuse Cherry of trolling and blocking her on Twitter. The story followed a piece in The New Statesman that characterised the meeting as “an unpleasant and raucous affair” at which members turned on each other and the c-word was thrown around.

The trigger for all this conflict was the much-publicised visit Black made to a Paisley primary school for LGBT History Week, accompanied by a drag queen who goes (when in adult company, at least) by the name of Flowjob. Black responded to the storm by suggesting critics were “pretending to be livid” about the visit, photographs of which were shared on Flowjob’s Instagram account, and added: “Your homophobia is transparent.”

READ MORE: Mhairi Black claims Joanna-Cherry trolled her in drag queen row

Her accusations will have come as little surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the splits of opinion within the SNP over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill – a public consultation on which closes a week on Tuesday. Neither will reports of colourful language at last week’s meeting. In a video published last summer on, a news and entertainment website aimed at young men, Black read out tweets by women concerned about proposals to allow changes of legal sex by a process of self-identification, then gave withering replies.

A message from a woman named Pam read: “I will never accept that I have to share intimate spaces with men, even if they are harmless. It violates my right to privacy as a woman. Why is that not an issue for you?”

Black replied: “Because, Pam, you don’t have the right to be in a room alone, wherever you go. That’s just not how the world works.”

Black ended the video by telling those posting these sorts of tweets: “Just don’t be a Jeremy Hunt.” The mockery and rhyming slang might have gone down well with the website’s target audience, but the insult was a lot less well received by the women who had been raising their concerns about the impact of the proposed legislation. These women include Joanna Cherry.

So when it all kicked off at last week’s meeting, this was the context. Black vs Cherry (below) is not just a personality clash but a battle of ideologies that has become extremely personal and potentially very damaging not just to the SNP but to Scottish politics are a whole. It’s become a cautionary tale showing what can happen when governing politicians dig in their heels, refuse to listen to anyone outside their bubbles, and badly underestimate the potential strength of public opposition to their plans.

The National:

I first wrote about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act back in January 2018, when precious few Scots knew that a public consultation on reforming it was under way. I warned that dissenting voices were being drowned out (sometimes literally), and that our parliamentarians were “happy to listen to women, just so long as it’s clear from the outset those women agree with them”.

Two years on, what has changed? In one respect, precious little. A second consultation was launched in December, but any hopes that this might reflect a shift in stance by the Scottish Government were dashed a month later when Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped it would “allow a proper debate … to convince those who have concerns about the issue that there is not a tension and inevitable conflict between women’s rights and trans rights”.

In other respects, a huge amount has changed. Back in 2018, few male political reporters or commentators would have predicted that this issue would cause so much division within the SNP that the headlines would be shouting “Nats rift” and “Nats feud” in March 2020, when a right-wing Westminster government is in chaos, Scotland is out of the EU and the SNP should be stronger and more unified than ever. It’s a “women’s issue”, after all, and those are niche issues, aren’t they? Never mind the fact that 51% of people in Scotland are female. Never mind that some of us Cassandras were spelling out the risks to women’s rights long before the men caught on that this stuff might actually matter.

Of course, not all women are opposed to the government’s plans: Sturgeon has the backing of Black and plenty of others. But there is a pronounced age divide between the two sides, with middle-aged women increasingly painted as pearl-clutching, out-of-touch conservatives despite the fact that opposition to self-ID is driven by left-wing feminists.

Meanwhile, a small but vocal group of young men in politics have seized the opportunity to coat their misogyny in a progressive veneer.

If the First Minister has a “Plan B” for resolving this conflict, she’s keeping it characteristically close to her chest. Some speculate that the Government might roll back on a plan to allow legal sex changes for 16 and 17-year-olds, in recognition of the specific concerns about young people’s capacity to make such a commitment, while pushing through the rest of the reforms. If that happens, no-one will be happy.

In the wider struggle underpinning Cherry vs Black there will be no winner. This unforced error by the Scottish Government has badly damaged inter-generational relations, allowed smears and slurs to become part of everyday political debate, and turned allies into enemies. We’ve all already lost. What a mess.