I HESITATE to mention the Hate Crime Bill. Last month, when I praised the Scottish Government’s free speech amendment to the bill, I unleashed a backlash which led to my removal from the SNP Westminster front bench and a tsunami of abuse including a threat of rape from a fellow party member. That should concern us all.

So should the fact that the amendment was subsequently withdrawn. Some might say what happened proves that those of us concerned about free speech are right to be so. However, a chink of light has appeared with the announcement that, together with opposition parties, the Scottish Government has prepared a new draft free speech amendment which will be discussed at a public roundtable on Monday.

I shall refrain from further comment on this bill until the amendment has been debated, save to say that free speech really does matter. So does the use of language in legislation.

Last week, Westminster debated a bill about maternity leave which didn’t mention women. Given that it is women who give birth and women who benefit from maternity leave, this seemed more than a little odd. A number of MPs from across the chamber raised the bill’s use of language with the Minister leading on the bill. We did not get a satisfactory answer.

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I fear that the drafters of the bill have been influenced by the ideological trend which has seen moves across schools, universities and the NHS to discourage the use of the words “woman” and “lesbian”.

Most women don’t even know that this erasure of their sex class is going on – when they find out they are appalled. They cannot believe it. I believe that it is possible to be inclusive without erasing women and lesbians from the statute book.

The truth is that while sex is binary, gender is fluid. By recognising that, it is possible to be inclusive of trans and non-binary people without removing laws which protect women and lesbians from discrimination.

Those of us who try to warn of the consequences of the erasure of the biological reality of womanhood from legislation are often attacked and misrepresented.

Many politicians are now so in thrall to those who wish to erase women for the purpose of advancing gender identity theory that they call those of us who advocate for women’s sex-based rights transphobic even when we have never done or said anything against equal rights for trans people in our whole lives and even when we were trans allies long before it was fashionable.

It is not transphobic to advocate for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act. It is possible to support both trans people’s rights and women’s rights. Neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other. We can have an inclusive society without doing that.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. These consist of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Under the act, sex is defined as either “a reference to a man or to a woman”.

The UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) tackles discrimination based on sex and defines sex as “the physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males and females”.

Sex is a protected characteristic for very good reason. Discrimination against women is rooted in their biology. That is our lived experience. We saw a very good example of this when Holyrood Magazine published its exclusive poll showing that one-third of MSPs answering their survey had received a death threat.

WHILE both male and female MSPs had received death threats, only female MSPs (29% of them) had received rape threats. Speaking as someone who has received sexualised abuse an threats of sexual violence from young men who seek to deny biology, it seems very ironic that the same men are quick to recognise biology when they are abusing and issuing threats to women.

We need to find a way to be inclusive without erasing women’s biology – and women’s lived experience from the statute book and official guidance. Recently advice was issued to midwives in Brighton that they must refer to “chestfeeding” rather than “breastfeeding". But women are not chest feeders – women have breasts – they feed children with their breasts.

Lesbians are same-sex attracted. We are attracted to women’s bodies not to male bodies. To say we must be attracted to male bodies is homophobic.

The backlash against those who insist that language reflects scientific reality is now so out of control that earlier this week, in the Scottish Parliament, the Justice Secretary felt unable to answer the question of whether the Scottish Government now believes there are more than two sexes, and if so, what they are.

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Based on my own experiences, I understand why Humza Yousaf ducked the question. If he had said there are only two sexes, he would doubtless have been called a transphobe. He might have lost his job and he might have found his personal safety under threat. If he had said that there were more than two sexes, he would have been denying scientific reality and he would have struggled to explain what he meant.

This is not a healthy state of affairs. It is dangerous to subvert reality when we are passing laws to protect our citizens from hate crime or discrimination. If we cannot stand up to bullies when women’s and lesbian rights are on the line, what hope do we have of standing up to the bullies in Boris Johnson’s Government who would seek to deny Scotland the right to self-determination?

I have long warned that if we didn’t tackle the toxicity in the debate around reform of the Gender Recognition Act and the protection of women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act, it would bleed into other areas of our public discourse and damage the cause of independence.

We saw an example of this earlier this week when prospective SNP candidates and employees of the party pilloried a respected disability rights activist from another party. It was not a good look.

It’s time to pull back from the brink and have a respectful debate about equality and inclusivity.

Let’s hope Monday’s Justice Committee public session discussing the free speech amendment to the Hate Crime Bill can be the start of this.