AS a 29-year-old, straight man brought up on the west coast of Scotland without any transgender friends, I would never claim to be the most enlightened trans ally. However, as a member of the "woke" generation, I know the smell of bigotry.

I was among 150 audience members packed into Strathclyde University for the filming of BBC Question Time on February 2. Considering the current media storm on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), coupled with the fact that the panel featured trans broadcaster India Willoughby and the "free-speech" journalist Ella Whelan of Spiked, there was a recognition among the audience that the subject would be one of the main talking points.

READ MORE: MSP to challenge BBC over controversial Question Time trans rights debate

How the conversation went

The first question lasted about 10 minutes before we moved on to the inevitable subject of the GRA, transgender women and the Scottish Prison Service. Framed through the lens of "should safeguarding for women’s only spaces be reviewed?", the debate began with a measured, if predictable, response from the SNP’s Jenny Gilruth on the political machinations of the UK Government’s decision to block the legislation.

India Willoughby was then invited to respond to the question. Her articulate response featured statistics about predatory transgender people, the procedures in the Scottish prison system and the emotional impact that this debate has had on her personally. During her response, there was a notable shift in body language from Ella Whelan and many of the older men and women in the audience. Eye-rolling, smirking and audible sighs laid the foundation for what, for the next 25 minutes, became a poisonous atmosphere.

Ella Whelan followed, commencing into a nasty diatribe about biological sex and how women are the victims among all of this. This evoked a back-and-forth between the two panellists, with Whelan becoming increasingly condescending in her tone and body language, using the issue of this prisoner to suggest that trans people are "pretending they’re something they’re not".

READ MORE: Question Time: Did John Lamont sneak a look at Fiona Bruce's notes?

How the audience reacted

Willoughby’s attempts to bring some reason into the debate were met with mocking shouts across the panel from Whelan and rapturous applause and hoots from a number of audience members. Bruce opened up the subject to the audience where Whelan’s supporters were represented in one particularly odious exchange between Willoughby and an older woman who had the contempt to look her directly in the eye and effectively state "you are still a man".

I couldn’t believe that this woman could morally justify such disdain to another human being, or that the panel chair simply allowed it to go unchallenged. All this happened among the continuous backing from particular gammon-coloured audience members.

The National: India Willoughby

In the aftermath of the filming, Willoughby referred on Twitter to the experience using the term "lynch mob" which I felt wasn’t far from the truth. In my own group chat, I could only define the atmosphere through comparison. If it had been an ethnic minority or gay person sitting in Willoughby’s chair, you would have been genuinely lost for words. I couldn’t speak, but I could certainly smell bigotry in the room.