WHEN Police Scotland announces it will deploy its air support unit for a public rally, you’re immediately transported into the realm occupied by Celtic and Rangers, or the scarecrow-wing of Unionism.

Our national police force was dealing with a crowd of around 1500 – mainly consisting of women – who had gathered in Glasgow’s George Square under the banner Standing for Women. A counter protest by trans activists at the other end of Glasgow’s most popular public space had perhaps piqued the police interest amid fears that there might be “scenes”.

As it turned out, though, the police presence was low-key. Nor was this the hardest shift ever undertaken by our constabulary. There had been a brief skirmish at the beginning of the day when an elderly gent, carrying two women passengers in his rickshaw, pedalled slowly past the trans activists bearing a sign that read: “Stop the lies; trans women are guys”.

A handful of counter-protesters began showering him with abuse before one woman launched herself at the vehicle in an attempt to get at the driver. The police gently ushered him and his passengers away and peace was upon us once more.

Several things immediately struck you about this happening. The Standing for Women attendees outnumbered the counter-protesters by more than two to one.

The entire occasion proceeded in a jovial atmosphere and the big lad leading the singing in his drag gear at the east end of the square performed heroically with a string of foot-stomping pop classics.

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I thought he was different class and when he began belting out Dancing Queen I was thinking about having a wee shimmy myself.

It was at the western side of George Square where the serious business was happening. Those there had all gathered to hear the feminist activist Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull, aka Posie Parker, founder of Standing for Women, and a dozen or so others. The tenor of the day might indeed have been jovial but the anger and bewilderment of these women was palpable.

One after another they expressed their fury – always eloquently, often hilariously – at being told they were bigots for believing that men can’t simply become women by wishing it so, or on securing a gender recognition certificate. It was clear, too, that a feeling of jeopardy had been added to the bewilderment and the despair.

The placing of a double rapist in Scotland’s only women’s prison and the refusal of Scotland’s political leaders to describe him as a man had given their anger an edge.

It’s probably inaccurate to describe this rally as a political event. As you moved through the throng you were immediately struck by how few of these women were drawn here by party politics. Of the dozen or so I spoke to, most were former members of the SNP and a couple were of no particular political persuasion beyond a loose, generational loyalty to the Labour Party.

All of them were united in their condemnation of Nicola Sturgeon who they accused of “betraying” them and of “destroying” the landmark achievements of feminist progress. This was also the first public event I’ve ever attended in a professional capacity where not one person I spoke to was happy to be quoted by name.

The first woman I chatted to described herself as working-class and from Castlemilk. She works in the civil service. “I campaigned for the SNP for 20 years. I was at the SECC for the big rally in 2015. I loved Nicola Sturgeon. I absolutely worshipped her,” she said. And now she was crying. “Why is she doing this? What’s happened to my party?”

Another woman approached. I recognised her as a former pupil of my old school and so we talked about Celtic and how her brothers were doing and did she still keep in touch with some of our old classmates.

She worked in the NHS and spoke about the opposition she’d faced in her family when she decided during the Margaret Thatcher era that only independence would protect us from the iniquities of extreme Conservatism.

“Can I use your name,” I asked. “I’d love to, but I can’t be identified,” she said. “I’m in a senior post in the NHS and it wouldn’t be good for my career if I was publicly critical of Nicola Sturgeon.”

“Well, let’s leave her out of it,” I suggested. “Yes, but even my attendance here would be noted by someone,” she replied.

Like all of the others I encountered, she was utterly bewildered at how the debate over trans rights had come to this. All of them expressed their support for the trans community, but not when their own rights to safe, women-only spaces were being eroded by the self-ID provisions of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

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They all expressed their despair at being marginalised within the party and labelled transphobes, simply for believing that sex is binary and that a fully intact male must never be permitted into spaces reserved for women.

There were hundreds of women like these here, some of them also expressing anger that while each speaker detailed instances of male threat and violence against women, they were being mocked by the young people at the other end of the square.

“Being a woman is not a fetish,” said another, who expressed disbelief that the words associated with being a woman – and thus their sexual identity – was being eroded. “If a government can successfully delete everything that we associate with womanhood and target you for insisting on using our words – then they can get away with anything.”

The Standing for Women rally coincided with a Sunday Times YouGov survey showing that support for independence has fallen six points from 53% to 47% among decided voters. Those intending to vote against independence in another referendum rose from 47% to 53%, while support for the SNP dropped from 50% to 44% in the Holyrood constituency vote and from 40% to 36% in the regional list.

It’s still too early to say if the Scottish Government’s handling of the rapist in Cornton Vale prison was mainly responsible for the sharp drop. But the universal feeling on Sunday at that side of George Square was that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have crossed a line with their conduct in the GRR debate.

What should be more worrying for the wider Yes movement is that women from outside Scotland’s political bubble have woken up to what GRR portends for them.

And they are resentful at being labelled transphobic for defending the concept of womanhood. The prospect of an independent Scotland seems further away than it’s ever been in this generation.