OVER the weekend, I had the great pleasure of participating in the third Forth Valley Women’s Festival at Alloa Town Hall. It was a fantastic experience to join women across Scotland to talk about issues that matter to us.

In recent years, there has been an absurd and dangerous attempt to stop women from organising and attending meetings to protect hard-won sex-based rights but thankfully Saturday’s event went ahead without a hitch thanks to impeccable organisation from Alloa Women and Women Won’t Wheesht.

For those of us in attendance, in Alloa, it felt like the times were a-changin’ as we were all reminded of the power of women organising in a safe space to share and support each other.

Some of Scotland’s leading female voices on women’s rights across various areas made outstanding contributions. I was delighted to participate in the Women’s Representation panel alongside Joanna Cherry MP, former councillor, SNP and Alba Party women’s convener Caroline McAllister, and former MSPs Joan McAlpine and Johann Lamont.

Life is a learning experience, and Joan, Joanna, and Johann’s parliamentary contributions to women’s rights have been a source of much reflection and inspiration for me over the past few years.

The contributions and chats on Saturday show us all that there is still much work to do, and I look forward to working collegiately to ensure the fundamentals of safety, dignity, respect, and opportunity to achieve – underpinning Scotland’s society.

In 2014, many women were encouraged to participate in the referendum campaign, with groups such as Women for Independence creating much-needed peer-to-peer connections. It’ll be no surprise to women reading that we often find collective strength when we have a common purpose.

It is humbling to receive support from women and men across traditional political divides as we seek to shape laws that are safe for all and implementable in the Scottish Parliament. I read every thank you card I have received since I resigned over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in 2022, and they now decorate my new office in Holyrood.

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My ministerial resignation allowed me to vote against the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in 2022. Still, it passed by a whipped majority, and the work to defeat this incompetent and dangerous legislation with the risk of Self-ID presented to the safety, dignity and privacy of women and girls was a collective effort.

Public outcry subsequently discredited Self-ID by the indelible images of a double rapist in pink leggings being housed in the female prison estate, highlighting the incredulous position of the Scottish Prison Service policy moving ahead of the law of Self-ID.

As I predicted during my campaign for SNP leadership, the GRR Bill judicial review was finally defeated by the UK government in the Court of Session before it achieved Royal Assent following a Section 35 order from the Scottish Secretary of State. As an independence supporter, I shake my head from this embarrassing episode.

Saturday reminded me of the collective support that gave me the initial confidence to become an active campaigner for Scottish independence and, in turn, encouraged me to stand for election as a candidate for our Parliament.

I have never been happier in politics, with the freedom to develop new ideas with my team to support my constituents and progress root-cause issues impacting Scotland. Neale Hanvey (below) and Kenny MacAskill are a pleasure to work with on matters that cross over the two parliaments, and Alba’s members have been incredibly supportive. I meet more of them wherever I go.

The National: Neale Hanvey

Being a junior minister wasn’t just a privilege and an honour; being in a crucially important department such as community justice taught me a lot.

I can now draw on that experience to highlight severe flaws in our legislation process and explain why laws are increasingly failing in the courts – the fate anticipated for the Government’s Hate Crime Act, which comes into force on April 1.

We must learn calmly from the experience of those of us who were there, including Lucy Blackburn from Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, to ensure that we do not criticise the Government for its own sake but to create tangible improvements to help rebuild a failing public trust in our institutions.

Scotland is not unique in its reliance and myopia over “representative groups”, which helped to push misogyny out of the bill. In their Family and Care Bills referendums, Ireland’s voters recently demonstrated the result of only listening to a “circular economy” of government-funded lobbyists to inform government positions. Your finger is not on the electoral wrist, let alone pulse!

The Hate Crime Bill has failed to deliver the promised explanatory clarity and instead left Police Scotland to muddle over a PR disaster, from a Hate Monster who has entered Scottish culture as a figure of “fun” to campaign training that is – in its language and specificity to some public profiles – inflammatory at best.

We have all seen a list of third-party reporting centre organisations but need assurances on their training and data handling positions.

So here we are, three years on, we have no public clarity and, critically, no misogyny bill. We do have an already overstretched police force under the threat of reaching breaking point due to the need to investigate every hate crime reported via unknown email accounts, caravan parks and sex shops at the expense of not investigating the “day job” crimes the public expects action on.

The unintended consequences of how our legal system reacts, added to an exacerbated and confused public, all point towards calamity. This bourach is not good enough! The Scottish Parliament must have good, clear laws with a robust understanding of purpose and effect.

In Parliament, I’ve been bringing a fresh look at ideas and building trust through transparency to empower communities to make change. The Hate Crime Bill will have consequences for public confidence in our Parliament and Policing from key promises not being kept by the Scottish Government.

We cannot allow April Fools’ Day to be forever associated with our Scottish Parliament because of this act of folly.

It’s time to get serious if we expect the public to take us seriously. Respect must be demonstrated at all levels – the public deserves it.

The Gender Recognition Reform scandal taught me to listen to my voice, and I do not regret the action I took to resign.

Like many that attended the Women’s Festival on Saturday, I believe in solutions – not just highlighting problems.

Informed positions are critical in public life. Groups like Murray Blackburn Mackenzie and For Women Scotland have been invaluable in scrutinising bills at all stages, not to criticise but to help contribute to better laws.

Collective power can move mountains.

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Women demonstrated this in our opposition to GRR, and our fight goes on for women and girls’ rights to safety and dignity in schools, prisons, support services, health and social care and all spaces where we need single-sex space to gather safely.

It’s not all about big speeches or personalities – our Irish sisters have taught us that!

Every woman’s voice matters, and every girl’s opinion is essential. Our contribution based on our experiences counts, whether writing letters to politicians and public bodies or starting or joining a group with common interests.

It all matters.