SNP warned by activists over trans rights censure The Sunday Times 31.01.20

The original article is here

The SNP leadership is being warned it will face a backlash if it disciplines or sidelines senior party figures at the heart of a raging dispute over trans rights.

Leading SNP activist Chris McEleny warned that voters and party members will take a dim view of sanctions against people like MP Joanna Cherry who have been outspoken about their concerns on social media.

Last week Nicola Sturgeon said transphobia within the SNP is “not acceptable” as it emerged that a large number of party members are leaving over the issue.

She said transphobia should be treated with zero tolerance in the same way as racism or homophobia, and the deepening splits have prompted warnings that the issue could be as damaging to the nationalists as the anti-Semitism row has proved for Labour.

Disagreements surround plans to make it easier for people to change their legally-recognised gender and new legislation offering new protection crimes based on their identity.

McEleny said: “I fear the leadership will use the controversy around transphobia to placate their base, and selectively sanction or even expel certain internal rivals.”

Many in the party see it as a proxy war for other issues within the SNP. In many cases those voicing concerns about the Scottish government’s approach on trans issues are also allies of former SNP leader Alex Salmond and have been at odds with the more cautious approach of his successor to achieving independence.

Critics of trans rights reforms have voiced concern on issues including the impact they could have on safe spaces for those born female.

Last week Stuart Smith, the vice-convenor of Out For Independence told followers he “could no longer morally justify staying in a party that has become a breeding ground for bigotry.”

Tensions rose to the point last week that Cherry, the SNP Westminster justice spokeswoman, blocked her parliamentary colleague Kirsty Blackman on Twitter after a row over her defence of an activist suspended from the social media site.

Particular ire has been directed from trans allies at Cherry, a leading supporter of women’s rights, leading to demands for her and others to be punished.

After an angry SNP Westminster group meeting last week, one parliamentarian said: “Enough is enough. Joanna has just gone too far this time.”

SNP Westminster frontbench spokesman Tommy Sheppard said many people would think it extremely strange in the current circumstances if Cherry was removed from any of her roles. He described her as “one of the SNP’s star performers, well respected across the house, who has distinguished herself at Westminster in her role.”

A distinguished QC, the Edinburgh MP was tipped as recently as 2019 as the next SNP leader but is now at odds with Sturgeon on trans issues, an alternative route to independence, and as a supporter of Salmond.

The SNP’s national executive meets today to discuss a definition of transphobia and the standards members are expected to adhere to in the debate.

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