4500 words – 15 minute read
I never intended to write further about my resignation from the Scottish Green Party. When I resigned, I agreed with the Party not to say anything further.
However, I am now aware that there has been some significant misinformation circulated by members and officials of the Party alleging to explain why I resigned.
I have seen emails, Slack channel communications, information from protected Twitter accounts and the Party’s Q&A following my resignation They make wild allegations about my motivations and character. Some of the claims being made are now being circulated and are having a negative impact on my reputation at a time when I am seeking work. I therefore wish to set the record straight.
When I resigned, I reached an agreement with the Party that neither I nor spokespeople for the Party would say anything more (individual members of course are not so constrained). I kept my side of this agreement but others did not.
Immediately prior to my resignation, Patrick Harvie wrote to me saying that my resignation would be a “huge loss to the Party and to Parliament”. Weeks later he was on national TV denouncing me as a transphobe. I managed to prevent that interview from being broadcast but later, during the election campaign, further interviews were given in which false allegations were made about me – a potential criminal offence during an election campaign.
In publishing this blog, it is not my intention to start an argument or to provoke debate. People are perfectly free to disagree with my reasons for leaving but they are not entitled to fabricate them and disseminate lies and smears.
So this blog is for Scottish Green Party members and anyone else who wants to know more. Put simply, I resigned because I couldn’t work in the environment in which I found myself.
So what was it that led me to leave? Some background may be useful.
I have always been a member of the Green movement. At University and afterwards, I was an active campaigner against the modern forestry industry and tied this to arguments for greater local and community control of natural resources. I resisted the afforestation of Caithness and Sutherland and was blacklisted from working in my chosen profession, as a consequence. I worked with Scottish civil society to expose the hypocrisy of northern governments at the Rio Earth Summit, whose records on deforestation were worse than the southern governments they were enthusiastically criticising.
I attended the Commission on Sustainable Development In New York with Bill Ritchie from the Assynt Crofters’ Trust where we briefed Governments on the UK and Scottish Office failures on sustainable development and embarrassed a senior UK civil servant in the plenary session by asking why the UK Government was supporting land reform in east Asia whilst resisting it in Scotland.
I was a co-founder of the Taiga Rescue Network comprising NGOs from across the boreal region to protect northern forests. Since the mid-1990s I have worked on a wide range of projects, initiatives and campaigns that focussed increasingly on environmental justice and land rights.
I argued in my first book, Who Owns Scotland, that Scotland needed a domestic legislature to address properly environmental and land questions that had been neglected for decades. I had productive meetings with newly elected Scottish MSPs and political parties and gave written and oral evidence to Committees.
By 2009, I decided that it was time to nail my political views to the mast and I joined the Scottish Green Party in October 2009. My second book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, increased my profile, and seven years after joining the Party I was selected as number 2 on the Lothian Regional List and was elected to the Scottish Parliament.
I have always been clear that the job of an MSP is threefold: to represent constituents on matters within the devolved competence of the Parliament, to hold the Scottish Government to account for their decisions, and to scrutinise legislation and make laws for the people of Scotland. MSPs are representatives of the people, not delegates of political parties.
During all of my working life I have sought to treat political opponents with respect, not least because a determined effort to understand an opposing point of view helps clarify one’s own viewpoint. Plus, life is more agreeable for all when we can disagree well.
Despite some heated debates at Scottish Green Party conferences and the occasional personality clash, I found the Scottish Greens to be collegiate and supportive and I made many friends. However, the mood changed for me from Autumn conference 2017.
Scottish Green Party Conference Autumn 2017
A motion was debated at the 2017 Autumn conference which was designed to deal with what the proposers argued were two “muddled, contradictory and unclear” policies on prostitution and the sex industry. The proposers of the motion highlighted the contradictions in the two policies and sought the agreement of conference for a review of them both with a view to developing a “revised and consistent policy” which was “consistent with SGP principles and policies that set to challenge patriarchy and inequality”.
The motion was moved and supported by young women and by a number of longer-standing women activists, some of whom I had known for many years before my involvement in Green politics. The debate, however, was rushed at the end of conference and the debate, such as it was, was characterised by hostile and aggressive interventions, delaying tactics and procedural technicalities. At the point of voting, I put my hand up to support the motion but was not so subtly told by a Party activist sitting behind me that I should be voting against. I continued to support the motion but it was defeated.
Afterwards, the young women who had proposed it were in tears at the hostile tone of the debate and for the first time I wondered about the culture within the Party. In the aftermath of this vote, a number of prominent female members left the Party, with one citing self-serving cliques and groupthink that were hampering open and free debate.
In the latter part of 2018 and into 2019, public debate emerged about reforms of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and rapidly developed into wider debates about sex, gender, identity and public policy more generally. As part of my role as an MSP I met with a range of individuals and organisations to discuss these matters. In April 2019, I co-hosted a meeting in Parliament organised by Scottish Trans Alliance, Stonewall Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland and Amnesty International Scotland, called “Being trans in 2019”.
But I began to wonder where this debate was going following a heated exchange on STV Scotland Tonight on 23 May 2019 where Maggie Chapman, the SGP co-convenor, claimed that sex was not binary. Technically this is true (it is bimodal), but there are only two sexes.[1550 10 Aug 2021 EDIT – what I mean here is that the distribution of primary and secondary sex characterisistcs is bimodal. Sex is binary (there are only two).] If there are more (as Chapman implied) then Section 11 of the Equality Act 2010 would need to be amended. There may be many genders, of course, but I was genuinely perplexed as to why the Party’s then co-convenor thought it advisable to try and advance such an argument in relation to sex on national television.
In June 2019, I attended a meeting at the University of Edinburgh called “Women’s Sex-Based Rights: what does (and should) the future hold?”. It was organised by the University of Edinburgh, and a number of MSPs and Scottish Green Party members were in attendance. I was unaware that there was any controversy around the event but became aware that the University Pride Network had concerns. Afterwards, as one of the speakers was leaving, she was subject to an attempted assault and the next day I Tweeted to condemn this and to express my hope that the speaker was fine.
The ensuing publicity that I had attended this meeting prompted a great deal of online comment and personal abuse. Patrick Harvie asked me to apologise for having attended the meeting, telling me that I needed to eat some humble pie. I refused to do so but did issue a statement apologising for any offence caused to Party members who thought I should not have attended.
On the other hand, many people supported my attendance, commenting that it was exactly what MSPs should be doing. These included the co-chair of the University Pride Network whose opposition to the event had been cited by my detractors. The entire Pride Committee was reported to have resigned in protest at the meeting, but in fact they resigned in response to a request from the University to remove content from an online petition that (in the University’s view) exposed the University to legal action for defamation. The co-chair is a transwoman and had herself attended the meeting. She wrote to me afterwards to say that my “support is most appreciated” and that “your presence at the meeting made sense to me”. The organiser of the meeting herself was a member of the UoE Pride Network. She had endured a hellish few weeks with personal threats, smears and defamatory allegations made against her.
Very soon afterwards, some Party members submitted complaints through the internal Party system. I tried to respond to them as best I could, but was never informed as to what exactly the complaints were and what it was I was alleged to have done beyond some generic references to the Code of Conduct and to a transpositivity statement (of which more later). In the wake of my resignation, one of the complainers, Eilidh Martin, complained that swifter action had not been taken against me.
I was shaken by these events and disappointed at the smears and allegations levelled against me, mostly in private, but some in public, by Party members. I began to wonder whether I could continue to be a member.
This event was swiftly followed by a Parliamentary motion in the name of Jenny Marra MSP lodged 2 days later which stated:-
“That the Parliament notes that a well-attended discussion on women’s sex-based rights, with a range of invited speakers, took place at the University of Edinburgh on 5 June 2019; believes that universities should be safe places for complex and sometimes controversial discussions to take place; and strongly believes that there is no place for violence or threats of violence towards women engaging in public life in Scotland.”
Patrick Harvie asked Green MSPs not to sign the motion and a bad-tempered meeting of Green MSPs attempted to discuss the matter. I signed this motion as I support free speech, the right of Universities to hold meetings to discuss complex and controversial matters, and obviously believe that there is no place for threats of violence against women.
Further complaints inevitably followed.
Scottish Green Party Autumn Conference 2019
The Party’s Autumn conference was held in Inverness in October 2019. The results of selections for the Holyrood election were made public and I was pleased to be selected again as number 2 on the Lothian List with 133 first votes, second to Alison Johnstone with 191 and with the Party’s co-leader, Lorna Slater in 3rd place with 36. (Lorna was then to take my place after I resigned.)
One of the motions brought to conference was titled “Inclusive debate within the Scottish Green Party”. The motion noted the “increasingly toxic, aggressive and intimidatory nature of political debate in society and the departure of a number of longstanding women activists”. It stated that “it is a matter of concern that some members have reported feeling inhibited from expressing their views publicly at some recent SGP conferences and events” and that the “General Meeting also notes with concern the number of committed feminist activists who have left the Party in recent years.” The motion went on to recommend the establishment of a working group on ensuring open, inclusive and egalitarian practices. When the motion was called, no one came forward to propose and speak to it. It therefore fell without being debated.
The reaction of many of the delegates was to whoop and cheer. I was sitting near the front and turned round with a quizzical expression on my face to try and understand why. A number of those who had been and would become my detractors noted that I was not joining in the celebration and later I overheard someone asking what the motion was all about. The response to this person was to label the women referred to in the motion as transphobes, even though as far as I was aware these women were those who had resigned in the wake of the vote on the sex industry and prostitution debate (nothing to do with trans rights or the trans debate).
Earlier that same day, the Party had just adopted a new Code of Conduct which committed members to be inclusive, considerate, respectful, understand that diversity gives us strength, forgive mistakes, maintain political discipline and help each other be better.
I now realised that elements of the culture within the Party were in direct violation of these values.
Given my experience of attending a meeting in June 2019, one might expect that any Green MSP attending any such meeting again would be subject to a similar reaction from Party members.
On 14 January 2020, Patrick Harvie attended a meeting in the Scottish Parliament at which the Declaration of Women’s sex-based rights was launched. The meeting was criticised in advance by the Equality Network as being “anti-trans”.
In a conversation with a senior Party member, I asked why Patrick had attended given the criticism levelled at me and why no apology had been forthcoming, I was told that Patrick was clearly not anti-trans. When I said that neither was I and that the criticism was that I had attended such a meeting not that I was anti-trans, I was told that this was different. When I asked what was different, I was told that this was a meeting in Parliament and not a public meeting. When I asked what difference that would make to Party members who were so critical of my attendance at such a meeting, I was told that Patrick was doing his job. When I said that I was doing my job too, the conversation stopped.
By this time, it was clear me that the public debate was now embracing more than the proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). The meanings of the words “sex” and “gender”, the theory of gender identity (as opposed to gender dysphoria) and public policy around these were increasingly at the forefront of the GRA debate. Language and the meaning of words were at the heart of the debate.
I support reform of the GRA to become more person-centred but do not believe that it is necessary to change long-established concepts or scientific fact or meanings of words to achieve this. Far less do I believe that is necessary or relevant to have to embrace queer theory in order to support the advancement of trans rights.
Then the pandemic happened.
The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill
One of the problems with bringing to justice those responsible for sexual assault is that victims are reluctant to complain in time for forensic evidence to be gathered. Even when forensic evidence had been gathered in a health setting, there were problems with admissibility in court. The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill sought to put the good practice that had been established between Police Scotland and NHS Scotland on a statutory footing and place a duty on health boards to provide forensic medical services and to enable such evidence to be held until such time as a complaint might be made to the police and criminal investigations commenced.
Of necessity, the Bill amended parts of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014. Section 8 of that Act implemented EU Directive 2012/29 of 25 October 2012, which established minimum standards on the rights, support for, and protections of, victims of crime, and gave a statutory right to victims of sexual violence to specify the sex of the interviewer. The 2014 Act went further than this in Section 9, which gave the right to request that any forensic examination be conducted by a person of the same sex as the victim. Section 8 of the 2014 Act implements this Directive in Scots law but uses the term gender instead of sex (as does Section 9).
In its Stage 1 report on the 2020 Bill, the Health and Sport Committee recommended that the words “gender” and “sex” have different meanings and that the 2014 Act should be amended to replace the word “gender” with “sex”.
In the Stage 3 debate on the Bill, Johann Lamont MSP proposed an amendment that would do just that.
This was to prove controversial.
In law, the use of the words “gender” or “sex” in the context of Sections 8 & 9 of the 2014 Act makes little difference, as the intention of the legislation is clear from the context and from the EU directive.
However, the word “gender” is now being used in a much greater variety of ways and has a number of meanings. Whilst changing the words used in Section 9 may not have many practical consequences, it seemed to me that this was, on balance, a justifiable amendment given the language in the EU Directive and the recommendation of the Committee.
Furthermore, I was in receipt of significant correspondence from constituents who had been victims of sexual violence asking me to support the amendment. I initially responded saying that I was not convinced that changing the language would be meaningful. However, in the 48 hours leading up to the vote I had undertaken further research and now felt that on balance there was a good case for supporting it and advised the Group that I was minded to support it and that legislation dealing with matters of the utmost sensitivity relating to (mainly) female victims of sexual assault would not be conflated with other debates about trans rights.
The replies I received were interesting. Voting yes to the amendment would be “best described as biological essentialist” and that this was in “direct opposition to gender recognition and therefore incompatible with trans people’s human rights”. This is of course nonsense. Sex is the protected characteristic that categorises women and men. Using accurate language has nothing to do with trans people’s human rights.
SGP MSP Meeting
An urgent meeting was called for, on Thursday. This was online, and was attended by all SGP MSPs except Alison Johnstone who was on long-term leave for health reasons. She was the Party’s spokesperson on health, and the Party’s member of the Health and Sport Committee. Apart from one MSP who was initially relaxed about my voting yes, the 3 others were implacably opposed. They advised me in very stark terms that voting yes to the amendment would lead to complaints from within the Party and action against me, up to and including deselection and suspension.
One SGP MSP colleague advised me that it would be in direct contravention of a transpositivity motion passed at the AGM of the Spring 2018 conference and it was trans-exclusive to vote yes to the amendment. They told me that “the Party will absolutely take action against anyone who votes for the amendment” because the Party takes an unequivocal stance on trans rights as voted by conference. It’s perhaps worth saying something about this trasnspositivity motion.
The transpositivity motion was debated at the AGM of the Party in Spring 2018. It was passed under AOB at an AGM attended by “in excess of 90 members” according to the Minutes. It was later to be cited as evidence that I was minded to vote against Party policy. But AGM motions are not Party policy. Party policy is made on the conference floor and documented in the Policy Reference Document. The motion was only presented to members attending the AGM early on a Sunday morning. There was no advance notice in order to allow amendments to be proposed and the motion itself says nothing about when it is appropriate to use the word “sex” and the word “gender”. If using the word “sex” in legislation is to be deemed trans-exclusive then the word needs to be excised from all legislation including the Equality Act (a move I would not support).
It was later argued by some of my critics within the Party that the transpositivity motion was part of the code of conduct, but a new code of conduct passed in Autumn 2019 did not incorporate the 2018 motion. Indeed, at the time of my resignation many members made clear that they had never heard of it and it transpired that the Party had never published it.
The tone and content of this Group meeting left me deeply distressed. The clear view of the majority of the group was that dire consequences would follow if I voted yes.
I discussed the matter further during the afternoon and decided that I would in the end vote against Johann Lamont’s motion, as I was clear from the SGP MSPs’ Group meeting that were I to vote for it, then I would have to resign immediately, and I was unclear at that stage of the consequences for myself and particularly for my staff.
On reflection that evening I decided to resign from the Party for the simple reason that I could not work in an environment with such a censorious, bullying and intimidatory culture and where I was expected to agree that scientific facts such as sex are to be sidelined. This position has never been debated and agreed by Conference but appears to be an implicit consequence of the Party’s stance on trans rights.
I resigned the following Friday (resignation letter here). Party members whom I had regarded as good colleagues immediately denounced me as a transphobe, accusing me of wanting to participate in a moral panic about transpeople. One Edinburgh Councillor thanked me for all that I had done but, on learning of the circumstances of my resignation, recalled the message and said I was disgusting.
The Party immediately embarked upon a damage limitation exercise. A Q&A document purporting to set out why I had resigned was distributed to members and discussions took place on online platforms, most of which I believe I have now seen and have copies of.
A number of Party members, including office-bearers, were suspended for expressing views in support of me. A proposal was made to Party Council for an independent investigation into my resignation but was defeated 33-4. Senior Party officials told members that I had deliberately set out to cause as much damage to SGP as I could when in fact precisely the opposite was the case.
Three accusations have been frequently levelled against me by the leadership and other senior officials.
The first is that I had taken the view that the vote on the amendment was a vote of conscience. I never took this view and never argued that it was. The vote was on which word to use in a section of a Bill. Asserting that I might have thought this was a vote of conscience is untrue.
The second is that I was uncomfortable with Party policy and that steps had been taken to ensure I was comfortable explaining and defending the Party’s policy on transgender rights. I was never uncomfortable with Party policy and it is patronising to tell members that many in the Party had reached out to me and that I had not engaged. In fact, I would contend that I was unusually well informed about trans rights, being a legislator who aimed always to research diligently both proposed legislation and its context, and having engaged with a wide variety of constituents on this matter. The problem all along was a cultural one and an expectation by key influencers in the Scottish Green Party that being supportive of GRA reform was not sufficient evidence of one’s support of trans rights – one also had to subscribe to tenets of queer theory which were and are not Party policy.
The third was the accusation expressed frequently by Patrick Harvie in media interviews that I was opposed to Party policy and had never taken any opportunity to bring forward amendments or debates at Party conference. This was a key argument at Party Council on 6 May 2021 against any independent investigation. To re-iterate, the Scottish Green Party does not have any policy on the use of the words “sex” and “gender” in legislation. Plenty of members have views and express them vigorously and I have never taken issue with their right to do so. But the idea that voting for the amendment was in violation of the transpositivity motion or Party policy is based on a particular interpretation and a set of implicit ideas that have never been set out nor debated nor become Party policy.
The Q&A for Party members and other public statements are insistent that my fault was to have wanted to vote against Party policy on trans rights. This has never been the case. What has been the case is that the Green Group of MSPs insisted that this vote on an amendment to a Bill concerning victims of sexual assault should be viewed through the lens of trans rights and queer theory, and that there was a hostile and bullying culture within the Party.
I have never understood why one has to subscribe to queer theory and gender identity theory in order to improve the lives of trans people. But that’s the bar that has been set in the SGP.
To conclude, I resigned because I could no longer work in such an environment. That others can and do is fine and I am not seeking a debate as to whether I was right or wrong. But for me, I need an environment that is more tolerant, more questioning, more critical, more empathetic, and more willing to listen.
This blog is far longer than I intended it to be but I am not prepared to let misrepresentation and falsehoods gather any more credibility.
I have an audio recording of the SGP MSP meeting of 10 December 2020 and will not hesitate to publicise a transcript if the Party and its office-bearers persist in spreading lies and misinformation about me, my views and my motives.
Only one person knows why I resigned and that is me.
This blog attempts to explain why.