Cross-party support among MSPs for women's right to debate safe spaces

MSPs from all parties in the Scottish Parliament - including Tory leader Ruth Davidson - have backed a motion condemning violence against women and supporting the right of universities to host "controversial discussions" on campus.

Jenny Marra MSP has lodged a motion condemning violence against women in public life and supporting controversial debates being held on university campuses.

Scottish Labour's Jenny Marra has lodged a motion supporting a discussion on women's rights which took place at Edinburgh University last week, but which had been branded "anti trans" and was marred by an attempted assault on one of the speakers.

Her motion, which also states "there is no place for violence or threats of violence towards women engaging in public life in Scotland" has been backed by Ruth Davidson and 24 other MSPs from across the political spectrum.

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The event in the university's George Square lecture halls last Wednesday evening, which was addressed by academics including Professor Rosa Freedman and Professor Sarah Pedersen as well as feminist campaigner and author Julie Bindel, was attended by around 200 people.

However it has been mired in controversy since it was first announced.

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University debate on women's rights branded 'transphobic'

The university came under pressure from LGBT students and its staff Pride Network to cancel the event claiming discussing women's sex-based rights was exclusionary of transgender women. However principal Peter Mathieson refused to do so and said he believed universities "must be safe places for complex and sometimes controversial discussions to take place."

The 12 members of the Pride Network committee later resigned accusing the university of “failing to take a stand against transphobic hate on campus” as it claimed the meeting included speakers who had previously been critical of proposed reforms to transgender rights. They also accused the university authorities of attempting to "censor" its public protest of the event.

University sources, however, said staff had not been, and never would be, banned publicly objecting to any event, while a spokesperson said there was regret that committee members "had felt the need to step down".

A protest outside the event was held - but it was when the discussion was over that an alleged attempted assault took place on speaker Julie Bindel.

Ms Bindel has described how she was verbally abused, lunged at and "almost punched in the face" by a transwoman as she left to catch her taxi to Edinburgh Airport. Only the intervention of security staff prevented her from being physically assaulted, she claimed.

A transwoman, Cathy Brennan, later admitted on social media that she had "lost her sh*t" at Ms Bindel.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has been vocal in supporting changes proposed to the Gender Recognition Act which would allow transgender people to "self-identify" as female or male in order to change the sex on their birth certificate, rather than have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proof of living in their preferred gender for two years.

Many women's organisations believe that changing the law in this regard would end women's right to have single-sex spaces, such as toilets, changing rooms and domestic abuse refuges. The Scottish Government's consultation on changes closed last year and it is yet to announce any new legislation.

Today Jenny Marr, who also attended the event - along with her Labour colleagues Elaine Smith, Johann Lamont and Pauline McNeill - said: "This is a complex debate but women’s voices must be heard as they defend their right to safe spaces.

"Women must feel safe to discuss these issues without violence or the threat of violence. That is why it is important for parliamentarians to sign up to these principles ahead of any further debate in parliament."

Her motion reads: "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."

The Scotsman understands that Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard will also be signing the motion.