The limits of trans tolerance

19 December 2020

6:27 AM

19 December 2020

6:27 AM

Andy Wightman is — or, as of this afternoon, was — the most independent-minded Green member of the Scottish parliament. A staunch man of the left and pursuer of land reform and tenants’ rights, he nonetheless practises an increasingly old-fashioned respect for opposing views and those who hold them. One of the subjects on which he has sought to keep an open mind is that of trans rights. Under the leadership of Patrick Harvie, a sacristan in the church of identity politics, the Scottish Greens have taken a gender-fundamentalist line with scant tolerance for heretical thinking.

Earlier today, Wightman resigned from his party, explaining:

‘I have been saddened by the intolerance shown by some party members to an open and mature dialogue about the tensions and conflicts around questions of sex and gender in the context of transgender rights and women’s rights.’

Wightman came under attack in June 2019 for attending an Edinburgh University event addressed by Julie Bindel, the feminist activist and Emmanuel Goldstein of the trans ideology. He later issued a statement claiming to have been ‘unaware of any controversy around the event’, apologising to his critics for ‘the distress and hurt they felt when they realised that I attended this meeting’, and expressing regret for having ‘tweeted a link to another tweet that misgendered a protestor at the event’. If his statement had been released in video format, he’d have been holding up a copy of that morning’s New York Times and blinking his coordinates in Morse code into the camera.

The breaking point for Wightman appears to have been a recent Bill to improve provisions for those reporting sexual assault and an amendment by Labour MSP Johann Lamont replacing the term ‘gender’ with ‘sex’ to give women undergoing forensic examination the right to be examined only by another woman. The SNP dropped its opposition at the eleventh hour and Lamont’s amendment passed 113-9, all nine No votes coming from the Green and Lib Dem benches, including Wightman himself.

During the debate on the amendment, Wightman gave a tortured speech tortuous in its logic. We now know why. His resignation letter states:

‘On Thursday last week it was made clear to me that if (as I was minded to), I voted for amendment 28 to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill, I would face complaints and disciplinary action leading to possible suspension, deselection or expulsion. On the evidence of the reaction to my attendance at the June 2019 public meeting, I took this prospect seriously.’

If we were being uncharitable, we might say there is more than a smidgeon of self-exculpation in this line of reasoning. Last week, Wightman’s attachment to his party prevented him from following his conscience; this week, his attachment to his conscience prevents him from following his party. For those of us to whom party tribalism is an alien sentiment, Wightman’s belated stand is easy to be cynical about but the draws of loyalty and comradeship can be strong and the loneliness of exile a daunting prospect.

The Scottish Greens say Wightman’s departure is ‘a matter of deep disappointment’ but for them it is a wholly self-inflicted injury. The party has allowed itself to be captured by trans ideologues and even progressives like Wightman who sincerely strive for an equitable preponderance of rights and protections have been cast as haters and harmers. Few movements have done more to narrow the base of their own support and expand that of their opponents. Debate is impossible with people who think debate pushes kids off window ledges.

The trans movement is a thoroughly apolitical enterprise. It has no interest in the standard levers of politics: engagement and argumentation, recruitment and reform. It does not want to transform material reality but to pretend that material reality is and always has been what trans activists say it is and to punish anyone with a memory more than five minutes old. Identity politics is no politics at all; it is not in the business of persuasion but revelation and its enforcement.

Their embrace of this brand of anti-politics has cost the Scottish Greens their most thoughtful and diligent lawmaker. Try as he might, Wightman could not go along with it because he is a radical democrat and radical democracy is by its nature sceptical of revealed truth and unquestionable elites. As he notes in his letter, ‘the sort of open-minded public engagement I would like to see take place on this topic is incompatible with a party that has become very censorious of any deviation from an agreed line’.

The tragedy is that Andy Wightman is the sort of politician trans people would benefit from having in their corner. He is a firm believer in equality, in minority rights, in the law protecting the vulnerable. Yet a movement that has annexed the trans rights cause took his open mind and did all it could to hammer it closed. That it remains open even yet suggests that Wightman is made of sterner stuff than the party he has left.

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