ALEX Salmond’s Alba party is to wade into the potentially toxic debate over women’s rights and transgender rights at its first conference as it attempts to underscore its differences with the SNP.
The new party will debate a motion demanding “female only spaces”, single sex sports and the right for women to refuse intimate services from males, including counselling.
The motion says the debate over women’s rights has caused “controversy and pain” and women should be able to air all policies affect them “without being abused and silenced”.
The motion, from members in Dundee, does not mention transgender rights directly.
However the clear context is the highly polarised debate about whether trans rights erode women’s rights which has caused so much friction within the SNP and elsewhere.
The author JK Rowling and SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, amongst others, have been labelled transphobic and abused online for expressing their beliefs in sex-based rights.
Recent controversies include whether transgender women – those born male but who identify as female – should have access to women’s refuges and rape crisis centres.
Last week the chief executive of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, a transgender woman without a gender recognition certificate, said rape survivors with “bigoted” views on trans rights should be “challenged” about them in recovery as “therapy is political”.
Since Mr Salmond set up Alba in March, the party has sought to exploit divisions in the SNP over gender recognition reforms by pitching itself as a champion of sex-based rights.
Gender-critical feminists such as Ms Cherry disagree with those LGBT activists who think gender identity should be prioritised over biological sex in government policy and the law.
The former fear the advance of transgender rights is at the expense of hard-won women’s rights, while the latter see the focus on biological sex as transphobic.
The STUC recently said years of “dithering and delay” by the Scottish Government over gender recognition reforms had helped create a “toxic environment” over the issue.
SNP ministers are committed to simplifying the process by which a trans person can legally obtain gender recognition, but have yet to legislate on an issue they know divides their party.
The 20-motion agenda for the Alba conference also features plans for an independence convention and making an independent Scotland a republic once the Queen dies.
The motion on “women and equalities” says everyone’s rights should be protected “but, vitally, not at the cost of others”.
If passed, it would instruct all Alba political reprsentatives “to protect and preserve women’s rights, not at any expense to others, but as a safeguard for women and girls”.
It goes on: “Conference believes women have the right to discuss all policies which affect them, without being abused and silenced.
“Conference believes women have the right to maintain their sex-based protections as set out in the Equality Act 2010. These include female only spaces such as changing rooms, hospital wards, sanitary and sleeping accommodation, refuges, hostels and prisons.
“Conference believes women have the right to refuse consent to males in single sex spaces or males delivering intimate services to females such as washing, dressing and counselling.
“Conference believes women have the right to single sex sports to ensure fairness and safety at all levels of competition.
“Conference believes women have the right to organise themselves according to their sex class across a range of cultural, leisure, educational and political activities.
“Conference acknowledges and promotes all of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010 which are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and sex.
“Crucially, Conference understands the controversy and pain which have characterised Scotland’s recent attempts at reform; there has been much heat and at times little light.
“Conference invites and will endorse a citizens’ assembly on how best to reform the Gender Recognition process in a respectful, sensitive and positive fashion.
“Conference acknowledges that no single protected characteristic is more virtuous or more worthy of recognition and safeguarding than another. They are all fundamentally important, each on their own, and as a collective. We’re all equal in Scotland.”
Alba said the two-day gathering at Greenock Town Hall would have focus on independence, with Mr Salmond delivering the leader’s closing speech on Sunday.
A motion from Alba MP Kenny MacAskill says the party believes “Scottish independence is an overwhelming and immediate priority for the people of Scotland”.
It “notes with growing concern the failure of the Scottish Government to implement successive electoral mandates from the Scottish people to progress this aim”.
It also demands that Holyrood – where Alba failed to get any MSPs elected in May – instructs the Scottish Government to start independence negotiations with Westminster.
If London blocks Indyref2, there should be a “cross party campaign of parliamentary action, peaceful popular mobilisation, legal moves in the domestic and international courts and diplomatic initiatives to enforce the sovereign will of the Scottish people”.
Alba interim General Secretary Chris McEleny said: “Our draft agenda sets out a radical and progressive programme to improve the lives of people in Scotland right now and pursue Scotland’s independence mandate with the urgency it requires.
“I am confident that our inaugural conference will set out that we have the People, the Policies, and the Plan for independence to take Scotland forward.”