I have a lot of time for Joanna Cherry. There, I’ve said it. We’ve met and debated each other countless times in the run up to the independence referendum a decade ago.
I’d like to think we always did so with a degree of mutual respect and courtesy. It made for a better debate that’s for sure.
She’s a King’s Counsel, a senior lawyer and therefore feverishly clever, studious and sharp. She’s also political and strategic.
Her finest hour was taking on the UK Government’s approach to Brexit in the Supreme Court and winning.
As a staunch supporter of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union I was full of admiration, and only wished the Labour Party had made the same effort to fight for what was right.
However, I profoundly disagree with her on the issue of trans right generally and the Gender Recognition Reform Act specifically.
I disagree with her on the principle of what she argues. And that’s healthy and to be respected, just as it was in 2014.
Increasingly though, I find her tactics around the trans rights issue to be cynical and manipulative.
And there is no greater example of this than her current spat with The Stand comedy club in Edinburgh.
Event is cancelled, Joanna Cherry is coming over loud and clear
The venue had been due to host her for a speaking event and has now retracted the offer.
In a statement published on its website, bosses said: “It has become clear that a number of The Stand’s key operational staff, including venue management and box office personnel, are unwilling to work on this event.”
Thanks @StandComedyClub for putting your discrimination against me in black and white. You will ensure your staff’s “views are respected” but not mine despite the first approach asking me to take part at an event at your venue having come from you. https://t.co/Q35MzAqh7o
— Joanna Cherry KC (@joannaccherry) May 1, 2023
They go on to say they will not compel their staff to work. And, therefore, it cannot go ahead because of these operational issues.
They have not said anything about the specifics of Ms Cherry’s views.
Nor have they criticised her, or made any sort of political statement.
They have simply said they don’t have the staff to cover the event and so it cannot go ahead.
However, this has led Joanna Cherry to declare that she has been denied her right to free speech; a declaration made on just about every local and national radio station yesterday and covered at length in columns reporting that she has been silenced.
The event might have been cancelled but Joanna Cherry wasn’t – very far from it in fact.
She took the chance to highlight her views through the medium of this story, just as every canny politician would.
Joanna Cherry cancelled? Not from our TV screens or newspaper columns
In one interview yesterday she said: “Lesbian feminists and women such as myself are being prevented from speaking in public about our views”.
This is a literal quote from the teatime STV News bulletin watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Her views were being broadcast to, let’s say, the equivalent of Edinburgh, compared to the venue capacity of The Stand?
An operator yes, a martyr no.
Joanna is so silenced that we will create a video and post it here, on the Times website, across Facebook and again on Youtube. That sound isn’t silence, it is naked contempt for others exercising their rights in a manner that Joanna Cherry disapproves of. https://t.co/zXgFjnN1Gb
— Rob McDowall AMRSPH FRSA (@robmcd85) May 1, 2023
While on the airwaves, Ms Cherry rooted her arguments for a gender critical approach to these issues in the fact that she’s a lesbian.
You could be forgiven for thinking we had anointed her our national spokesperson, when of course the reality is that there are many gay women who don’t share her views and don’t have the platform, or indeed the inclination, to speak up in the way she has and does.
There are plenty of gay women who chose not to walk towards the fire of language like “stasi”, “bending the knee” “cowardice” “spineless” and warnings of “repercussions“: all words and descriptions which Ms Cherry has used in the last 24 hours against the people who disagree with her.
Trans people’s lives are not up for debate
The runner up in the SNP Leadership race Kate Forbes has lent her support to Ms Cherry via her own newspaper column.
In it, she says “When you believe in the strength of your case, you do not fear debate. It’s those without a case to answer who run from arguments… in a fair, free and respectful debate, the truth always wins.”
That’s a powerful bit of writing until you remember this isn’t some theoretical school debating club. It’s about people’s lives.
There are trans people who feel their very existence and identity are threatened by the words of people who share Ms Cherry’s outlook. They are not up for “debate”.
If the staff in the Stand are trans, or know trans people or just understand the above in their own bones, surely they have a moral right to withdraw their labour and hope a good employer would respect that?
If I was due to speak at the fringe about my support for gay marriage for example, I wouldn’t expect someone who shared Kate Forbes’ views to work behind the bar at it.
And if it turned out that most of the staff behind the bar wanted to down their tools rather than listen to me criticise their identity and beliefs? Well then I’d understand I had made a poor venue choice and make another.
Joanna Cherry’s problem is not that she has been cancelled. It’s that she has grown to believe that when she speaks, everyone is compelled to listen.