IT could be worse I suppose. We could all be living in Georgia. Last week the former Soviet republic’s first ever LGBT march was called off because of threats from extremist groups and opposition from the Orthodox Church. In Scotland, by contrast, Edinburgh Pride went ahead on Saturday as usual, as colourful and as loud as ever. Look at us, eh? Scotland in 2019. A place where people are free to kiss someone of the same sex, and listen to A-ha, openly and in public. Aren’t we progressive? Aren’t we wonderful? Aren’t we doing well?

Well, no, not really. The reality is that – apart from Pride marches – people in Scotland are not free to kiss someone of the same sex openly and in public. It’s something you see in more progressive countries like Sweden, but when was the last time you saw two men holding hands in a street in Scotland? Probably never, and the reason is that homophobic attacks on gay people still happen. Search Google for “Blair Wilson from Renfrewshire” and look at the blood running down that young man’s face and, maybe, then, we can start to have a proper conversation about whether Scotland – the everyday Scotland, the one gay people have to walk about in – is progressive or not.

It doesn’t stop there either, because there are other ways in which the public image of progressive Scotland doesn’t match the reality. With the timing of a bad comedian, or someone who’s immune to irony, the Equalities Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced just two days before Edinburgh Pride that the proposed reforms to Scotland’s transgender laws, which will make it easier for people to change their legal gender, have been put on hold. Except that the phrase she used was “put out to consultation”. Ah yes, the “consultation”: what politicians do when they’re too afraid to do anything else.

What makes matters worse, of course, is that this will be the second consultation there’s been on the proposed law (the first having shown overwhelming public support). But the Government is doing it this way for a number of reasons, none of which are flattering.

The first is the most obvious and a classic from the SNP: the party is prepared to talk about being progressive but only within the parameters of the greater goal of independence. Their strategy, therefore, is to nudge forward while fudging or delaying difficult issues to keep as many people on board as possible, including the socially conservative. The result is a series of very small steps and compromises on the supposed road to the big goal of independence. Nudge, nudge, fudge.

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But that’s not the worst of it because there’s a more disturbing reason the Government has pushed the pause button: it is appeasing transphobics and conservative feminists. I have to say it’s not clear why this group of activists, some of whom are high up in the SNP, only started marshalling their arguments after the first consultation ended – where were they when they were asked for their opinions the first time round? But it’s what they’re arguing that’s the problem: changing the law to allow people to identify their own gender, they say, will make it easier for trans women (or men posing as trans women) to sneak into female-only spaces and perpetrate sexual assaults. In other words, it will put women in danger.

However, anyone who even vaguely knows the history of social reform in Britain will recognise that argument. In the 1960s, when the decriminalisation of homosexuality was being proposed, and again in the 1990s, when there were plans to lower the gay age of consent, the opponents of reform said changing the law would be a disaster because it would put young men at risk from older men. It’s essentially the argument that men will always abuse something good and it’s what some people say when governments try to introduce social reform, particularly anything to do with sex and sexuality. It also comes from the deepest conservative instincts: we must protect some people from progress.

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What’s particularly worrying, 40 years on from the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland, is that the opponents of changing the law on transgenderism are effectively making the same argument based on the same misunderstanding. Of course, some older gay men will prey on younger men, and, of course, there is a possibility that a man might pose as a trans women to gain access to a female-only space, but the point is that neither scenario is a good enough reason to delay or stop progress on gay and trans rights. Realistically, a government must balance progress and risk in a world where risk will always exist.

Instead, the strategy that the Scottish Government has chosen is delay – a delay that, by accident or design, could mean that there won’t be enough time to pass the new transgender law before the 2021 election. The government also says it wants to achieve “maximum consensus” which could delay things even further on the basis that “maximum” is a point that may always be a just a little bit in the distance.

And who says consensus-building is the way forward anyway? Some 20 years ago the then Scottish Government abolished the Section 28 law that banned the promotion of homosexuality and they did it in the face of opposition from a large section of the Scottish public led by the SNP donor Brian Souter. But that’s what you have to do sometimes with controversial social reforms: lead public opinion rather than follow it.

And, besides, the opponents of transgender reform do not have anywhere near the numbers Mr Souter had 20 years ago – far from it, they represent a small minority that has mastered the art of heckling over the heads of the majority. The obvious danger in all of this for the government is that, in appeasing this small group, transphobes will be emboldened further and the distress of trans people will be deepened even more. As for the way forward, that lies with a First Minister who has herself admitted that many of the concerns expressed by the feminists are misplaced. We are told her government wants consensus. How about some leadership instead?