Kathleen Nutt

Political Correspondent

ANYONE holding the belief a person cannot change the sex they were born as faces being barred from the official independence campaign, according to a motion being considered for debate at the SNP's annual conference.

The resolution seeks to ensure there is a tolerant and inclusive debate and campaign ahead of the referendum planned for October next year but concerns have been raised that it could exclude some groups of feminists should it be passed.

Separately, one of the backers of the motion Siobhan Tolland had to apologise earlier this year for shouting abuse at Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Scotland.

The resolution calls for the party to adopt a code of conduct for those wanting to be involved in a new civic movement to progress the Yes cause. It would apply both to SNP members and non members.

However, the motion considers adopting a pledge drawn up by Believe in Scotland or the Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM). The AIM pledge supports gender self-identification in line with SNP policy and regards those who believe biological sex is essential to someone's gender as transphobic.

The issue has been the subject of bitter debate.

Part of the definition of transphobia backed by the SNP's ruling body gives the following as an example of transphobia: "Deliberately mis-gendering someone or using phrases or language to suggest their gender identity is not valid, for example referring to a trans woman as a biological man".

So while adherents of gender self-identification regard it as transphobic for someone to call a trans woman a biological man, opponents dispute this. They say they would still regard the person as a man because of the essential aspect of biological sex, an empirical fact, and it is not transphobic to do so.

The resolution, entitled "Independence principles, Building our civic movement" points to work being undertaken to establish a new civic campaign organisation incorporating political parties and pro-independence organisations.

It says it agrees that any stakeholder or organisation involved in the new Yes organisation must adhere to a code of conduct built on the principles of freedom, tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination in any form.

It adds: "Conference therefore supports the adoption of a code of conduct such as that produced by a range of bodies including the Aberdeen Independence Movement and a similar code drafted by Believe in Scotland and would wish to see all organisations involved in the Yes campaign - including the SNP - adhering to such a code of conduct in all of our campaigning for independence."

The motion is backed by party president Michael Russell, MSPs Karen Adam and Graeme Dey, MPs Alyn Smith, Pete Wishart and Hannah Bardell as well as policy development convener Tony Giugliano and Councillor Graham Campbell and Councillor Tolland.

In May, Ms Tolland came under fire while standing as a candidate in the council elections after historic social media posts revealed she shouted abuse at the Pope and called 9/11 an "inside job".

She posted in 2010 she had travelled to Edinburgh to see Pope Benedict XVI and revealed she "might have gone a wee bit too far when she called him a c***", it was reported.

A few days later, she posted her throat was "sair wi shouting at the Pope". When the posts came to light, she deleted them and apologised.

The code of conduct drawn up by AIM: "We share a common goal which is the independence of Scotland. In order to reach that goal we are committed to working with others of like mind on the basis of mutual respect and with a positive approach in order to promote and achieve the values of civic nationalism which are freedom, tolerance, equality, the protection of individual and community rights and the rejection of prejudice and discrimination in any form.

"To that end we subscribe to this pledge and agree to abide by its aims and ambitions. Working together with others who have subscribed to this pledge, our primary focus will be to engage with those who are yet to be convinced of the positive case for Scottish independence based on those values and endeavour by example and illustration to enlist them to our cause.

"We will do so politely and positively at all times, without rancour and bitterness, ensuring the highest standards of conduct in all media and in all means of campaigning and communication.

"Specifically we will, individually and collectively, conduct all our campaign, communication and organisational activities in a respectful and tolerant manner, agreeing to differ where necessary but always taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and prejudice.

"Consequently, we will also expect all organisations working within the broad Yes movement to ensure they have, and operate, best practice policies in governance including policies that secure equality and equity for all groups and individuals.

"We will seek to promote positive voices, groups and ideas which ensure a diversity of lived experience is brought to the case for Scottish independence and a vision of an independent Scotland which is modern, broad and inclusive. We will conduct all our activities in an environmentally and financially responsible and sustainable manner and with openness and transparency."

The pledge goes on to say that individuals and organisations refusing to subscribe to, or failing to meet, the claims and standards laid out in this pledge in this pledge will not be included in collective and collaborative training, development, media activities and campaigning.

It adds that discrimination and prejudice include but it not limited to homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Anglophobia, ableism, misogyny, ageism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and ethnic-nationalism and that it accepts "the definitions of those terms as adopted by the political parties active in the Yes movement".

Trina Budge, Co-director For Women Scotland, a group which believes biological sex is immutable, said if passed the new code of conduct could bar the prominent SNP MP Joanna Cherry from the independence campaign.

She added it may also exclude the smaller independence parties Alba and ISP, which do not support gender self-identification and oppose the Scottish Government's reforms of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

"These proposals will essentially remove independence supporters and will have disproportionate impact on women, which is deeply misogynistic. An insane move for any party," she said.

"It would seem that that this is a deliberate attempt to remove politicians such as Joanna Cherry and political parties such as Alba and ISP from the public stage. All of whom have criticised the government's proposals to bring self definition of sex into law."

Chris McEleny, general secretary of Alba, said: “ The independence movement is bigger than any political party. It is made up of many political parties, ordinary people and groups. No single political party has ownership of the cause of Scotland’s independence and it would be sheer arrogance for any party to attempt to enforce a set of rules on a movement they do not have ownership of."

Scottish Conservative MSP, Rachael Hamilton said: “Instead of attempting to dismiss different opinions within their party, the SNP should listen to the valid concerns of women both within their own ranks, and across the country.”

The prospect of the SNP introducing a new code of conduct for the independence movement comes amid ongoing controversies over how the party carries out its own investigations into complaints regarding behaviour raised in connection with its own code of conduct.

A decision on whether the code of conduct resolution will be included on the final SNP conference agenda will be decided by the party's conferences committee in the coming weeks.

Mr Russell said: "This is of course a resolution on the long list as the final agenda is not yet set, but as I am the lead signatory I would make three points.

"Firstly the resolution does not endorse any particular code as presently drafted but supports the concept. The SNP already has a code of conduct for its members and any code for campaigning would have to be compatible with that and approved by the party’s NEC.

"Secondly the aim of the code is to ensure we have the highest standard of of campaigning at a time when there will be huge pressures on the national movement from the Westminster establishment.

"It is intended to ensure that the process is the best it can be. We will speak the truth even when faced with the many lies that were told in 2014 and will be told again. It is about ensuring the highest quality of inclusive debate, not about excluding anyone.

"Thirdly I think the idea of a code for the Yes campaign should be welcomed. One is already in use , promoted by Believe in Scotland and it is an innovation that can only produce a better referendum and I think a better result in that referendum."

Ms Cherry declined to comment.