Edinburgh’s grand Freemasons Hall in George Street is the site of the latest skirmish in Scotland’s culture wars between trans activists and gender-critical feminists. Among the issues at the heart of this era-defining struggle are the rights of males to self-identify as females.

I’ve arrived early for this high-noon encounter. Joanna Cherry MP, heroine to gender-critical women, will soon take to the stage opposite her interlocutor, the kenspeckle sports journalist Graham Spiers.

I had time to conduct a mini-tour of these austere old rooms. A large portrait of King George VI dominates the staircase, which seems apt on the street which bears his name. But wait. King Charles’ grandfather is trussed up fully in the brotherhood’s esoteric regalia: apron, sash, dagger: the full home kit. I’d have thought His Britannic Majesty had no need for the artificial career accelerants provided by the masons. But there you go.

Here, I must declare an interest. Mr Spiers and I have been friends and colleagues for almost the entirety of our journalistic careers. He’s been conducting these in-conversation events at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a few years now and my eagerness to be here today is rooted partly in curiosity as to how he’s managing this change of direction.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry calls for SNP to renegotiate coalition deal with Greens

The main reason I’m here though, along with a dozen or so members of my own secret fraternity – HM Press and Media – is to watch Ms Cherry in action. And let’s speak frankly here: we’re all hoping for some aggravation and jeopardy, else we’d be telling our editors to lift it off the Press Association wire service.

In another planet, far, far away now, an event featuring a middle-aged politician from Auld Reekie discussing her career and the values which have shaped it would be a nib in the Edinburgh Evening News. Sure, there might be some mildly political lese-majeste to send a frisson through the pony-tails and red corduroys and thereafter to dominate the chat around artisan frappuccinos at The Balmoral.

Ms Cherry, though, firmly believes that sex is binary and that trans people are, well … trans people. Thus, along with JK Rowling, she has been a lightning conductor for the drama around the Scottish Government’s planned Gender Recognition Reform bill.

Earlier this year, when the MP for Edinburgh South West first accepted an invitation to appear from The Stand Comedy Club (producers of these shows) she was then abruptly cancelled by them. The Stand had cited a duty of care to its employees, some of whom it was claimed would have felt threatened by Ms Cherry’s gender-critical views.

The Herald: Joanna Cherry at the The StandJoanna Cherry at the The Stand (Image: free)

They were soon forced to abandon that position – amidst considerable public backlash – when they were advised it was legally untenable. And then, an extraordinary development. Last week, just days before Ms Cherry’s appearance, The Stand issued security advice for ticket-holders, following information received by Police Scotland. In detail and tone it resembled what you’d normally expect prior to a meeting between Celtic and Rangers.

A large protest by trans-activists was expected which, on the evidence of previous such demonstrations, could be noisy and newsworthy. And so, in vain did we walk back and forth along George Street seeking out some excursions and alarums, indicating mayhem.

We had to settle for two protestors, an older man and a young woman. They had placards, including one which urged us to “Make Scotland a hate-free zone with Socialist Feminism.”

Forceful, perhaps, but not exactly ASBO material. The gent, who was called Paul, looked as benign as a watchmaker. He explained his opposition to “Cherry”. In his view, she was deemed to be guilty of such criminal maleficence that a special chamber in hell is being made ready for her.

“Why are there no protesters,” he was asked by the STV news reporter. “It’s the middle of the day; people are at work and it was arranged at short notice,” he replied.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry eyes up move to Holyrood

Aye, right. The real reason perhaps lay in the long queue of attendees, several of whom were men. Some say there's a scarecrow element among some trans activists who reserve their threats for middle-aged and elderly women.

Any random onlooker might have concluded that the queue was for an afternoon bingo session. In Paul’s eyes these were the handmaidens of hate, complicit in the crimes of Joanna Cherry and JK Rowling. But they were about as hate-filled as the Teletubbies. Among them were many veterans of the 1980s and 1990s struggle for women’s sex-based rights and those of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

A generation ago they were considered to be radical and dangerous. Now, they’re accused of bigotry for defending the rights they gained in a battle which they thought had been won: the right not to be silenced and for their sex and sexuality to be protected.

Upstairs, in the Freemasons’ Hall Ms Cherry seemed anxious as Mr Spiers applied some edits to his questions. She’d had it on good authority that The Stand staff were planning to stage a walk-out halfway through the show. “If that happens, I’ll just take my message onto the street outside,” she said. Others had talked of protesters gaining entrance and disrupting the event.

A few minutes later she was walking onto the stage to the sort of acclaim an Edinburgh audience might once have reserved for the RSNO under the baton of Sir Alexander Gibson: rhapsodic. There were no empty seats in a hall of around 400 and all of them seemed to be occupied by those savage hordes of silver-haired feminists. Usually in an audience like this, sooking too loudly on your peppermints can carry an ASBO.

The Herald: Fans arrive for Joanna Cherry at the The StandFans arrive for Joanna Cherry at the The Stand (Image: free)

Some Stand staff did appear to perform a little act of defiance. Many of them had rainbow-coloured Pride flags hanging out their jouks. This provided an opening for Ms Cherry to get all passive aggressive. She tells them that as a lesbian she’s delighted they’ve shown their support for her by wearing Pride flags.

She’d originally intended only to discuss the gender question as one among many others. Perhaps, though, emboldened by the support of the audience and the probing of Mr Spiers, she takes out a flame-thrower and settles a few scores.

The Scottish Greens were “totalitarian” and the Scottish Government needed to re-negotiate its pact with them. Many members of her own party were guilty of “homophobic abuse”, leading her to threaten them with legal action for attempting to block her from speaking at a gender-critical event.

She praised her boss, Stephen Flynn, for removing the toxic atmosphere in the party’s Westminster group and expressed her appreciation for Humza Yousaf for seeking to do something similar at Holyrood. And she left no doubts she held their predecessors, Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford, responsible for the poison.

As she departed the stage, another few defiant gestures from some of The Stand employees. The words “Protect Trans Kids” appeared on the stage backdrop. Earlier, smoke began to billow from a machine at the side of the stage. Some women at the front of the auditorium became visibly distressed, thinking perhaps that something dangerous was afoot.

Soon, though, it became clear that it was merely another infantile gesture from angry people upset that they had failed – this time – to silence Cherry.

As the audience filed out Kate, an older lesbian and feminist, turned to thank The Stand staff for their service before telling them she very much hoped to meet them all next year at another event like this. An older staff member looked at her and clearly mouthed “No”.

You wouldn’t bet against it, though.

The Stand said: "We are satisfied with the safe delivery of In Conversation With Joanna Cherry, one of more than 1000 performances staged by The Stand throughout the Fringe. We have received no complaints about the show and customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. As occasionally happens with theatre shows, there were one or two minor technical hitches but none that threatened the health or safety of anyone in the theatre."