People sometimes say Scotland is more liberal and progressive and nicer than other parts of the UK, particularly the you-know-whos south of the border, but the truth is that Scots sometimes are, and sometimes aren’t, better than our neighbours. I know that doesn’t fit quite so neatly on the kind of placards people wave about on marches but that’s how it goes.

The subject of gay rights and trans rights proves the point clearly. When the Scottish Government was preparing its trans self-ID bill, Nicola Sturgeon (avec un “Choose Love” T-shirt) was named the honorary grand marshal of Pride Glasgow and went out on a march and did a speech and everything. “I’m proud,” she said, “that Scotland is considered to be one of the most progressive countries in Europe regarding LGBT equality.”

In some ways Ms Sturgeon was spot on: Scotland is undoubtedly considered to be one of the most progressive countries in Europe regarding LGBT equality but it’s a reputation that’s not entirely deserved. In the speech, Ms Sturgeon referred to a young man called Blair Wilson from Neilston who was targeted in a homophobic attack. After the attack, Blair took a picture of the blood running down his face, and blood running down a young man’s face is not generally a sign of a liberal and tolerant society.

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Undoubtedly, attitudes more generally have changed – in fact, on gay marriage the shift has been remarkably swift, going from most-are-against to most-are-in-favour in a very short time indeed. But the bigger point is it’s the UK as a whole rather than Scotland in particular that’s shifted. Surveys of attitudes around the world show the UK to be amongst the most liberal on gay rights, divorce, abortion, and euthanasia, and that includes Scots. In other words, we’re broadly the same as the English (again, not something you’re going to see on placards any time soon).

So where does that leave the idea that Scots are more left-wing and progressive than the English? The truth is the Scots are more left-wing, but only by a little; the other problem is that “left-wing” and “Scottish nationalist” are often conflated with “liberal” and “socially progressive” and that’s not always what it’s like in reality. The political research group What Scotland Thinks did some interesting work recently which showed 40% of people with socially conservative views support Scottish independence and you could see it in the internal struggles that happened in the SNP over issues such as abortion and trans rights.

Scots should also try to be modest about our achievements on gay rights in particular. This week is exactly 20 years since Section 28 was repealed in England and Wales and Robbie De Santos, of the campaign group Stonewall, explained what the law, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality, meant for many people. A whole generation, he said, were deprived of the chance to see role models in their lives because teachers were outlawed from telling them about same-sex relationships, and that’s true and means the anniversary of the end of the law is undoubtedly something we should be celebrating.

As it happens, Scotland’s story was a little bit different; in fact, it may be a source of pride to some Scots (especially those who think we’re generally better than the English) that the Scottish Parliament abolished Scotland’s version of the Section 28 law three years earlier than the English and Welsh bill. The only problem is that the headline, while good, hides something deeper. And I was there to see it.

It was early 2000 when it reached its height. I was working for The Daily Record, which threw its weight behind the Keep The Clause campaign to prevent the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland. The campaign was led by Brian Souter, who was a supporter of the SNP (just saying), and day after day, the paper published pieces explaining why they thought Souter was right and Section 28 should stay and, in a rare act of rebellion, I told my editor I wouldn’t work on the stories. I’m quite proud of myself for saying that,

In fact, looking back – assuming that the editors of the Record in 2000 wanted to chime with their readers – they may have made the right call at the time. Daily Record readers were generally Labour-voting but a lot of them were also socially conservative and that was probably borne out by the fact that when Souter held his referendum on keeping Section 28 in Scotland, one million Scots voted in favour. One. Million. Blimey.

It’s also worth remembering that Scotland was very late to the party indeed in decriminalising homosexuality. England got round to it in the 1960s but it took Scotland until the 1980s – the 1980s! – to do the same. It’s also worth remembering who was Prime Minister at that time: the one lots of Scots love to hate and the one who introduced Section 28, as it happens. But remember also that Margaret Thatcher supported decriminalisation long before Scotland was ready to accept it and her support came from a pragmatic view that the state should generally keep out of people’s private lives and that the courts should spend their time on something more important. In other words, it was classic conservatism converging with social progress, which happens way more than you’d think.

Which only leaves, I suppose, one subject to tackle, which is: what have we really learned from the repeal of Section 28 some 20 years ago and have we really moved on? There are some who say definitely not and that the arguments over trans rights are similar to the arguments that raged over Section 28; the fearmongering over the self-ID bill, they say, is the fearmongering of the Keep the Clause campaign.

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But again: I was there and I’m inclined to think now that the two cases are not directly comparable. Gay rights campaigners argued for equality in law, in work, in schools and in the end the equality could be enshrined in law without threatening or damaging the human rights of any other group. The problem with the trans debate 20 years on – and even trans activists need to accept this – is that the rights claimed by two groups in society are overlapping and clashing and some kind of compromise will need to be found. The arguments made by some feminists against self-ID also self-evidently do not come from the socially-conservative place that the Keep The Clause campaign dominated in 2000.

In the end, the furore over self-ID also proves the central point here which is that, broadly, Scotland is just as liberal or anti-liberal, conservative or progressive, as England. There was a time when Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership thought they could prove that Scotland was ahead of the rest of the UK by passing their self-ID bill. But we know what happened to that, don’t we? And it happened in Scotland for the same reason that a similar law hasn’t been passed in England. We haven’t reached an acceptable consensus on the subject yet and, if the compromise is to be found, Scotland and our friends and neighbours in the rest of the UK will probably find it at exactly the same time.