This time last year, our article ‘Losing sight of women’s rights: the unregulated introduction of gender self-identification as a case study of policy capture in Scotland’ was published in the journal Scottish Affairs.
A couple of months prior to publication, we were made aware of an effort from within the publishing house, Edinburgh University Press (EUP), to prevent publication on the grounds that our article was transphobic.
When EUP senior staff received an internal memo with this accusation, which we strongly dispute and which was evidenced only by a disagreement over our use of the word “woman”, they shared it outside the organisation. Before doing so, they appear to have made no further assessment of its reasonableness and gave us no opportunity to comment. Without our knowledge, despite the article having been accepted for publication by the journal editor, EUP editors sent the unanonymised article to the University of Edinburgh legal team, on the basis that two of us were understood to be employees of the University.
EUP is on the record as having done this to establish whether the content of our article breached the University’s Dignity and Respect policy, an internal guidance document setting out behaviour expected of University staff and students.
This was an exceptional breach of normal practice.
The University legal team declined to give an opinion on compatibility with internal university policy, citing academic freedom and the right of the journal’s editorial board to publish. The EUP, quite exceptionally, also subjected the journal to questions about its internal processes.
This was a shocking experience for the three of us, both at a personal and professional level, and also because of the implications for freedom of speech and academic freedom. We included an account of this episode in our submission to the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, as we believe that had this happened with the provisions in the bill enacted, the proposed “stirring up” provisions could easily have been invoked by those making wholly unreasonable accusations against us, and the stakes would immediately have been much higher for all concerned, however much we contested the reading of our piece.
We remain grateful to the journal for standing by its original decision to publish.
Dr Kath Murray, Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Lisa Mackenzie
2 August 2020