In 1727, up in the Scottish Highlands, a mother stood accused of being a witch. Her crime? Allegedly riding her daughter like a pony to have her shod by the devil. It may sound ludicrous today, but at a time of unchecked religious superstition and three hundred years into the European witch craze, this seemed a perfectly reasonable explanation for her daughter’s deformed hands and feet. A simple accusation levelled by a neighbour was all it took for formal proceedings to begin, ending with the mother being publicly humiliated before being burnt alive. Her name was Janet Horne, and she was the last woman in the British Isles to be legally executed for ‘witchcraft’.
Fast forward to 2021 and a Scottish mother stands accused of transphobia and homophobia. Her crime? Posting a number of ‘hateful’ tweets. While the tweets have not been made public, it’s alleged that one of them contains a picture of ribbons in the green, white and purple colours of the Suffragette flag tied to a fence. It may sound ludicrous, but in the midst of an unchecked global identity craze and the systemic erosion of women’s rights in Scotland, showing support for the very protection of these rights is now frequently framed as ‘hate’. A simple objection by a member of the public was all it took for the mother to be questioned by the police, threatened with social services intervention for her six children, charged under the Malicious Communications Act, and released on bail with special conditions while awaiting trial. Her name is Marion Millar and she joins a growing list of women being investigated, fired or banned for simply stating biological facts or being critical of gender ideology.
Millar was due to attend a hearing on Tuesday 20th July and a protest rally had been organised outside the Sheriff’s Court by For Women Scot, a women’s rights organisation co-founded by the late Magdalen Berns and for whom Millar is the accountant. Following an outpouring of public support and the announcement that the formidable Joanna Cherry QC would be defending Millar, the hearing was pushed back to the 17th August with just five days to go. For Women Scotland decided to go ahead with the rally regardless, moving it to Glasgow Green; a symbolic location as it was the site of the first Suffragette meeting in 1872.
What happened on that Tuesday morning was magical – a show of solidarity, a celebration of sisterhood, and the raising of a distinctly Scottish battle cry: “Women won’t wheesht!” (“Women won’t shut up”). The atmosphere was electric from the moment the first self-identified ‘witches’ descended on the Green to park their broomsticks. The sun was already beating down, placards and banners were put up, and the Suffragette colours were everywhere – from the banners to skirts, T-shirts, sashes, capes and even meticulously painted nails.
For many it was the first time attending such a gathering, or the first group gathering since lockdown. It was also a unique opportunity to mingle with ‘Twitter people’ and well-known faces in real life, and a number of witches couldn’t stop fan-girling as they met the likes of Kellie-Jay Keen (aka Posie Parker), Susan Dalgety, Belstaffie, Julia Long, Kate Harris from LGB Alliance, Kate Coleman from Keep Prisons Single Sex, and also Lisa Keogh who’d recently been thrust into the identity madness for having the temerity to state “Women have vaginas” at her university. And of course there was Marion herself, although she opted to stay mainly on the sideline and let the speakers take to the microphone.
Marion Millar listening to the speeches with Kellie-Jay Keen (Posie Parker). (Photo: @tweepwitch on Twitter)
Over the next hour and a half 27 speakers expressed their sense of anger, disappointment and betrayal in impassioned speeches, particularly taking aim at Nicola Sturgeon who launched the SNP’s Women’s Pledge in Glasgow in 2015 only for her government to seek to redefine the legal definition of a woman as an ‘identity’, exclude women from the new controversial hate crime bill by explicitly omitting sex as an aggravator, and initially resisting pleas to grant sexual assault and rape survivors the right to specify the sex of the person examining them after an attack.
The speakers also spoke of their determination and the need to come together and reach across the aisle:
“Woman is our word, it is ours, we won’t let it go.”
“Silence and division are enemies to women’s rights. Women’s rights are enough to forego everything else, time and time and time again.”
“Make your anger work for you and our movement and we become a force to be reckoned with. Don’t give’m the finger – give’m a fist!”
“Sisters – we are strong, we are invincible, we are women.”
Women Won’t Wheesht (‘Women Won’t Shut Up’) banner. (Photo: MrMenno)
There was poetry, there was singing, and there was laughter. Four ‘bawbags’ (Scottish slang for man, not always used affectionately) also spoke, including comedy-writing legend Graham Linehan, who received a rapturous applause for his unequivocal support for women’s rights, a concerned dad, and yours truly after Marion asked me to speak.
While the crowd cheered and bonded, on Twitter #GlasgowGreen and #WomenWontWheesht started trending. It wasn’t long before the witches were denounced online as hateful TERFs, transphobes and gruesome gunters, with some saying the gathering was ‘shameful’, referring to the ‘horrendous scenes’ on the Green, and others tweeting that they’d love to see a rain of bullets rip through the crowd and wishing serial woman-killer ‘Bible John’ had been there. The witchcraft acts in Scotland may have been repealed years ago, but the demonization of women has never gone out of fashion and Twitter is a particularly potent platform for it – while ‘hateful haberdashery’ can land you in court. By contrast, messages of support came in from around the world, including pictures of sunny beaches with ‘Women Won’t Wheesht’ written in the sand or spelled out using seashells, and a tweet from JK Rowling.
A message of solidarity from Cyprus. (Photo: @xxwitchwomanxx on Twitter)
The speeches ended on a high note with a round of chanting and Marion thanking everyone for their support. Recharged and inspired, the witches flew off to various watering holes and speculated about what would happen next. Would the hearing be postponed again, would the charges be dropped, or would it be better for this modern day witch hunt to be exposed fully in court?
“If they lock her up, they’re going to have to find a lot of room because we’ll all be going to prison”, said Caroline McCallister, one of the speakers.
Marion herself was overwhelmed by the support. The last couple of months have been a nightmare that not only saw her arrested and charged, but also her GoFundMe page taken down and her PayPal account locked so she couldn’t use those to raise funds for her legal fees. I ask her if there’s anything she wants people to know, and she says: “I am not homophobic or transphobic. If I was, why would I have support from lesbians, gay men and trans people?” She also told me that the letter informing her of the new court date addressed her as ‘Sir’. “The misgendering was probably the toughest”, she jokes, “All that literal violence!”
(Photo: @code_female on Twitter)
During the witch hunts women often had their bodies searched for birthmarks, believed to be signs of where the devil or his imps had licked them or sucked blood. It was a craze that saw an estimated 50,000 women put to death. Today, self-appointed online inquisitors treat women’s tweets the same way, feverishly pouring over them in search of the next ‘TERF’ to cancel, or worse – prosecute.
The seriousness of Marion’s case cannot be overstated – the way it develops will impact every single person in Scotland, male or female, young or old, from any ethnic or religious background, and their ability to name what a man or a woman is based on the blatantly obvious fact that our bodies are sexed. It’s the very situation Magdalen Berns raised the alarm about in 2018: “If you cannot talk about the fact that you have a female body you won’t be able to defend any of your rights.” The Millar case will show either how deeply entrenched Witch Hunt 2.0 has become, or if the misogynistic spell of gender ideology over Scotland’s law enforcement can be broken. Whichever way it plays out, one thing is clear: a coven has risen and it will be heard.
(Photo: @IdollyDancing on Twitter)
Top cover photo of the crowd by Helen Steel.
All the speeches on the day on Glasgow Green on 20th July on this YouTube film.
You can visit MrMenno’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV3876CGo9uVUvoZuUZsMgg
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