An 80-year-old woman arrives at a university lecture hall to watch the screening of a feminist film and her entry is barred, first, by masked protesters.

Flora Brodie has become an unwitting poster girl for women’s rights after a video clip showed her trying to stand up to extremist gender bullies attempting, and succeeding, to block the film, Adult Human Female, for the second time at Edinburgh University.

The university, which had agreed to show the film, caved in quickly over “safety concerns”. But watching the video of Brodie more closely, it is the university’s own stewards who obstructed her.

I counted three protesters, hiding behind face coverings, in the melee and, at one point, five people in red jackets surrounding the pensioner.

They could just as easily have escorted her safely inside the building where the film was to be shown but, either on instruction from campus bosses or on their own volition, they sided with the mob.

Women like Brodie are brave to venture into the midst of Scotland’s once enlightened seat of learning these days. 

This is the university where a trans activist, Robyn Woof, charged with alleged assault following the last failed bid to screen Adult Human Female in December, was reportedly re-elected to a key role within the student association.

A university, for all its academic eminence, that now has a reputation as the champion of cancel culture and of defending lynch mobs against its lecturers, as it did in the case of Neil Thin after he opposed the renaming of the David Hume Tower.

Thin was one of the founding members of Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom, the group of dons who planned the film screening, and which has now demanded an explanation from senior management about its failure “to protect academic freedom on campus”.

The incident has also been raised at Westminster by the SNP MP Joanna Cherry, and at Holyrood by Tess White, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland.

The university said it was committed to “fostering an inclusive, supportive and safe environment for our whole community”, but White, in a letter to the provost, said “warm words” were not enough. 

“This was supposed to have been an opportunity for people to exchange their views on women’s rights in the kind of environment that should not only facilitate freedom of speech, but actively defend it. Instead, Edinburgh University sided with a censorious minority who shut down debate by shutting women out.”

Student rabbles have long been a feature of undergraduate life, and protesting is a rite of passage, but the belligerent hordes in Edinburgh do not fit the stereotype of rebellious youth.

The crowd was reportedly made up of two groups, Staff-Student Solidarity Network Edinburgh and the Edinburgh University Staff Pride Network, which has past form drowning out dissenting voices at Edinburgh, including a planned discussion about trans ideology in schools.

The university appears to have lost control of its faculty members or it condones their illiberal mindset and totalitarian tactics.

A former rector, Ann Henderson, who ended her three-year term in 2021, said she had been subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse and attempts to silence her after she called for a reasoned debate on gender recognition reforms.

And when she sought support from the university principal, Peter Mathieson, he was craven, arguing “it will only make matters worse if we attempt to intervene”.

With such spineless leadership, it is no wonder that Edinburgh has nurtured a culture described by its most respected academic, Tom Devine, as “unacceptable and sinister”.

The toxic atmosphere resembles that at Sussex University two years ago, when the feminist philosopher Kathleen Stock was hounded out of her job, as much by colleagues as students.

But there have been encouraging signs since then that trans zealots have lost the momentum and that some organisations, even universities, are belatedly rediscovering the value of debate in a democracy.

Stock herself was allowed to speak at the Cambridge Union last autumn, where her motion – “This house believes in the right to offend” – won the day.

Stock is also scheduled to speak at the Oxford Union next month, after it rejected moves by the LGBTQ+ Society to no-platform her.

Although the culture wars are far from over, leading academics and people like Oxford’s recent vice-chancellor, the fearless Louise Richardson, have helped counter the cult of censorship by challenging trans tyranny.

But in Edinburgh, elderly ladies can still be manhandled out of a film viewing by a bunch of mostly male misogynist thugs. Is it because of the political backdrop, fomented by Nicola Sturgeon, that prioritises the radical theories of trans ideologues over the interests of the majority of women?

Sturgeon is no longer in power, her controversial trans legislation is in limbo, and her successor, Humza Yousaf, normally so in awe of her, has come out for freedom of speech in the wake of the Edinburgh protests.

Perhaps someone should tell Professor Mathieson that the tide is turning.

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