Edinburgh Festival Fringe: SNP MP Joanna Cherry presses ahead with legal action over venue ban

Stand Comedy Club told to apologise and reinstate event to avoid court action

SNP MP Joanna Cherry has vowed to pursue a legal action against a leading cultural venue unless it reinstates an Edinburgh Festival Fringe appearance and apologises for pulling the plug on her event.

The Stand Comedy Club has been told she is seeking damages for an “unlawful and discriminatory” decision to abandon a booking scrapped after some staff said they were “unwilling” to work at her show.

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The Edinburgh MP said she is “prepared to take whatever legal action is necessary to vindicate my right not to be misrepresented and not to be discriminated against” after the venue claimed it could not stage her event on “a properly staffed, safe and legally compliant basis.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty ImagesSNP MP Joanna Cherry. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
SNP MP Joanna Cherry. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Fellow Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard is the co-founder of The Stand and is still director of the business.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, entered the debate over Ms Cherry’s Fringe event by saying he “would defend her right to able to ensure that her voice is heard and hopefully a compromise position can be found.”

Asked if he would be making that point to Mr Sheppard, Mr Flynn said: “It’s not my position to delve into an issue directly relating to a business and indeed who they want to come and speak to them, but Joanna knows that she very much has my support on this issue and hopefully a compromise can be found.”

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Humza Yousaf, who won the SNP’s leadership battle and was appointed First Minister in March, has already said that he hopes that “a solution can be found” to allow Ms Cherry's talk will go ahead.

The Fringe appearance by Ms Cherry, who has opposed the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reform legislation, was announced in February.

However controversy flared last month when transgender comic Bethany Black scrapped an appearance at The Stand in Glasgow citing the booking of Ms Cherry.

The Stand initially insisted it was opposed to any form of discrimination, “including against people on the basis of their gender identity.”

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Defending the booking at the time, its board said: “We believe that people should have the right to express views that others might find controversial or strongly disagree with, providing this is done within the law and does not violate our code of conduct.”

In a letter to Mike Jones, managing director at The Stand, Ms Cherry’s solicitor, David McKie, said: “Our client did not start this or indeed do anything to instigate your change of position.

“She was invited by you to speak at an event, agreed and has now been prevented from so doing as a result of an unlawful act on your part.

"It has become a very public issue and has caused her considerable distress and wholly unjustified damage to her reputation, which she has had to defend immediately and unexpectedly by your actions.

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“Our client respects the views of others and believes in freedom of thought and expression. She has no objection to those who disagree with her but does object to being treated unlawfully simply because some people may happen to disagree with her views (or perceive so based on what they may have read about her).”

Ms Cherry said: “In the last few days, I’ve been greatly heartened by the support I’ve received.

“Many well-informed people have made it clear they consider the decision of The Stand to be both unacceptable and discriminatory.

“Despite those views, and my stated desire that The Stand ‘see sense’, there has been no reversal of the decision.

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“The actions of the Stand and all that has followed thereon are symptomatic of a wider problem in our society.

"I’m very concerned that those who hold perfectly legitimate views on a variety of issues, including women like me, are regularly being misrepresented, de-platformed and, in some cases, facing damage to or the loss of livelihoods. This is often accompanied by online abuse and threats.

“The debate on gender self-identification is a very important one which must be allowed to take place, but I’m a woman of many parts who was engaged to talk about my political life in general.

"I see the cancelling of my one-hour event as the thin end of the wedge.”