IT’S not often that the Scottish Parliament manages to overcome party divisions and stand together as one, especially during an election period.

But I hope that today’s vote on my safe access zones bill will bring out the best in our chamber.

It’s a simple but crucial bill that will end the intimidation and abuse that has happened for far too long outside hospitals and medical settings all across our country.

It is a long overdue reform that will finally stop anti-choice protesters from targeting women using services and the staff who are delivering them. Fundamentally it is about safety and ensuring that everyone can access the healthcare they are entitled to without passing a gauntlet of placards and banners.

When I first saw images of the so-called “vigils” I was horrified. Some of the protesters were using powerful megaphones and sound systems, and some were brandishing posters of very graphic images.

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Surely a hospital is the last place where anyone should be subjected to such awful judgement and harassment? I couldn’t believe it was happening in Scotland in the 21st century, and I knew that we had to stop it.

I wanted to know more, so, over the next few weeks, I spoke to grassroots campaigners, medical staff and women who had experienced and endured the protests first hand. This was the start of the process that would lead to my bill.

It has been a very emotional journey to get here. So many women have opened up to me, trusting me with their very personal and difficult stories in the hope that nobody else would have to go through what they did.

After I announced that I would be moving a bill, my office organised a consultation – which saw more than 12,000 responses – as well as meetings with trade unionists, medics and religious groups. It made clear both the frequency and the scale of the protests, but also the strength of feeling that lay behind the call for action.

(Image: PA)

I also took the time to meet with MSPs from all parties. Sometimes it was in small groups and sometimes it was one to one to discuss any reservations or concerns that they may have had.

These were often very frank and honest conversations, and sometimes very difficult. But I wanted to ensure that I was preparing the most robust bill possible and that we had the widest cross-party support we could build without compromising on any of the protections.

It was April 30 when my bill finally had its stage 1 debate – this is when parliament voted on its principles. It was a positive debate and I was overwhelmed by the support I received, with 123 MSPs voting to support it and only one voting against.

Today will be a big day – but my biggest hope is that people will be able to forget why this bill was ever necessary and that these protests ever happened in the first place.

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It has been a long time coming, but we had to get it right. The worst thing we could have done was to bring a bill that was not legally compliant, which would have put us back to square one.

But if the process has felt slow to those of us in parliament then I know it will have been far worse for the thousands of people who have had to pass the protests in the meantime.

Now we are only one afternoon of debate and a vote away from delivering the bill.

It may be my name on it, but this has been a team effort. I want to thank every single MSP and campaigner who has worked so hard to get us here, particularly those who have done so across party lines and resisted the chance for political point scoring.

But most of all I want to thank everyone who shared their stories and allowed me to give voice to their experiences.

I hope that our parliament does you proud.