Protestors gathered in Glasgow this week (ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

February 10, 2023   4 mins

The polarising effect of the transgender debate on public opinion in Scotland is revealed today in new research for “UnHerd Britain”. A poll of 5,000 people across Great Britain, conducted this month, put four different statements to voters about the trans issue and asked whether they agree or disagree:

The results have been analysed by FocalData to produce MRP estimates for each constituency.

For each issue, the most “trans-sceptical” constituencies in Britain are found in Scotland. In aggregate, Scottish people are also more trans-sceptical than English people, meaning that a higher proportion of them disagree and disagree strongly with the statements we put in front of them.

This result confounds political cliches about the new gender ideology being synonymous with “progressive” politics, given that Scottish people in aggregate self-describe as more Left-wing than the English, and are led by a leading proponent of the ideology, Nicola Sturgeon. It provides a glimpse of what may happen in other nations when the debate moves from a theoretical side-issue to a mainstream political argument with real-world consequences.

The first thing confirmed by the data is that there is a bedrock of goodwill and understanding towards transpeople. Asked whether “people should be able to identify as being of a different gender from the one they had recorded at birth”, 52% of British voters agree and only 24% disagree. Every single constituency in Britain agrees with the statement. Even voters aged 65+ tend to agree, as well as Conservative Party and Brexit Party voters.

When, in a separate poll for UnHerd Britain, respondents were presented with the more philosophical claim that “transwomen are women”, it resulted in an unusually high degree of confusion: 33% agreed, 33% disagreed and 34% were unsure. And when asked if they agreed with the statement that “it should be made easier for transgender people to change their legal gender”, voters are also undecided. Overall, 37% agree, 33% disagree, and 30% don’t know.

The map of constituencies across the country on this last question reveals a broad rural-urban divide, with urban areas, along with historically liberal rural areas such as the South West of England, agreeing with the statement. More than any other demographic factor it is age that drives opinion on this issue, with 50% of 18-24-year-olds agreeing compared to only 28% of those aged 65 or older.

Once you start asking about specific policies and impacts, the results move in a decidedly more sceptical direction. Asked whether “transgender women should be allowed to use spaces reserved for women, such as women’s toilets or changing rooms”, 33% agree and 42% disagree. Most of the 53 constituencies that support the idea contain city centres and student towns, while all but one of the top 10 most opposed constituencies are in Scotland.

Whereas taken as a whole population, Scotland is only slightly more trans-sceptical than England and Wales (31% of Scottish people strongly disagree with the proposition about women-only spaces, compared with 28% in Wales and 27% in England), those areas in strongest disagreement are almost all in Scotland. In total, 45% of Scottish voters oppose the idea compared with 32% who support it. The result in Scotland underscores the political risk to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of her Gender Recognition Bill.

Most decisively, on the question of whether “transgender women should be allowed to take part in women’s sporting events”, voters have come to a settled view. Fully 57% of people disagree, with only 22% agreeing. There is only one constituency in Britain which is estimated to agree with the proposition (Manchester Central) and one that is equally split (Liverpool Riverside). Both are student constituencies. Every other constituency tends to oppose the idea, including all Scottish constituencies.

Taken as a whole, there seems to be a majority of voters coming to a nuanced position on this issue: supportive of people who wish to identify as a different gender, but sharply defensive of women-only spaces and sports. And on the evidence of Scotland, the more they are exposed to the arguments the clearer that view becomes.

is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.