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by Louise Wilson
13 February 2023
Exclusive: Half of voters say UK Government ‘right’ to block gender reform bill

Protesters gathered outside Downing Street in opposition to the section 35 | Alamy

Exclusive: Half of voters say UK Government ‘right’ to block gender reform bill

Half of voters agree the UK Government was “right” or “within its rights” to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, according to an exclusive poll shared with Holyrood.

But a third said the UK Government was “wrong” to use its section 35 powers to prevent the bill from becoming law.

The bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament at the end of last year by 86 votes to 39. A majority of Labour and SNP MSPs backed it, as did all the Lib Dems and Greens.

Designed to make the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate easier for trans people by removing the need for a medical diagnosis, opponents raised concerns about the impact this would have on women, particularly access to single-sex spaces.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack prevented the bill from receiving royal assent, citing concerns about the impact it would have on the operation of the Equality Act, a reserve piece of legislation.

According to the poll by Lord Ashcroft, which took the view of 2,105 Scots between 26 January and 3 February, 43 per cent of people said they both opposed the bill and that the UK Government was right to block it.

A further seven per cent said that while they supported the bill, the UK Government acted “within its rights”.

However, 22 per cent said they both supported the bill and thought the UK Government was wrong to block it.

A further 11 per cent said while they did not agree with the bill, the UK Government should not have intervened.

Following Jack’s announcement last month, SNP ministers accused the UK Government of interfering with devolved matters.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was using trans people as a “political weapon” and the move showed “complete contempt for the Scottish Parliament”.

Her government intends to challenge the section 35 order in court.

Section 35 of the Scotland Act allows the Scottish secretary to instruct the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer not to submit bills for royal assent if he has “reasonable grounds to believe [it] would have an adverse effect on the operation of the law as it applies to reserved matters”.

The exclusive poll found men (51 per cent) were slightly more likely than women (49 per cent) support the UK Government’s position – though a third of both men and women felt it was in the wrong.

There was also a clear different of opinion by age. Almost half (48 per cent) of 16-24-year-olds said the UK Government was wrong and 29 per cent said it was “right” or “within its rights”.

Those aged 25 to 49 were roughly evenly split, with 40 per cent saying the UK Government was right and 39 per cent wrong.

Those age over 50 were considerably more likely to back the UK Government.

Among those who said they would vote ‘No’ in a future independence referendum, a huge 80 per cent said the UK Government was “right” or “within its rights” to block the bill, with only 10 per cent saying it was wrong.

Among likely Yes voters, though, 62 per cent said the UK Government was wrong and 21 per cent said it was right.

The poll also found that half of Scots would rather have a “law made in Westminster that I agreed with” rather than a “law made in Scotland that I disagree with”. More than a quarter (28 per cent) preferred the latter.

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