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by Henry Hill
Monday, 6
February 2023
Debate
07:00

Is the gender bill Nicola Sturgeon’s poll tax moment?

Both her ratings and the SNP's have slipped into negative territory
by Henry Hill
Choose plummeting ratings. Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Image.

Ever since Alex Salmond won his historic (and supposedly impossible) overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, the Scottish National Party has appeared a near-unstoppable political juggernaut. 

Yet in the midst of the continuing fallout from Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to pass her controversial Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, it looks as if the magic might finally have run out.


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When Alister Jack exercised never-before-used powers to veto the Bill, it was supposed to trigger exactly the sort of constitutional showdown with the London Tories the SNP live for.

But there was no popular backlash. Instead, the First Minister was plunged into a row about the placement of male-bodied trans prisoners in female prisons. The tension with her policy on self-ID is obvious; the interviews where she tries to evade it are excruciating.

Moreover, while the SNP has ridden out many scandals over the past few years — school standards, NHS outcomes, drugs deaths, missing ferries, and more — this one seems to be sticking. The latest polling shows support for the Nationalists down in both Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions.

Sturgeon’s personal ratings are also now in negative territory — a far cry from the days when Holyrood magazine depicted her as an angel above the headline ‘Can she do no wrong?’

The Scottish Government ought to have been able to see this coming. Polling from December and January found that even when Scots were broadly supportive of the direction of its gender policy, there was deep disquiet about particular aspects, especially lowering the age of transition to 16.

Of course, that’s easy to say in retrospect. But other people did: Downing Street signed off on Jack’s veto in part because it apparently had polling which suggested the move would be well-received in Scotland. A finely-tuned political antenna based in Scotland should have picked that up.

But when you’ve been in power so long, and shrugged off so much, you lose touch. After almost a decade in office, belief in one’s own invincibility is a dangerous temptation; the desire to secure a landmark legacy another — especially in a party as ruthlessly centralised as the SNP. 

When times are good, phalanx-like discipline is a great strength. But when they’re not, the inflexibility turns into a handicap.

Gender has been one of the fault lines along which Nationalist discipline has been fracturing for some time. But the First Minister has shown little tolerance of dissent. Prominent Nationalists who might have warned the First Minister about the political impact of the GRR Bill, such as Joanna Cherry, have been ruthlessly excluded by the party hierarchy.

It’s too early to say if this will be Sturgeon’s poll tax moment. Even now, she polls much better than any of her Holyrood rivals.

But the parallels with Margaret Thatcher’s final years are clear. And the recent collapse in the Conservatives’ polling, after Brexit held them north of 40% throughout the chaos of 2016 to 2019, shows that constitutional politics won’t let any party defy political gravity forever.

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Arkadian X
Arkadian X
7 months ago

“Polling from December and January found that even when Scots were broadly supportive… ”

And the source is… The National from February 2022 (!). If memory serves me right, pretty much all the polls showed the policy was disliked in its entirety and the more time passed – and people understood what it meant – the less it was liked. The second link, from the times, hardly shows a population “broadly supportive”. Do people check the articles before they get published??

Also, in the scandals that engulfed Sturgeon you fail to mention the Salmond affair which is hardly a footnote, is it.

Last edited 7 months ago by Andrea X
Peter Quasi-Modo
Peter Quasi-Modo
7 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Very good point. The wording in that poll was deliberately biassed to get a “broadly supportive” answer: “To what extent, if at all, would you support or oppose making the process to acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) easier for transgender individuals?” The phrasing avoids the key issue of whether a double-rapist who poses in front of the paperazzi with his crotch bulging in his leggings is a “transgender individual”.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
7 months ago

It is always photographs and videos that bring people down when Nemesis decides the hubris has just got to point where she needs to go visiting.
The knob court snatch pic did for her (ie the real ‘her’; Nicola) as much as anything… and when the chance-in-a-million event of someone obviously taking the proverbial out of the system with the equally ludicrous Tiffany Scott, her goose was cooked.
The good thing is this transgender craziness has started a ball rolling against the entire wokey agenda with questioning the stupidities of more and more of the hectoring ‘Anywheres’ , and not only in Scotland.

Peter Thanisch
Peter Thanisch
7 months ago

Traditionally, Scottish voters seem to like Scotland being a one-party state, but every generation they swap parties.Before the 1960’s, most of the votes, and a disproportionate number of seats at both national and local level, went to the Convervatives. (Yes, more than 50% of voters in Scotland voted Conservaive in 1959.) Then, it was Labour’s turn. they completely dominated Scottish politics until 2015 (The Tories hardly had a taxi-full of Scottish MPs throughout the Thatcher heyday.) Then it was the SNP’s turn to be Robert Mugabe. All three parties maxed-out at about 50% of the vote before going into decline.

Last edited 7 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter Thanisch

Yeah I know it’s amazing isn’t it? Everyone forgets that Scots used to support the Tories!

Chris W
Chris W
7 months ago

The synical answer, perhaps, is to reduce the voting age to 14.

What we are seeing here is the fallacy that young people will control things from now on. The silent majority, the older people, can’t be bothered to vote because the politicians are just silly – you have Nicola in a T-shirt pretending to be young. So, the political ideas get sillier and sillier (they think they’re winning – everybody must wear a T-shirt).

Until one day the silent majority says, “Enough is enough. Time to have a proper person in charge of Scotland like, er ……”.

Peter Quasi-Modo
Peter Quasi-Modo
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris W

Totally agree! The voting age for Scottish Parliament elections is 16 and Nicola know that Trans is the only political issue about which the teen vote really engages. They don’t care nearly so much about the economy, health and education as they do about Trans. They are never going to do the equivalent of burning their Harry Potters over the dire state of their job prospects, etc.Nicola’s gamble was that (a) she could hoover up the teen vote and (b) the rest of us wouldn’t take much notice about what was happening. She was probably right about the former, but she seems to have miscaclulated the latter.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
7 months ago

At the same time because of scientific evidence that the ‘brain is not fully developed below the age of 25’ the Scottish Sentencing Council recommended a new policy taking an “individualistic approach” to sentencing for under 25s
And indeed in an earlier piece of totalitarian legislation passed in Holyrood called the Named Person Act all ‘children’ under the age of 18 would get a state appointed ‘Named Person’ to whom they could complain about nasty or abusive behaviour by the their family.
This person would have been able to instigate criminal proceedings without any agency ever telling anyone in the family.
“Holy Carl Beech, Batman” What could possibly go wrong?”
16,18,25…you picks a number and takes your chances.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris W

Scottish Sentencing Council recommended an “individualistic approach” … The council said its decision was based on scientific evidence that the brain is not fully developed below that age.
The above is a report from the BBC, and I believe that this has actually been known for some years now. However, my question is – If, in Scotland, they belive that this information about the brains of under twenty-fives means that they should not face the full force of the law, then why are they permitted to vote or change “gender” at sixteen in Scotland?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

This weird woke stuff is anathema to the working classes. Nicola Sturgeon has basically said that any SNP MPs who oppose the GRR Bill need to step out of the party asap. Claiming men can be women is a very strange hill for a political party to die on. Future generations of students will look back at this highly ideological period of Western history in bemused wonderment at our intellectual stupidity.

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago

Significant parts of Scotland used to be a Labour political machine… until it became a SNP political machine. Yet the dangers of running a political machine is that eventually it becomes obviously divorced from reality and previously ‘reliable’ voters turn elsewhere. Of course that depends on there being an ‘elsewhere’ to turn to.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

As you say there has to be a party for “reliable” voters to turn to, and I don’t see that happening soon!

Emre S
Emre S
7 months ago

You can ignore reality but you can’t avoid the consequences of ignoring reality.
It looks like Scottish progressives are beginning to hit the walls of reality, in this case with a glaringly obvious public incident of trans imprisonment that defied their ideological conditioning. It may prove to be a lucky escape that they’re stopped before they do more damage.
This is the same reason streets of San Francisco are full of drug addicts encouraged to embrace their insanity instead of getting the help they need.
Well intentioned insanity is not a cure to the world’s problems, and this is what this boils down to for me.

Last edited 7 months ago by Emre Emre
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
7 months ago

As I’ve said previously, what a strange hill for the political careers of Sturgeon and her acolytes to die on.

But proof that their long years of perpetual power, like all long term office holders (whether democrats or tyrants), has created the inevitable hubris that results in them thinking they can do what they like and get away with it.

As an Anglo Scot, I find the embarrassment for Scots of this palaver hugely amusing!

Bill Scott
Bill Scott
7 months ago

Judging by recent comments at Holyrood and on TV, the SNP appears to believe that there are three sexes: female, male and rapist. This wild excess of the imagination will surely not go unpunished.

j watson
j watson
7 months ago

It does feel like a last roll of the dice by the First Minister to create a jurisdiction fight with Westminster as a way of corralling more support for Indyref 2. Regardless of particular views on the specific Trans rights issue it’s odd ground to have decided to fight. Surely she’ll have known the issue will greatly divide her own supporters and actually rebound on her?
Just makes one think she’ll be standing down and looking for a different role come next election. She probably also knows that if Labour get in the desire for full independence will dim, even if she got agreement to IndyRef2 in any electoral pact – and I don’t think Labour would grant that anyway.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

If the SNP loses she will paint herself as an LGBQT martyr that fell victim to far-right ideologues.

Denis Stone
Denis Stone
7 months ago

Speaking to Global Player’s The News Agents podcast, Sturgeon claimed that critics of her ‘sex-swap’ Bill are “transphobic”, “deeply misogynist, often homophobic, possibly some of them racist as well”. Yes, she/he/it has really lost it.