A few months ago, there was an opinion poll in the Republic of Ireland - a country that introduced gender self-identification six years ago - that provided comprehensive data about how people feel towards the change in the law and its consequences. I was asked at the time whether I would consider commissioning a similar poll in Scotland, and although it's very different from the sort of polls I've taken on in the past, I started thinking it might not be a bad idea. I've been frustrated in the past by the obvious skew in the polling questions that have been asked on the subject of reform of the Gender Recognition Act (very different skews depending on who was asking the questions), and I could see a way in which a more authoritative and credible poll, like the one in Ireland, could help to inform the debate going forward. This issue has really opened up a schism in the independence movement, just as it has in many other progressive movements across the western world. Although the two sides are not going to suddenly start agreeing with each other just because they know what the public think, a small step towards reaching a resolution would be to at least share a common understanding of what public opinion actually is, rather than to have two competing conceptions of "what the voters want" that are completely alien from each other.
The Scottish Government have repeatedly stressed that gender self-identification would not be a frivolous process - even though people would be making the decision for themselves without the involvement of medical gatekeepers, they would still be expected to make a serious, considered decision that will last for a lifetime. There's no intention to open the floodgates to people making a mockery of the process by identifying as women on Tuesday, as men on Wednesday, and as women again on Thursday. It's very important, therefore, that any poll question about self-ID reflects the serious nature of the government's proposal and does not caricature it in any way. That's what I've tried to achieve with the wording of the key question on the principle of gender self-ID, and indeed after discussions with Panelbase my original wording was tweaked further to ensure maximum accuracy.
Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll (a representative sample of 1001 over-16s in Scotland was interviewed by Panelbase between 20th and 26th October 2021)
Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person feels a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. For example, this may mean that a biologically male individual feels strongly that they are female, or a biologically female individual feels strongly that they are male. At present, most people who wish to legally change the sex or gender recorded on their birth certificate must first receive a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, but it is not necessary for them to have undergone gender reassignment surgery. The Scottish Government is committed to changing the law in Scotland within the next year to allow people to legally change their gender without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, provided they make a solemn declaration that they are living in their new gender and will continue to do so.
In your opinion, who should be eligible to legally change the sex or gender recorded on their birth certificate?
Anyone who makes a solemn declaration that they are living in their new gender: 20%
Only people who have been medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria: 18%
Only people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery: 21%
Don't Know / Prefer not to answer: 22%
With a four-option question format, there was a theoretical chance that the order in which the options were presented to respondents could make a difference to the outcome, so to be on the safe side Panelbase used the above order for half of the sample, and the reverse order for the other half. In the end there was only a small difference between the results in the two halves.
So in spite of the fact that the government's proposal has been fairly and accurately presented to respondents, it appears that only around one-fifth of the public actually support it - or one-quarter if Don't Knows are excluded. 58% of respondents, or around three-quarters after Don't Knows are stripped out, chose an option that precludes the possibility of self-ID.
It's worth pointing out that even the current system governing legal changes of gender is slightly more radical than the centre of gravity in public opinion. A total of 40% of respondents either think no-one should be allowed to legally change their gender, or that surgery should be a precondition. That compares to a total of 38% who either support self-ID or think people who have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria (ie. who may not necessarily have had surgery) should be eligible for a legal gender change.
There aren't really any major differences between male and female respondents on this question. The closest thing there is to a significant difference is that only 17% of women believe that no-one should be able to legally change their gender, compared to 22% of men. Unsurprisingly, however, there is a considerable generation gap, with 34% of under-35s supporting self-ID, compared to only 12% of over-55s. Nevertheless, there is only minority backing for self-ID across all age groups.
Which party you vote for is strongly correlated with views on the GRA - much bigger minorities of SNP and Labour voters support self-ID (29% and 25% respectively) than is the case among Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters (7% and 4%). I must say I'm a bit stunned by the result among the Lib Dems, who you'd expect to be extremely liberal on social issues. Maybe they're all Tories who voted tactically for Jo Swinson or Christine Jardine, or maybe the numbers are slightly suspect due to the fact that the subsample of Lib Dem voters is relatively small. Once again, though, the bottom line is that only a minority of voters for each party support the proposed reform of the GRA.
Although the strong opposition to self-ID discovered by this poll is in line with the majority of polls that have been conducted in the past, it's not in line with all of them, and given the importance of this subject to a large number of people, it's incumbent on all of us to seriously consider the reasons for any contradiction. In particular, there was a Savanta ComRes poll earlier this year which gave great heart to the proponents of change, because it appeared to show a plurality in favour of the principle of self-ID. The reasons for the difference between the results of that poll and the new Panelbase poll are almost certainly bound up in the format and wording of the questions - it's unlikely that public opinion has changed so radically in the last few months. The ComRes question arguably had quite a leading wording, because it downplayed the significance of self-ID by portraying it as merely a "streamlining" of existing procedures to make them less expensive, bureaucratic and intrusive for trans people. There was a nod to opposition to change based on fears about women-only spaces, but the question was strangely vague about what those fears were. It is, I would suggest, exceptionally difficult for poll respondents to say they oppose a change that they have just been informed is minor and intended to make people's lives easier. For that reason, I'm confident that the Panelbase results are more credible and should be taken more seriously than the ComRes results.
The other big difference between the two polls is the four-option format of the Panelbase poll. Although the ComRes poll wasn't quite binary choice, it did ask simply about support or opposition to self-ID, rather than offering other options as alternatives. Some will perhaps argue that the Panelbase poll would have been improved if self-ID hadn't been the most radical option out of four - but that would have meant having an additional option of free-for-all self-ID without a solemn declaration, which would in my view have trivialised and distorted the position of self-ID proponents.
As I stated at the outset, I don't expect the Scottish Government to automatically change course because the public oppose their plans. If you believe in something, there's a case to be made for leading public opinion rather than slavishly following it. But they do need to be honest with themselves and with others that they are, as of this moment, running well ahead of where the public are ready to go, rather than persisting with the fiction that there is a huge public clamour for GRA reform. This poll shows that there isn't even a clamour among the SNP's own voters.
UPDATE: Just by complete coincidence, I saw the Liberal Democrat blogger Caron Lindsay on Twitter this morning 'reminding' people that the "overwhelming majority of women" support self-ID. Just for absolute clarity, this poll shows that 21% of women support self-ID, 56% of women favour the options that exclude self-ID, and the remainder are undecided or prefer not to answer. As stated above, among Liberal Democrat voters, just 4% support self-ID, and 61% back one of the other options.
SCOT GOES POP POLLING FUNDRAISER: I hope you'll bear with me as I continue to heavily promote the new fundraiser, but as I've explained a few times, the crowdfunding for this current poll did not meet the full amount required, and I'm having to cover the shortfall with my own money. So running any future Scot Goes Pop polling - on independence or other Scottish political issues - will be pretty much impossible unless we reach the £6500 target figure, or at least get very close to it. At present we're around 40% of the way towards the target, so a million thanks to everyone who has made donations so far. I know times are really tough at the moment, but as I noted the other day, thousands of people read Scot Goes Pop every week, and if just 10% of those people were to donate just £10, the target figure would be reached straight away. Of course some people can't donate for very good reasons, but one really helpful thing you can do is to share the fundraiser page and spread the word with your friends and family.
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