This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Much of the election campaign this week has been focused on the so-called ‘trans row’. 

JK Rowling was at the centre of the debate. Writing in The Times, she criticised the Labour Party for “abandoning” women over its stance on transgender rights, and said she’d struggle to vote for Keir Starmer.

Starmer was asked during the final election debate if he would protect women-only spaces. He insisted he would, adding that there are “a small number of people who are born into a gender that they don’t identify with”. Starmer went on, in reference to trans people: “I will treat them, as I treat all human beings, with dignity and respect.”

Rowling responded on Twitter saying: “It’s very important that we protect women’s spaces… but men can also be women, says the Labour leader. My postal vote is literally lying next to me. I wanted to wait to hear what [Keir Starmer] said tonight to fill it in.”

GB News reported that ‘JK Rowling refuses to vote Labour over trans row’.

The row around gender later sprawled to include actor David Tennant and the Conservative politician Kemi Badenoch. Rowling tweeted with reference to this that the “utterances of the Gender Taliban receive special dispensation, for they are a holy caste”.

However, this issue, which inflames social media, appears to have little traction among voters at the election.

Actor David Tennant used his speech at the British LGBT Awards to criticise equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Image: Getty)
Luke Tryl, the UK Director of More In Common, issued the results of an opinion poll listing top election issues for voters, and also the issues which they felt politicians were spending too much time talking about.

When voters were asked which issues they felt “politicians are talking too much about”, the poll found that “the debate about transgender people” came top with 38%. Some 27% felt it was being given “the right amount” of time, 19% didn’t know, and 16% felt it wasn’t talked about enough.

Second on the list of issues which voters felt was being talked about too much by politicians came the “conflict in the Middle East”, then “the war in Ukraine”, then “asylum seekers crossing the Channel”. Next on the list was Brexit, immigration, and then climate change and the environment.

The poll found the issues which voters felt weren’t being talked about enough, to be, in order of priority: social care for the elderly, the cost of living, crime, supporting the NHS, affordable housing, jobs and employment, mental health, education, and childcare.

In a poll of ‘Britons’ top issues’, by More In Common, the cost of living came in first with 64%, followed by the NHS on 53%. Immigration came next on 25%, followed in order by: housing (19%), asylum seekers crossing the channel (18%), climate and environment (17%), crime (14%), jobs and unemployment (14%), social care for the elderly (11%), mental health (8%), Brexit (8%), improving education (8%), Ukraine (5%), the conflict in the Middle East (4%), and the cost and availability of childcare (4%).

The poll listed ‘other issues’ as scoring 4%, and at the bottom of the list came ‘the debate about transgender people’ on 2%.

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More in Common’s UK director Luke Tryl said: “Interestingly debates about transgender people were the only issue where more said it was talked about too much than too little.”

Earlier this year, More In Common published a briefing paper called ‘Backfire: Culture Wars and the General Election’, in which researchers said: “Using a series of public opinion experiments, polling and focus group conversations, the voters’ verdict is clear – they want a campaign focused on their everyday concerns rather than abstract cultural debates that feel far away from the issues that matter most.”

It warned that there is “a very real risk that using culture wars will backfire electorally. When political parties play the culture wars campaign card, they are speaking to political activists and their core base, not the general public or undecided voters… Many voters see culture war tactics as a reflection of weakness and desperation.”

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The report added that “debating gender identity or the future of our immigration system” does not constitute a culture war if the discussion addresses these issues seriously. 

“Instead culture wars emerge when people try to trivialise or weaponise these issues, focusing on imagined or imported problems such as banning drag shows or renaming infrastructure – and prosecute these debates in ways which are deliberately incendiary and designed to create wedges rather than find solutions.

“Presenting these debates as a battle of two irreconcilable worldviews doesn’t resonate with voters, nor does it do justice to the actual important issues at stake and rarely moves things forward.”

In the closing days of this campaign, it will be worth noting which parties stick to bread and butter matters and which chose culture war issues.