Tuesday 1 June 2021

The Limits of Divide and Rule

Little noticed because Scottish independence is a niche issue as far as SW1 is concerned, a ComRes poll for The Telegraph reported how English voters are mostly sanguine about it. Among the 57% who have an opinion, 32% are opposed to independence with 25% supportive. Only a fifth of the sample were "strongly opposed" while a third weren't fussed either way. That said, only 31% thought Scottish independence would be a success with around half expecting it to be a failure. This, like all things, hides significant age splits. 51% of 18-24s were confident Scotland would do well while only 19% of over 55s did. For those looking at any signs of grievance or vindictiveness on the part of ComRes's respondents, 35% were okay with Scotland using the pound after independence while 30% were against, and 34% were against increasing spending in Scotland to keep it within the union while 26% supported moves in this direction.

As noted the other day, one aspect of watching and analysing the Tories is scrutinising their strategies and tactics, their imaginary, and how they sell their thinking about the world to themselves and their wider support. It also means being alive to possible disruptions, cracks, and microfissures in their seemingly monolithic coalition. The possible good news is this is these findings suggest yet another.

What the Tories have to constantly work at and accomplish is providing very good reasons to punters to continue voting Tory. Having the right policies is only part of it. The constituencies naturally disposed toward them, like all actual and potential support for political parties, inhabit a structure of feeling that suffuses the social world. Because we're talking about large aggregates of people, at this level certain sections of the population who share similar material circumstances tend toward adopting common views and feelings about the world. We've talked about the class cohorts and age/property enough here to explain the stark polarisation in polling data and voting behaviour to know this is an inescapable fact of British politics. For the Tories and Boris Johnson, their success in 2019 was recognising how large numbers of older people supported Brexit in disproportionate numbers had something to do with the unease and generalised anxiety one feels as one gets older, an angst that multiplies itself many times over dependent on property holdings, investments, income streams, and so on. Leaving the European Union offered a promise of an incohate national renewal, of reasserting the certainty and authority of the nation to make their worlds a more secure, knowable, relatable, and familiar place to them. The risks of Brexit were dismissed because leaving would once and for all address the gaps, lacks, and anomie at the cores of their common social location.

With Brexit done and the Leave constituency largely (but not entirely) shielded from the economic fallout, the Tories are relentlessly searching for other rhetorical devices and performative position takings to cultivate the angst and fears among their support and keep them wedded to their project. For example, Munira Mirza - responsible for the pitiful we're not racist guv report - is employed by Number 10 to specifically articulate the Tories' war on woke rubbish, to feed the scapegoat hungry maws of the Tory press and therefore give their electoral base a supply line of hate figures and troubling cultural phenomena. The urgings of Liz Truss at government departments to withdraw from a Stonewall-sponsored scheme for LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace is typical of this, with trans women in particular cast in the unwanted role of problematic people who threaten the natural order of things.

What has this got to do with Scottish independence? As far as cohering Tory votes goes, the antipathy that can be stirred up against trans women is small electoral beer compared to the possibilities of appealing directly to English (and British) nationalism, as Brexit attests. Playing divide and rule politics, of opposing England to Scotland proved itself as an effective weapon in the Tory armoury in the 2015 general election. Here Dave successfully created a chain of meaning tying together Scottish nationalism with nuclear disarmament and the SNP holding a Labour-led coalition government hostage in exchange for support. But it's not effective at all times, as Theresa May's attempt to pull the same trick in 2017 fell flat in England, but her anti-independence posturing assisted the modest Scottish Tory revival.

As the UK reels from Covid and the Tories want to talk up the recovery there are, on paper, plenty of possibilities for playing the Scottish card. Confrontations between the SNP government in Edinburgh and Tory Westminster might suit both. Ample opportunities for Johnson to cohere his voting fodder and poison politics more with the ugly rubbish of English nationalism. Hence why the ComRes numbers matter. If only 20% really care about keeping Scotland in the union, the use of this strategy comes with some risk. It might ignite the passions in the same way leaving the EU went from a fringe issue to the dominant question in British politics for four years, but equally it could fall flat and never become more than a second order concern or press hobby horse. But what also makes a confrontation with Scottish nationalism potentially hazardous is how Johnson is prepared to throw money at Scotland to provide incentives for staying in the UK. As polling shows little appetite among English voters for sending extra funds, playing the English populism game might find some force willing to articulate the voice of the "hard-pressed taxpayer". As the Reform successor to the Brexit Party is nowhere, there will be more than a few backbench Tories happy to carry the Little England baton for press glory and advancement in the party. The last thing Johnson wants is a coherent opposition to emerge in his parliamentary party that takes the limelight away from him.

Hence, apart from a few jabs and tussles for the camera, it seems the scope for Tory agitation on Scotland in England is limited, caught between the horns of apathy and commitments to "levelling up". And this is a problem, especially if the Tories start copping the political consequences for their umpteenth delayed response to a new wave of Covid-19. None have the potential to tap into the grievance politics of English nationalism quite like Scottish independence and if efforts at corralling support against Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP fail, what have the Tories got left in the tank to distract and divide at a similar scale?

Image Credit


uglyfatbloke said...

May's gains in Scotland were solidly built Labour's support for the Scottish Tories by encouraging tactical voting against the SNP.

Michael said...

Liz Truss is no doubt proposing a withdrawal from Stonewalls 'Diversity Champions' scheme for reasons beyond "value for money." Nonetheless this is still the right decision for a number of reasons. Here are just two:

First, Stonewalls promotion of an 'affirmation only' approach in therapy for young people wrestling their sexual orientation and gender identity is completely irresponsible. As 'Thoughtful Therapists'( @ThougtfulTs) have pointed out, many people who suffer from gender dysphoria and/or think they may be trans are actually gay and settle into this perspective given time and exploration with good therapists.

Transitioning is a difficult process and usually involves some form of medicalisation to suppress sexual characteristics. Medicalisation can include hormone blockers, hormone replacement, highly invasive "top" and "bottom" surgeries, and is usually irreversible to some extent. Detransitioning is a growing problem (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00918369.2021.1919479) and avoiding the road of medicalisation where other non-medicalised methods of relieving distress are available is the responsible approach.

Stonewalls line is that that such exploration in therapy is not only "transphobic" but a form "conversion therapy" is both ludicrous and harmful. Moreover Stonewalls encouragement of early transitioning even in primary school age children, while also labelling discussion of theoretical issues as hate speech, likening it to anti-semitism - as Stonewalls CEO did last week - is the opposite of helpful and sympathetic to the gender dysphoric distress of young people.

Second their push to replace sex with self-identified gender in legislation directly impacts upon the legal protections women have fought for, especially in relation to single sex spaces. As many feminists and women's organisations have pointed out, changing single sex spaces to gender-identified spaces, which anyone can access purely on the basis of "self identification" literally opens the doors to male predators who will use this as a loophole to access and abuse vulnerable women. Stonewalls dismisses these concerns as 'transphobes labelling all trans people as predators', which is clearly nonsense if you read the actual words written by prominent concerned feminists.

There is clearly a conflict between the rights of women and the rights Stonewall is claiming for trans people (which btw does not include all trans people - the youtuber Blair White for example). These complex issues need to be brought out into the open and discussed. Instead Stonewall have refused offers from the LGB Alliance for discussion and and have labelled this organisation, along with people such as Kathleen Stock, Jane Claire Jones and many others as bigots and transphobic.

more info here:

And of course Kathleen Stocks recent book: Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism.

Finally, I'm not sure if you will allow this comment on your blog Phil. You've allowed other very critical comments, including by myself. On the other hand there is a very big taboo on discussion of these issues in UK academia, so I would not be surprised if your inclination would be to not allow it. I urge you to resist that inclination - so many academics who think themselves on the left seem so ready to throw free speech under the bus these days. I do hope you're not so willing.


McIntosh said...

And stoking up anti-Scottish feelings in England would work well for the SNP in Scotland. They can coalesce their support around pointing out that 'we are wanted, not respected and considered scroungers. Time to become independent of the St George's flagwavers living in a world of make believe, led by a man who lacks decency, ignores norms of behaviour and is supported by fanatics.'

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Parry said...


Linking to the blog of an anti-LGBT hate group masquerading as champions for the rights of gay and bisexual people? Good shit!

David Parry said...

Also, Blair White is a grifter who's made a career off of pandering to reactionary scum (including out-and-out neo-Nazis) for her own financial gain, which has included throwing her fellow transgender people under the bus by contributing to bigotry and discrimination against them to please the far-right toerags who comprise her subcriber base on Youtube. That really is grossly irresponsible.

David Parry said...


Another thing: Transition doesn't necessarily entail medical transition. Some trans people stop at socially transitioning (e.g. wishing to be referred to using a certain pronouns). Such people are not any less trans, and deserve to have their gender identity respected just as much as someone who medically transitions. The legitimacy of trans people's gender identity is not contingent on their willingness to undergo hormone therapy and surgery.

Michael said...


1. I assume you are referring to the LGB Alliance when you refer to 'hate group'? They're actually a charity promoting the interests of LGB people. Perhaps you could present some evidence that they're a hate group, such as tweets, blog posts or other writings? Obviously claims they are a hate group made by other people/organisations does not count as evidence. Having followed the LGB Alliance on twitter, read their writings and seen them interviewed, their clear reasoned arguments appear to be entirely the opposite of a hate group.

2. Blaire White is a high profile example of a trans person who does not agree with much of Stonewalls perspective and policies. She interviews detransitioners, is eloquent in her criticisms of other trans people and organisations, and often gives the right to reply for those she criticises. She also has 941k followers on youtube - If they're all Nazi's we're in bigger trouble than I thought. She's well worth watching, it would take a peculiar mind indeed to mistake her channel for a stormfront/EDL channel. But hey, throw enough poo, some of it will stick, right?

3. Yes transition, or gender reassignment does not always involve medicalisation, but as I said it usually does* - especially for children and teenagers. Stonewall has been completely irresponsible in its policies on medicalisation and the habitual provision of drugs to change the course of normal adolescent biological development. The justification for this - that it decreases suicide risk - has come under increasing fire in the literature (e.g.  https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l5647.full ). Medicalisation should be the absolute last resort** to relieve distress and assist young people in coming to terms with their bodies and who they are - especially with teenagers and pre-pubescent children.

*From one of stonewalls own documents: "Gender Reassignment [is] another way of describing a person’s transition. To undergo gender reassignment usually means to undergo some sort of medical intervention, but it can also mean changing names, pronouns, dressing differently and living in their self-identified gender" https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/faqs-and-glossary/glossary-terms

** I say "last resort" but its a legitimate question as to whether some of these treatments should be an option at all for children, as there are potentially long term effects and the younger children are, the less capable they are of giving informed consent. Moreover the theoretical justifications given are also questionable, often relying on a very Cartesian view of the mind/body, seen as being two separate entities which are in conflict. This kind of body/mind dualism is theoretically problematic from a psychology and philosophy of mind perspective. There are alternative ways to think about the causes and solutions of distress associated with gender dysphoria.

Anonymous said...

I would add a third reason to back up what Michael said, the parents can sometimes pressure the child into gender identity, there are a number of cases, admittedly small, where parents have gone to court to stop the other parent ‘forcing’ a particular gender identity on a child.

This seems like an extreme example of child abuse to me.

There clearly needs to be legislation around this area, given it is a growing phenomenon in society.

I have no issues with anyone who wants to identify in a particular way, but we shouldn’t just blindly and unquestionably accept it. Serious issues and questions arise. Every development in society attracts this debate and it normal and healthy. What isn’t normal is this mudslinging and assuming everyone is a Nazi, even if they turn out to be just that.

On the political polling data, that is rather skewed by the fact that whoever you vote for you get a Tory of one stripe or another. So the polling clearly shows about a 70 to 80% majority for the Tories every single election, bar the odd one. This corresponds perfectly with the class make up of Britain and its place in the world.

David Parry said...


Puberty blockers have been used on children who've shown no inkling of possibly being trans, to treat precocious puberty. Somehow, I doubt you'd object to this - almost as if you're a transphobic toerag who wants to make life even more difficult for trans people by ensuring that medical transition is as arduous as possible should they opt for it, and who is hiding behind doing a Helen Lovejoy impression because you're too much of a poltroon to admit what this is really about! That wouldn't be true, would it?

Garaham said...

Not everybody that disagrees with you hates you.

Not everybody who takes a different position in the trans debate is a "transphobic toerag".

David Parry said...


'there are a number of cases, admittedly small, where parents have gone to court to stop the other parent ‘forcing’ a particular gender identity on a child.'

That sounds to me like the actions of a decent parent. Parents should be discouraged from seeking to force children into identifying in accord with the gender assigned at birth against their will. It is such a parent, not another parent who is seeking to dissuade them from behaving in this way towards the child, who is guilty of child abuse.

'I have no issues with anyone who wants to identify in a particular way, but we shouldn’t just blindly and unquestionably accept it.'

Wrong! Basic human decency demands that you respect trans people's gender identities unconditionally. Going around misgendering them (deadnaming them, calling trans women men or visa versa and calling non-binary people men or women, referring to them by a set of pronouns that they don't wish to be referred to by) is abuse, and if you engage in it, you should expect an almighty backlash from trans people and their allies. It's as simple as that, really.

Michael said...


We are not talking about the prescription of puberty blockers for precocious puberty or indeed for cancer treatment, but for gender dysphoria. In contrast to these other clear medical conditions, gender dysphoria is a complex psychological condition which is often co-morbid with other conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, depression and more. There are ways of treating gender dysphoria without the use of drugs and surgery which can create more problems than they solve, both for gender dysphoria and psychological conditions in general.

Moreover, the effects of puberty blockers on otherwise biologically normal and healthy children is largely unknown due to a dearth of research on the topic. This is a dangerous situation and has led to some clinicians calling the widespread prescription of puberty blockers "a momentous step in the dark" ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30655265/ ). There is also evidence that puberty blockers do not actually relieve distress in many children suffering from gender dysphoria ( https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n356 )

Also remember most children placed on puberty blockers do move on to cross sex hormones, and many then proceed to surgery. Many of these transitioners are now in various stages of de-transitioning, with many deeply regretting the permanent changes these drugs and surgeries have had on their bodies. Keira Bell is a high profile example, but there are many more - just look on youtube and tiktok.

Caution about causing unintentional harm to children and young people is required, along with a wide, detailed and measured discussion about the best ways forward. This is precisely what Stonewall have not only failed to do, but have actively worked against with its refusal to engage with critics and its constant baseless accusations of bigotry and transphobia against thoroughly decent people and organisations such as the LGB Alliance.


David Parry said...


1) 'Conversion therapy' for sex dysphoria is no more legitimate than 'conversion therapy' to change someone's sexuality.

2) The number of de-transitioners is vanishingly small. Moreover, those who experience regret over transition generally do so because of negative social repercussions. Re Keira Bell, she was actually above the full medical age of consent at the time of beginning a medical transition.

3) I really don't get how the majority of trans youth taking puberty blockers going on to take cross-sex hormones is supposed to be an argument against the use of puberty blockers to deal with sex dysphoria in trans youth. The young person in question remains free at any point to desist from the use of puberty blockers. That very few do so is just the way that the cookie crumbles. Also, if the desistance rate were much higher, you'd use this as an argument against the use of puberty blockers for this purpose. Tell me I'm wrong!

4) It's hardly a damning indictment that the results regarding the effects of the use of puberty blockers to treat sex dysphoria in trans youth in terms of alleviating distress have turned out to be mixed. The psychological issues faced by these youth are indeed highly complex, and many of them stem from factors to do with how society treats them. Puberty blockers are not a magic bullet, and as far as I'm aware, no one has claimed them to be.

BCFG said...

Interesting to see Michael and David’s woke off. It is like woke top trumps. My women under attack from perverted frothing at the mouth predatory men in changing rooms trumps your person whose identity is being questioned.

It should be noted that men’s and women’s changing rooms are not safe spaces for women; they were not created to protect women from evil men’s wandering eyes and hands. This is just so much woke propaganda designed to give the impression of a society where women are under constant threat of attack from out of control perverted men, who are just looking to touch up their next hapless victim. The facts of course do not support this idea but wokists have any easy solution to the fact problem, they make up their own and claim there are just loads of unreported crimes. Keep making up your own facts and you will never be wrong!

Separate changing rooms were instead based on the rather Puritan/Victorian notion that disgusting humans should not look at each other’s genitalia. Those disgusting humans with their disgusting feelings. In other words woke has a definite streak of Mary Whitehouse decency about it, Whitehouse updated for the 21st century.

Women did not fight for safe spaces against predatory men, they were simply demanding the same access to public utilities that men had. The safe spaces idea, that changing rooms, toilets etc were the result of women campaigning for areas free of predatory men is so much woke revisionism. For example, Ladies Sanitary Association were asking for women to be afforded the same courtesy as men. In fact in these early struggles men opposed the women’s toilets being situated next to the men’s! This was all against a backdrop of the campaign for better sanitation generally.

Frankly wokists like Michael piss on history.

Personally I am not against having separate changing rooms and toilets, for one thing the queues in women’s toilets in nightclubs makes we happy we men have our own toilets and when women decide they can’t wait and go into the men’s toilets, while I admit somewhere in the recesses of my dark mind this provides a thrill of sorts, this is very well overridden by the outrage of queue jumping combined with a full bladder.

Anonymous said...

“Parents should be discouraged from seeking to force children into identifying in accord with the gender assigned at birth against their will.“

David, this kind of sleight of hand does you no favours. You come across as a very slippery character to me.

“Wrong! Basic human decency demands that you respect trans people's gender identities unconditionally.”

I don’t accept anything unconditionally, where do you think we are, the Third Reich (smiley face!)?

There is the distinction right, between gender given at birth and gender you decide to ‘assume for yourself’ based on a given state of society?

The gender provided the ‘natural’ way, i.e. at birth, requires no bodily alteration, no requirement for society to devote resources to altering, whereas choosing for a child a gender different from their ‘natural’ one requires intervention of all kinds and throws up many questions. Then resources need to be deployed to deal with this. At that point this becomes a question that needs to interest us all. Will resources be taken away from vital medical procedures to these cosmetic procedures? Is vanity more profitable than genuine illness? I would say the evidence suggests it is.

Does that mean we should ban gender altering procedures? No, but it damn sure means I don’t accept anything unconditionally.

I think we should ask why there is such a growth of gender identity issues. Does this signify some form of alienation; is it simply the result of available technology, increased wealth in society? Are people really choosing their own gender or is something else going on. Surely, all pertinent questions for any grown up society.

David – time for you to grow up I think.

Jenny said...

A lot of the trans and anti-trans arguments above look like they are based on the idea that the definition of a woman is a "fact". No, it's socially constructed, just like the concept of "planet". Ofc being socially constructed does not mean that trans people don't have social forces applied to them. Why should a judge, for example force someone to go through a "normal" puberty that could requuire considerable medical intervention to ameliorate when blockers are available? Or why do the usual suspects bang on about "safe Spaces" when what they want is to stop trans people having a pee safely? How about trans men with beards and big muscles in the Ladies?

Michael said...


That detransitioners are are a "vanishingly small" minority is another Stonewall myth. You are presumably relying on old studies which have been widely criticised.
More recent research indicates a much higher percentage of detransitioners at various stages of transition, from 73% to 98% in some research ( https://acamh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/camh.12361 ) - although some of these later return to transitioning later in adolescence or adulthood. The situation is further complicated by major changes in the cohorts of those transitioning, exponential growth in the numbers involved and the fact that it takes an average of 8 years for regret to be operationalised. In other words it will be years before we even know the extent of harm caused by the current wave of transitions.

In any case even if you were correct, and they were a "vanishingly small" minority of 1-2%, this would still be a major ethical issue. "Do no harm" is the first principle for any clinician. Detransitioners have been harmed by the current system. Many engaged in therapy where "affirmation only" was practiced and other possibilities (such as being gay) were not explored, they were encouraged to take drugs early in childhood which have had permanent effects such as changes in voice, bone density, body shape, hair growth. Some have had major surgery including procedures such as double masectomies, and much more invasive genital surgeries. Many detransititoners now experience deep regret and experience significant psychological distress. Don't take my word for this - the detransition subreddit and social media is full of heartbreaking stories of young people dealing with the consequence of a system that encouraged them to medicalise their gender dysphoria, causing physical pain and and psychological distress.

I will say it again - drugs and surgery are major medical interventions, where the risks and benefits have to be very carefully weighed, and used as a last resort to treat gender dysphoria. Guided by Stonewall, these interventions have been handled irresponsibly by many organisations such as Tavistock. This is why the UK High Courts decision in December last year that children under the age of 16 cannot consent to puberty blockers was the correct one. It is also one of the reasons why Stonewall has lost its way and cannot now be trusted to act in defence of the most vulnerable.

Michael said...


There are single sex spaces women have fought for. E.g.

I've never been called "wokist" before. So, thank you, I guess?

David Parry said...


That you regard sex change surgery as 'cosmetic' and dismiss it as motivated by vanity, as opposed to being a remedy for a deep-seated psychological condition that can have severe mental health ramifications merely demonstrates how much of a bigoted, transphobic sack of shit you are!

I also don't see how the fact that gender transition carries with it the possibility (note: possibility, not inevitability) of hormone treatment and surgery is relevant to whether attempting to force a child to remain within the box of their birth-assigned gender is abuse. To my mind, seeking to impose a gender identity upon anyone against their will is an abusive act - end of story.

The apparent increase in the number of people identifying as transgender is due, I would suggest, to increased openness. That is, the number trans people isn't actually increasing. It's just that the number of trans folks who are open about it are.

David Parry said...


Your supposed figure for de-transitioners probably actually pertains to percentage of children and youth who undergo a period of questioning their gender identity or identifying as trans. This is completely different from medical transitioning, which is what I thought we were talking about.

David Parry said...


Well said.

Jenny said...

"More recent research indicates a much higher percentage of detransitioners at various stages of transition, from 73% to 98% in some research "

This is rubbish. Nearly every reference to this on the internet quotes detransition rates in very low single figures, and it's often temporary, due to social transphobia in housing, jobs, and from internet trolls.

Phil said...

And with that I'm closing this thread.

It's disappointing to see so-called leftists step in behind the Tories in their attack on Stonewall. If you can't offer you solidarity and support to an under attack minority, then there's no place for your comments here.