The Christian Institute

News Release

Conversion therapy: New poll reveals SNP leaders out of touch with party and country as only 5% of voters prioritise controversial Bill

• Important new poll shows just 5% of Scottish adults think banning ‘conversion therapy’ should be a priority.

• The Scottish Government recently delayed its plans for a conversion therapy ban, missing its previous “end of 2023” deadline.

• There are serious doubts over whether the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence to introduce a ban, a point made forcefully in a legal opinion by Aidan O’Neill KC.

• The Scottish Government’s ‘Expert Advisory Group’ recommended following the legislation in Victoria, Australia where parents who don’t let their children go on puberty blockers could be prosecuted for conversion therapy.

A new poll shows the Scottish Government is out of touch with its own voters, as well as the rest of Scotland, over controversial plans to ban conversion therapy.

Just five per cent of SNP voters regard the controversial legislation as a priority – the same as the general public, who ranked it in last place. Any Bill is expected to face a challenge in the UK Supreme Court.

The new poll reveals the public’s lack of enthusiasm for the legislation. Only Tory voters are less keen on the Bill than SNP supporters.

Asked to select their top four priorities on a range of issues in a league table including NHS waiting lists, social housing and social care, the conversion therapy ban ranked 16th out of 16 options.

The poll was carried out last month on behalf of The Christian Institute (CI) by Whitestone Insight.

The CI has already given Scottish parents a grim warning that they face prosecution if Holyrood passes the new law, which could make it illegal to refuse to consent to their children being prescribed puberty blockers.

The Government is being encouraged to follow the Australian state of Victoria, where this approach is already in place.

Victoria recently issued guidance on the ban, telling churches what kind of prayers and theological conversations they are allowed to hold:

• LGBT people are to be ‘reassured’ that they are “perfect as they are”;

• Religious leaders are likely to be carrying out an illegal act if they say prayers that “ask for a person to not act on their attractions” or “talk about a person’s brokenness or need to repent”.

This approach risks making it illegal to say the Lord’s Prayer with LGBT people, since it asks God to “forgive us our sins” and “lead us not into temptation”.

MSPs on the Equalities Committee, and the Scottish Government’s own advisory group on conversion therapy, have all urged the Government to follow the Victorian model.

Welcoming the results of the poll, Simon Calvert, a CI Deputy Director, said:

“The new poll shows voters ranking a ban in last place in terms of priorities for the Government. Despite years of campaigning by activists, the public are not at all convinced of the need for an expansive conversion therapy ban. The fact is that gay and trans people are rightly already fully protected against verbal and physical abuse, so there is simply no need for a new law.

“The kind of ban being called for would be a radical and unwelcome new departure in Scottish law, allowing bureaucrats to tell Christians exactly how to pray. It would effectively make ‘misgendering’ an offence. And it would criminalise parents who try to prevent their children being prescribed puberty blockers.

“The Scottish Government has already delayed its plans for a Bill. They must read the room and drop the Bill altogether. They should focus on the big issues instead of being captured by activists with repressive agendas.”

The Whitestone Insight polling (tables attached) shows that even amongst the 18-24 age group only 16 per cent picked conversion therapy as a top four priority for Government in the next 12 months. Mid Scotland and Fife is the region which backs the Bill most, but again this amounts to just 9 per cent. And among political parties, most support comes from the Lib Dems at just 10 per cent.

Outside Parliament’s competence

The proposed legislation met with damning condemnation from a leading King’s Counsel, who says the “fundamentally illiberal” proposals are “beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament to legislate” and “in breach of the restrictions on the Scottish Parliament’s competence” as set out in the Scotland Act 1998.

Aidan O’Neill KC was commissioned to give his legal opinion by the CI which engaged his services in 2016 to successfully get the SNP Government’s hated Named Person scheme declared illegal for breaching the human rights of families.

Mr O’Neill says the far-reaching conversion therapy proposals would criminalise parents and preachers.

Mr Calvert said legal action similar to the Named Person case against the Scottish Government is a likely option if Holyrood proceeds with conversion therapy legislation.

In his 68-page legal opinion, Mr O’Neill states unequivocally:

“Any such legislation would be in breach of the restriction on the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence set out in [The Scotland Act 1998].”

The KC says it would contain measures which change the UK Equality Act – a law which can only be altered by Westminster and is not devolved to Holyrood.


In addition, he says the legislation would breach the European Convention on Human Rights – specifically Article 8 which protects private family life, Article 9 which guarantees freedom of religion, Article 10 which guarantees freedom of expression and Article 11 which guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association with others.

Mr Calvert said the threat to freedom of speech could criminalise the conversations and opinions of parents and church leaders.

He added: “Gay and trans people are already protected, quite rightly, from all verbal and physical abuse by existing law.

“Since those things are already illegal, what is it that this ban seeks to criminalise? The activists are quite clear that they want it to target conversations and opinions they don’t like.”

Government Priorities Research – September 2023 – Data:

UK Omnibus Table

Scottish Table


Notes for Editors:

• Methodology: Whitestone Insight interviewed 1,731 Scottish adults online from 4 to 14 August 2023 (weighted to 1,005). Data were weighted to be representative of all adults. Whitestone Insight is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

• Read more on the conversion therapy ban in the Australian state of Victoria at ci/victoria

• Read Aidan O’Neill’s full opinion (key sections highlighted by The Christian Institute). Read a summaryand extracts.

• In January 2022, MSPs on the Equalities Committee made recommendationssimilar to the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group. The group’s recommendations were welcomed by the Scottish Government. Both call on the Government to follow the Australian state of Victoria.