Donald Trump has discovered the power of women's votes to his cost. Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar should take heed – Susan Dalgety

“It’s the women’s vote, stupid” could well be the biggest lesson to emerge from the US mid-term elections.

Women's votes played a key role in holding back the Republican 'red wave' at the US midterm elections (Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
Women's votes played a key role in holding back the Republican 'red wave' at the US midterm elections (Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

It may have been the economy that won it for Bill Clinton in 1992, but in 2022, it was a mix of the economy and abortion rights that has hopefully saved America – and the world – from another term of President Donald Trump. Women – young, old, black, Latina, suburban and rural – came out in their millions to vote Democrat last Tuesday. Unlike King Canute, the women of America held back the Republican wave that threatened to engulf the country’s democracy.

The exit polls speak for themselves. The latest from NBC News show that 53 per cent of female voters chose the Democrats, compared to only 45 per cent of men. It’s the women’s vote, stupid.

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Pundits had presumed that women’s anger at the US Supreme Court’s decision to take away their right to abortion had faded somewhat since June. Almost to a man, commentators, buoyed up by the polls and their own sense of importance, predicted that Trump and his brand of Maga Republicanism would sweep to power in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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Instead, the Democrats had the best mid-term results for a leading party in 20 years, despite President Joe Biden’s personal ratings remaining stuck in the low 40s. It’s the women’s vote, stupid.

And it was not just reproductive health that drove women to the polls. As Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a non-partisan charity, pointed out on Tuesday night, the economy played a big part in women’s voting patterns. She firmly rejected the false narrative, so often favoured by those same commentators and pollsters who predicted a red wave, that insists women’s issues are separate from economic concerns.

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“We have long said that women, who are the majority voting bloc and a major driver of our economy, do not live their lives in silos,” Frye said in a statement. “They do not see their economic security as separate from their ability to control their reproductive health.”

In Scotland, women’s right to choose may be secure, but our concerns about gender ideology have been variously dismissed by leading politicians as “not valid” and “bigoted”. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had to be publicly persuaded that buffer zones around abortion clinics was the right thing to do. Only a few months ago, she was still insisting that “legal complexities” in Scotland required 18 months of research to gauge the “prevalence and impact of vigils/protests" outside abortion clinics in Scotland. All the while, young women were being harassed on the street as they tried to access health care.

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And despite a solemn promise from Sturgeon to appoint a women’s health champion by the “end of the summer” to drive the government’s strategy on women’s health, the position remains unfilled 15 months after it was first announced. Scottish Labour fares little better. Only this week, the party supported the government’s move to compress discussion of the 100-plus amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill into less than two weeks, despite public concerns about the legislation.

And it seems Labour is also content to ignore its own women members. A year ago, the Scottish Labour Women’s conference overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for a consultation on the impact of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill on the 2010 Equality Act and the collection of data for public policy purposes.

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A survey was carried out among women members. A report has been drawn up, and the results will be shared with the party's executive committee today. But will they be made public? I do hope so, as it will be interesting to know if grassroots Labour women have a different view to Labour MSPs, many of whom support gender reform despite the impact it will have on women’s rights.

The economy matters too of course. As Jocelyn Frye pointed out on Tuesday, women do not separate their economic well-being from their personal health, or that of their family. A survey by leading Scottish marketing agency The Union, published a few days ago, shows that it is largely women, not men, who are making major changes in their spending as the long recession looms.

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The report reveals that 80 per cent of women are changing where they shop, compared to 34 per cent of men who have not changed a thing. And 88 per cent of women have switched brands, compared to only 67 per cent of men. The Union suggests this is a significant change in national shopping behaviour, and “sobering news to marketers and retailers”. I contend it is also a wake-up call to our political parties, here in Scotland and across the UK.

There will be a UK general election by the end of 2024. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour ahead of the Tories with a 26-point lead (50 to 24), with the majority of women (52 per cent) supporting Labour.

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But two years is a very long time in politics. The polls will tighten, and as they do, the women’s vote will become even more important in deciding who will rescue the country from a deep recession and the social chaos that will bring. The party that addresses women’s concerns about the cost of living, health, social care, education and yes, our very identity, will prevail.

Earlier this week, Donald Trump discovered, to his cost, the awesome power of women. Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer would do well to heed the message from across the Atlantic. It’s the women’s vote, stupid.

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