International Women’s Day falls on the 8th of March, and with it further consideration of women’s role in the independence referendum. By the time this is published, you will find a video on the Women for Independence website encouraging women to get involved in the debate. It’s definitely going to be worth watching and sharing!
Women’s involvement hasn’t shifted a great deal from Lesley Riddoch’s column in the Scotsman two years ago – there has been more information on childcare, more women on panels, lots of wonderful women putting their case on twitter, but women are still not as prominent in the debate as they should be.
It strikes me as a little odd, as I find in my ward that women make up the bulk of community activists. They do all they can to improve the lot of their communities. I would like to see more women taking that step up to involve themselves more widely in the independence debate, and to help build a more equal Scotland thereafter.
The impact of gender on the independence referendum is something I’ve almost tried to avoid thinking about; I’m a woman, but I don’t feel that the issues which matter to me and the reasons I believe in independence are very different to those which matter to men. Wanting fairness and a more equal society, the desire to see a Scotland being a force for good in the world are not to me gender specific.
I generally find attempts appeal to “women’s issues” patronising; women are not all the same, and what interests one woman could be completely irrelevant to the next. For example, speaking only about nursery places excludes many women who don’t have children of that age.
The debate last week between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont was set up as the top two women in Scottish politics going head to head, partly as a means of reaching the female audience: in the end, I doubt if the show generated any additional support for either side. Nicola has proven in previous debates that she is more than capable of besting her opponents, but it does depend on the other party actually engaging properly in debate. Labour’s tactic of hurling insults and soundbites and ducking questions was unedifying. Johann Lamont’s opening gambit of saying “as a mother” particularly grated with me. I am a mum, but it certainly doesn’t define my support for independence – I joined the SNP while still at school, when parenthood was the last thing on my agenda!
What encouraged me to join the SNP all those years ago was the notion of a fairer country, something which cannot and demonstrably will not be delivered by the Union. I find it hard to square Johann Lamont’s claim to be a socialist when in practice she is prepared to line up alongside the Tories she claims to detest and deny Scotland the opportunity to create a more equal society. It’s clear to me that the Union has had it’s chance – many times over under Labour and Conservative governments – to shrink the gap between rich and poor, and has always been found wanting.
A lot of the reasons to vote for independence cut across gender, but there are a few which I don’t see highlighted enough. Women take the brunt of Westminster’s welfare reforms; are particularly affected by low wage levels in part time jobs; are more likely to find themselves choosing between family and career. There are fewer women in politics and in boardrooms than our 52% of the population merits. Independence gives women in Scotland the opportunity to shape the kind of country they would like to see for themselves – even for older women the kind of Scotland they wished had been theirs. Today, women in Scotland are far less likely to be forced to leave school early to support our families, to be told to give up work if we decide to get married, to miss out on promotion opportunities if we have children, but despite this, equality still lies outside the grasp of many women.
Like the gap between rich and poor, fixing this is not a priority of Westminster. We shouldn’t have to wait around for better at some point in the distant future. If we want it to be, gender equality can be at the forefront of a new Scotland.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
From Glasgow East to Glenrothes
SI September 2008 – James Halliday
Remember – Gordon Brown is a Fifer
The by-election just past, and the other soon to come, invite looking back. In 1956 some disgruntled Party members saw fit to start the rumour that the National Executive were against fighting municipal elections. The truth was that in terms of neither members nor money were we able to do much of anything, but critics had to be disarmed and so I became the Party’s candidate in Shettleston. As things turned out we did not too badly, and Shettleston proved to hold more supporters than any other ward in Glasgow. The result was no disgrace.
Campaigning was a different story. In the evenings we had some helpers from Uddingston, but during the day candidates were pretty much left on their own. Any help was to be gratefully received, which is why I found myself on a hot sunny day walking the streets and staircases of Lightburn, helped by two young ladies. One of them was going later to some social occasion, and in preparation was carrying a pink hatbox and a pink umbrella. Walking and climbing fairly sapped the energy on a hot afternoon and thus I spent a chivalrous hour or two gallantly bearing the burden of hatbox and umbrella. I don’t recall seeing anyone, and no one, then or since, reported seeing me. What would have happened to our vote if they had, is an interesting thought to reflect upon.
Fast forward 14 years to the General Election in the then West Fife constituency, of which Glenrothes was the main centre. Strangely enough that part of Fife has special significance for the SI. I was the candidate in 1970, and two other candidates have had close ties with the paper. The present editor fought Central Fife in 1979, and so, in 1983, did his predecessor as editor, Professor James Taggart. All three of us carried away some rewarding memories.
Memories were the only reward on offer in 1970. That year saw a Conservative revival, as unexpected as it was undeserved, emphasising the diverging attitudes of Scottish and English voters. The sitting Labour member was Willie Hamilton, a Right-winger who played up his hostility to the monarchy to keep his Left-wing credentials credible. Mr Hamilton was widely reputed to play the man rather than the ball in his campaigning techniques, but I suffered no personal malice from him or his team. County bureaucrats were another story.
You must try to appreciate how irritating our very presence was to public administrators. Most of them no doubt had their own opinions and loyalties, usually in keeping with those of their political employers. Like them, they regarded us as ridiculous and insolent nuisances daring to challenge the major Party powers. Their opinion was made swiftly apparent. On lodging nomination papers in Cupar, I greeted politely a highly-placed County official who responded “Yes. Good morning Mr Halliday. Please remove that rosette.” No-one ever seemed wholly certain of the rules on such matters, but obviously there was scope for variety. A polling day visit to a more affluent area revealed a small table, helpfully placed close by the clerks’ tables on which the ballot boxes sat. At this table sat a very elegant lady with a clipboard in front of her, and on her lapel a huge rosette in royal blue. And no-one seemed surprised.
Some years ago I wrote in these columns about election day in Crosshill where Labour’s remarkable behaviour seemed to cause no surprise either. “Assisting the public” was how a furiously spluttering councillor explained and justified the trestle tables, primus stoves, singing kettles, bread boards and handouts of tea, sandwiches and biscuits which greeted voters who were then escorted into the polling booths by the local Labour officials.
So, please take Fife very seriously indeed. Our leaders, both national and local, don’t have to be told. It is for the rest of us to be careful how we choose to express our support. The Labour tradition in Glasgow derives from its long tenure of municipal power and the patronage which followed. In Fife its basis is community and trade union. Glenrothes and its associated smaller towns and villages have their problems but they know themselves to be stable and settled communities confident and positive about themselves. The member whose death has caused the by-election was widely respected and under no sort of cloud. His supporters will try to turn the by-election into a kind of tribute to his memory, and in countering that tactic it is all too easy to seem churlish.
And what of the importance of the Prime Minister? We have suffered from the brutal election tactics which he dictated in Scotland but the general public have no great pity for our scars and wounds. Gordon Brown is a Fifer, remember, and while Scots often sabotage their fellows on the “kent his faither” kind of reasoning, they also often enjoy the reflected glory when one of their own does rather well. Over-personalised attacks on Mr Brown will tend to win him sympathy. Remember too, that much of the media derision of Brown is faked. Metropolitan show-offs may find him comical but Fife doesn’t. His own contrived image of son-of-the-manse austerity may draw forth squeals of mirth from readers of Tory papers who find him square and Presbyterian. Many Scottish voters do not see these words as terms of abuse or ridicule. They also appreciate that the tabloid impulse to be personally offensive to and about Brown is in fact racist. He is a Jock, and we must devise our own method of dealing with him and his influence in what the media will increasingly emphasise is his own backyard.