If any of you managed to catch a glimpse of BBC Scotland’s efforts at capturing ‘What Women Want’ in the referendum debate this past week then perhaps like me disappointment would have been at the forefront of your mind.
It certainly was in mine following a great missed chance to expand on the role women have played in driving forward the progressive policy agenda in Scotland in the modern political era, going back over a century. Much of what has created a distinct Scottish standard on almost every aspect of our lives has been led by females. From the rent strikes to poll tax protests, from the creation to preservation of our healthcare system, women have led much of the way.
For those who missed the programme you can get it here – What_Women_Want – but essentially it covered the following lines. Women bake, women marry, women play bingo, woman wash the dishes, women help in the garden, women shop… and so on. Played off as a sarcastic look at the key features of a modern Scotswomen’s life, it detracted from what was a huge opportunity to unpick much of the progress we have made and broadcast some real debate to a national audience.
To be fair to the editors, interspersed throughout were thoughtful contributions from our much missed Margo, amongst a number of other political and academic figures in converse with Jackie Bird. The general feel of it however was all wrong.
Fellow Flag contributor Alison Thewliss outlined well only a few weeks ago the very imperative and clearcut reasoning to why women (and men) ought to be jumping at the opportunity independence brings. It will deliver the kind of policies only dreamed of by those who sit under Westminsters jurisdiction. A contrast that can only become more stark when a Yes vote is delivered in September and the Rest of the UK look at their Scottish neighbours living under a system which believes in shared parental responsibilities, a progressive and northern European set of policies on childcare, public healthcare, state intervention when matters of clear public interest come to the fore – an outlook which hasn’t been so unsuccessful with some of our Baltic neighbours it has to be said.
And yet … the BBC’s ‘What Women Want’ singularly failed to cover the fact since the reconvening of a Scottish Parliament womens’ voices have been heard louder and that too with a stronger voice – all this over a period of only 15 years. Women are at the very heart of our nation’s referendum debate, make no mistake.
Instead we were served up what can only be described as a rather unremarkable programme. Ridden with clichés and with scant analysis of the issues at the core of the referendum debate.
We had a hearty fill of undecideds who ‘haven’t heard enough’ about what it all means, who ‘just don’t know if we can make it alone’, who, essentially, were passed off as having more important things to consider such as buying the perfect wedding dress or getting a full house at the bingo.
More than anything what the BBC missed out on was presenting a programme on women getting their teeth stuck into the referendum debate.
In all the campaigning I have done over many years for the SNP – but particularly now in the run up to Scotland’s referendum on 18 September – the women (and men) I have met are not ill-informed, do not conform to clichés, often are passionate as much about a No vote as for a Yes vote. They know the arguments both for and against. What they are not however is ‘typical,’ as BBC Scotland would have us believe, or solely engaging in the more mundane aspects of day-to-day life.
Personally, I enjoy shopping. I like cooking. I like taking my time over decisions. I’ve never been to the bingo but I’ve thrown away enough money at the bookies to think the chance to win some money isn’t so bad either.
Stereotyping in political programming does zilch to progress attitudes or move any debate forward. Instead it reinforces them – no matter how casually or in jest it is intended.
It is the BBC’s responsibility in this debate to come up with a meatier forum for women to debate the issues. It isn’t just enough to have panel debates where the political parties – notably Yes – put women speakers from their sides in the firing line. Time and again the refrain that politics is off-putting will continue to be put. There is a clear reason for this. If you are a sitting Member of any given Parliament then every word you say is pored over, contrasted with previous output, compared to colleagues, etc. In politics saying a lot isn’t the wisest decision, least of all on TV. Short, sharp, punchy statements is your best bet – which leaves little time for real debate.
If our public broadcasting service want to debate Scottish independence versus the Union, and all that goes with it, topical programmes on issues such as gender, and any other societal group, are an outstanding opportunity to do so without refrain.
What we should not have however is broadcasters so timid to engage in the actual debate that a chance for a serious political programme, on a topic which will have repercussions well beyond these shores, is instead replaced by a slapstick time-filler which ticks all the usual boxes. I started watching ‘What Women Want’ because I thought it might prove insightful. Instead I would put in the category of entirely predictable.
A contributor to ‘What Women Want’, Lesley Riddoch, put it thus in a recent Scotsman column on why the BBC need to up their game –
“I was called by a London researcher last week, asking my views on problems and uncertainties associated with independence. When I asked if his flagship network programme will also examine problems associated with the union, he said there wouldn’t be time and the difficulties of independence are interesting to voters. They are. But voters are also interested in the downsides of the union – London-centricity, economic stagnation, austerity and inequality as the measure of civilisation, failure to invest in Scotland’s green revolution, leaving Europe”
In short, the BBC are not pushing boundaries on their independence programming. They are instead resorting to the refrain that the way it’s always been done is probably the best. In this constitutional debate that simply isn’t good enough.
Next time I think I’ll spend the hour late-night shopping, or cooking something from that recipe book I bought.
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.
No inborn superiority in being born Scottish
James Halliday – SI January 2009
Small wonder that Labour hostility is barely controllable.
It might go against the grain to admit it, but members and voters of our Party and those of the Labour Party are obviously drawn from the same species. In the zoology of politics each resembles the other more closely than either resembles the third or fourth party in our system. The Tories and Liberals are more, as it were, specialised.
While not all Tories have enjoyed the experience and benefits of hereditary affluence, they admire, follow and defer to those who have. They share with such persons the happy conviction that their experience and status entitle them to expect dominant positions in our society. Like Labour they legislate to the advantage of the social and economic interests which support them.
Liberals have to be different because they have no interest group to serve. They regard themselves as above such things. Made fastidious by prolonged education they tend to be polished beyond the political norm, looking around for some quasi-charity upon which to confer the blessings of their leisure hours.
We and Labour share the more general populace between us, and this very similarity goes far to explain the virulence of the mutual animosity which all media and academic observers detect. Labour have to endure the bitterness of the memory that they once had no challengers for the support of Scotland’s wage-earning majority. Their hatred for us rises as they watch us come from nowhere, to challenge and then to drive them from office. Small wonder that their hostility is barely controllable.
Their feelings find relief in detecting anything short of excellence in our behaviour and performance. Any Scottish failure, disgrace, shame, humiliation allows them to heap upon us blame and ridicule, rejoicing in the events which have given them this chance. If Scotland can be made to seem in any sense inadequate, Labour stands high on its claws, crowing that this proves once and for all that Scottish independence is quite, quite unthinkable.
They and their members and allies in the press have a bank of stereotypes and caricatures which they use to put us in the wrong. “Proud to be Scottish” the Daily Record headlined the other day. If that silliness had come from a Nationalist source the Record would then have led the pack yelling about Scots’ arrogance and “Wha’s like us?” mentality. At the other end of social readership “The Times” employs a Scottish team of contributors whose preoccupation is always with the down side of every Scottish political venture.
It is many a long day since Nationalist partisans blamed the English for everything, or indeed anything, that offends against Scotland’s interests. For 50 years our leadership has constantly impressed upon our people that we have in our hands the power to ensure our betterment. We know and accept that there is no inborn superiority in being born Scottish. It is an accident, and pride is an absurd irrelevance. It is not we who go in for racism, but rather those who stick a label of nationality upon misdeed.
Post-Culloden atrocities? Lowland Scots officers. Disgraceful Clearances in the Highlands? Scottish factors and estate managers. Punitive and repressive judgements in our courts? All Braxfield’s fault, and he even spoke Scots. Squalor in our cities, and impoverished and destitute people? Scottish employers and landlords.
It is true that Scots often display indifference to the plight of other Scots, but lesser officials in all countries and societies have always sought to win the approval of their superiors by callous treatment of those at their mercy. Whatever misdeeds have been committed by Scots, look always to identify the superior authority handing down the orders.
The latest example of transferred guilt arises from the Homecoming events in the New Year. If our newspapers were to be believed the whole misery of slavery in the Caribbean is to be blamed upon Scottish overseers. Wholly innocent, apparently, are the merchants and bankers who planned and operated the plantations, and equally unsullied is the State whose Parliament long sanctioned and maintained the whole enterprise.
And, Oh what joy! One man who nearly became an overseer was Scotland’s immortal, iconic Burns! Think of that, all you nasty, parochial, presumptuous Scots and cringe in your guilt.
Our media seem wholly devoted to the “feet of clay” school of History. Given enough time and encouragement they might well find grounds for blaming slavery on Wallace, or Bruce, or even perhaps, in the final crashing reckoning, Sean Connery.