Normally in my house, a pot of lentil soup is made every week. It’s been a staple of both boys’ lives, all their lives, and they love it. I make better lentil soup than anyone they know. I learned how to from my Gran.
It’s been a rarity in recent times so on Monday, I decided to fix that. A pot was duly made. I burnt it. I burnt lentil soup. Boy Wonder, somewhat in awe at my spectacular fail, is now seriously questioning what has happened to his mammy. So am I.
And I’m writing this, surveying the wreckage that is my house. I hoovered at the weekend but not that you’d notice. Since then, there have been so many folk piling in and out with deliveries and the like that it looks like I’ve not hoovered for months. There are piles of clothes everywhere, dried, en route eventually to bedrooms (wardrobes and drawers might be stretching it a bit).
There are bits of paper. Hunners of them. In strategically placed piles on every surface. And boxes. Of leaflets, materials, and other campaign paraphernalia. I try heroically several times a week to clear the dining table only for it to fill up again with campaign flotsam and jetsam almost immediately. We eat in whatever corner happens to be bare at the time.
But I know this is not a normal woman’s house. Women everyday open their doors to me and their houses gleam and sparkle. There is order. There is not a speck of dust to be seen. Women – even busy working women – still take pride in their home. They might grumble about the division of labour, that even though they too work full time, sorting school bags and shopping and washing and ironing still largely falls to them. But they do it, even grudgingly, Because home is where the heart is, in all senses.
And what will these women – the undecided women still making their minds up how to vote on 18 September – take from the No camp’s video?
Forget the words, it’s the images that will stay. Here’s a woman who sits down with a cup of coffee in amongst the crumbs and debris of the morning rush hour. And then gets up to go to work without shifting a dish or wiping a surface. She might be a woman I can identify with, but not them. hey’d never dream of leaving their homes in that state. They’ve missed their target audience completely, probably because the video was made by men.
For they’ve also managed to patronise these women. Suggesting they don’t really like their husbands and partners, and worst of all, think poorly of their children – all the women I engage with speak with pride and love when asked about their families. That the reason they’ve not yet made up their minds is because they’re bored with the referendum dominating all conversations – not my experience – or because they don’t know enough about everyday politics to come to an informed decision – well wide of the mark, I’m afraid.
Many who have yet to make up their minds are indeed waiting for a quiet moment, to sit down with all the information and go through it, and decide. They know there are only a few weeks left but that’s enough time. Until then, they carry on, carrying on. Absorbing the mood music all around them, chatting with friends and family, raising queries, listening to those they trust. But also engaging with folk – like me – who bother to pitch up on their doorstep, who don’t evangelise, who empathise with the big decision they have to make, and who listen to them and try to offer a factual account of the ifs, buts and maybes. I explain I come from a Yes position but I try to be honest and acknowledge that there are unknowns.
But I also set out the bit No don’t want them to hear. That a No vote might not offer the best of both worlds actually. That women haven’t had a fair deal from Westminster. That there are known risks from voting No – £5 billion cuts in the next two years to the block grant will put spending on public services they care about under strain like never before.
None of that subtlety was evident in their video. In fact, it contained downright lies. There is no uncertainty over pensions: the DWP itself has said that folks’ pensions are safe. Just as if they chose to go and live in Spain now, as ex-pats in an independent Scotland, the state pension will still be paid. Private pension providers based in England already pay out pensions to people living in other countries, why would they not for Scots in the future?
Many women I’ve listened and chatted to are worried about their children’s future. So I give them the astonishing fact, supported by independent research, that this generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings is likely to be the first generation ever to be worse off than their parents. Thanks to austerity and the running up of huge levels of government debt, there’s very little left for them. They will be paying for it all, all of their adult lives. They are hurting already and that’s why so many of them – and the polls now show that a majority of voters in their twenties are now likely to vote yes – are choosing the one opportunity offered by independence for a better, different future. I encourage these women to talk to their sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and find out why they are voting yes and to think about that when they come to make up their own minds.
I also encourage them to listen to and read other women’s stories, of women who didn’t start out yes but arrived there. To see if there is anything they can identify with from what they say.
Everyone on the Yes side is having a lot of fun with this No video. David Greig came up with a brilliant mini-play/pastiche on twitter last night. Robert Florence’s take on the messaging is laugh out loud funny (but also hits hard at its inherent sexism).
But the most powerful counter to it comes from women themselves. If you do one thing today, encourage undecided women you know to watch Women for Independence‘s video. It’s a simple, direct appeal to women of all ages, from all parts of and communities in Scotland to make their voices heard. There’s no insulting of women’s intelligence, no misleading on the issues, there’s not even any crumbs needing cleaned up,
This is an article (previously published on Open Democracy) from Jim and Margaret Cuthbert summarising their detailed research critiquing the concept of a union dividend and effectively blowing out of the water, the UK Government’s analysis of Scotland’s income and wealth. It makes for compelling reading and if you are trying to persuade undecided voters of the economic case for independence, you might want to give them this piece or even the full analysis. It was published by Options for Scotland on 14th August and is available here
On May 28th, the Treasury produced its report “Scotland analysis: Fiscal policy and sustainability” on the size of the union dividend which every Scot, it was claimed, received as part of the UK. According to the Treasury, over the next twenty years, every man, woman, and child would be £1,400 better off each year for staying in the union.
One thing we found is that there are large technical flaws in the Treasury analysis and calculations: in particular, the model the Treasury used fails to account for various known features which will inevitably affect the future they are trying to predict. The identified flaws include, among others:
- the Treasury’s failure to allow for the Barnett squeeze which, on the Treasury’s own growth assumptions will automatically begin and adversely affect the Scottish government’s funding under a continued union.
- Failure to recognise that the funding model for the devolved Scottish government has no mechanism for making provision for a significant element for the extra costs associated with Scotland’s relatively ageing population.
- Failure to allow for the implications of quantitative easing.
However, the problems with the Treasury’s approach go much deeper than these technical flaws. Its failure to model the way the Scottish government is funded under the union, allied to its failure to look at variant scenarios for UK public expenditure growth, means that the Treasury entirely miss the lose/lose situation which Scotland is in under continuation of the union.
On the one hand, if the Treasury’s optimistic growth scenario is realised, then there will be a Barnett squeeze. But on the other hand, in the very likely case of continued austerity, then the Barnett formula would mechanistically deliver increasing levels of per capita expenditure on devolved services to Scotland relative to England: in the face of universal austerity in the UK, this would make the continuation of Barnett politically impossible. Either way, Scotland loses.
The Treasury calculations also fail to allow for the adverse effects which are, in effect, baked into the UK baseline from which the Treasury attempts to measure its “union dividend”. These negatives include:
- The very serious risks of a UK financial crisis.
- Having successive Conservative governments which Scotland has not voted for.
- Illegal wars.
- Trident, which is based on the doorstep of Scotland’s largest conurbation, and which polls show is anathema to the bulk of the Scottish population.
- The adverse effects of Scotland’s lack of direct representation in international bodies like the EU and the UN.
- The inefficiencies in the operation of reserved functions in the UK, which means that Scotland has at times to seek permission to allocate part of its own budget to overcome deficiencies – and is on occasion even penalised for so doing. (A classic example of the latter was free personal care for the elderly, where the Scottish government hoped to use the attendance allowance of those in care homes to help meet the overall costs. The UK government refused to transfer the attendance allowance monies, so Scotland was penalised by over £20 million per annum).
- The fact that Scotland has to take on board, without any option, divisive UK policies in areas like social security.
In effect, the Treasury approach is fundamentally and implicitly union-centric: so that the present state of the union is inherently regarded as being natural, beneficial, and risk-free. What should have taken place was a proper assessment of the pros and cons of the union, going into the risks and costs attaching to continued membership of that union.
And last, but not least, is the question of the assumption that the Treasury made about the independence scenario – in areas like start-up costs, oil, and debt. These assumptions have, rightly, been strongly challenged by others: see for example oil expert Donald MacKay in the Sunday Times on 6th July. While it is not the primary purpose of this paper to go into these areas in detail, there are good grounds for believing that the Treasury has chosen to be unduly pessimistic.
The Treasury paper is, of course, meant to tell us something about Scottish independence: but actually, what it does do is to indicate something very significant about what has happened to the Treasury itself. The two fundamental failings in the Treasury paper are the failure to take on board in their modelling known, and essential, features of the real world – particularly the funding arrangements for devolution: and the failure to produce a balanced view by addressing the risks attaching to the UK economy. These failings tell us that the once proud Treasury has become a thoroughly politicised organisation, and one where technical standards have badly slipped.
Overall, where does our critique leave the “union dividend”? Is it just a question of reducing the Treasury’s assessed dividend in relation to those technical mistakes that we have identified and which can be quantified?
Absolutely not. What we argue is that the whole concept of a single figure “union dividend” is nonsense and must be abandoned. The decision that the Scottish people will take on independence involves many factors. To try to boil that decision down to a single monetary amount is basically meaningless: and when the method adopted essentially assumes away all the risks and costs attaching to staying in the union the result is not merely meaningless, it is intrinsically biased.
When the Treasury produced their results, their use of children’s lego men to explain their findings to the simple minded Scots was widely, and rightly, seen as insulting. In fact, the real insult was not in the use of lego men to present the results: but in the fact that the Treasury adopted a flawed and biased methodology in the first place.
That’s not just me saying so. It was the verdict of 1000 of Scotland’s women polled on behalf of Women for Independence by Survation. When asked which institution – the Scottish or Westminster Parliament – gave them a fair deal, nearly four in ten (38.6%) said they didn’t think Scottish women got a fair deal from Westminster, while a clear majority believed the Scottish Parliament did give them a fair deal (42% compared to 17%).
Dissatisfaction with Westminster was highest among women aged 55 to 64 at nearly 50% (47.4%), but women aged 45 to 54 were also deeply unhappy with their lot under Westminster (43%) as were young women aged 16 to 24 (40%). Women from Glasgow were also most likely to think they hadn’t had a fair deal (46%) as were women on lower incomes (43.2% of C1 women).
It’s not hard to see why women in Scotland take such a dim view of Westminster. Women and their children have been hardest hit by austerity cuts. Nearly three quarters of the £15 billion in cuts made by Westminster to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been taken from women’s incomes. And research published recently by the Scottish Government shows that the pay gap between men and women has got worse: women now earn on average 17% less than men. If that wasn’t bad enough, the older you are, the worse the pay gap becomes. It’s the ultimate insult for a life spent striving.
And older women have been hit hard by UK government actions too, not least with the raising of the retirement age, paltry increases in pensions and many still facing smaller pensions due to the “wee stamp” National Insurance issue. Rising fuel costs plunge many into fuel poverty, forced to choose between eating and heating. They are looking forward to an old age scrimping and scraping after a lifetime of trying and striving to improve their lives. Little wonder they don’t think they’ve had a fair deal from Westminster.
Successive Labour and Tory governments have failed the women of Scotland. They might think they’ve got away with treating them unfairly, but Scotland’s women are on to them. During this campaign, Labour has promised women a wee bit “better” or a little “more”. Not good enough, Women are entitled to the same, to equal shares, to justice.
The fact that women participating in the poll were much more likely to think they have had a fair deal from the Scottish Parliament shows the difference that can be made when Scotland’s women get the governments they vote for and decisions are taken much closer to home. Some of those currently trying to decide whether to vote yes or no might want to ask themselves which system of government best serves their interests? Do they vote no and stick with a Westminster system dominated by male elites which has patently failed to give women a fair deal? We’ve had the Equal Pay Act for over 40 years and still the goal of being paid the same as men is as elusive as it was when the legislation was introduced.
There is of course an alternative. By voting Yes, women will have made the choice to seek change in their lives, not just for themselves but for future generations of women. The potential for far-reaching change is huge and independence can deliver real benefits and gains for Scotland’s women. We all just have to get the message across to women that they exist. Helpfully, Women for Independence has produced a great leaflet which does just that, setting out how women will get a better deal, can have better representation and rights, have a healthier nation, welfare that cares and a better start in life. Independence offers the opportunity to live in a wealthier, fairer Scotland. Independence can ensure that all women get a living wage, guaranteed pension increases, equal rights in law, free childcare for under 5s and improved carers’ benefits.
There’s no coincidence that in small independent countries like Finland, Denmark and Norway, women are more satisfied with life, the income gap is much smaller and life is fairer. Women who live in such countries think they get a fair deal – we can have one in Scotland too. Scotland’s women are clear they haven’t had a fair deal from Westminster – but they can get a fair deal in the future by voting Yes.