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Sisters need to do it for themselves

First, we had the Yes Scotland launch where the Yes wimmin of Scotland were represented by Liz Lochhead, Lou Hickey and Elaine C Smith, who had to be beamed in by video from Cardiff.  Which, given her commitment over the years to the Scottish Independence Convention and the cause, was a bit of an insult that they couldn’t wait and hold the launch when she was in town.

Then, we had the analysis.  Both Scotland Tonight and Newsnicht had panels discussing the launch of the Yes campaign.  Sadly, the talkin’ heids – all seven of them – were grey, male ones.  Not a single woman in the entirety of Scotland to be found with a trenchant view or lancing insight to offer on any of it.  It’s scarcely credible.

Thank goodness, though, for Lesley Riddoch.  But why wasn’t she on the airwaves adding her tuppence worth? She was clearly around, writing and podcasting on it all.

Scotland Tonight decided another wee looky was in order last night, discussing the Yes Campaign’s harnessing of the might of social media and online tools to build its consensus.  Three commentators, three blokes.  And because some wimmin commented on this on twitter, we got the usual excuses.  Women might not be available; they don’t have much time to sort these things; just cos there’s a three person panel doesn’t mean we’re trying to represent the whole nation; there are lots of powerful women on the telly; we shouldn’t have quotas, but the best people for the job.

And I’ve nearly run out of responses.  I sit most of the time slack-jawed in wonder at this kind of thing, in 21st Century Scotland, when the biggest question ever to be put to the Scottish people is devoid, almost utterly, of female voices outwith the parties.

But of course, nearly run out doesn’t mean completely run out.

I think I had my first feminist thoughts when I was far too young to realise they were feminist, or indeed egalitarian.  I recall seeing my wee gran, all five foot nothing of her, dishing up the tea to a cast of thousands, a meal made out of nothing very much and watching her heap the men in her life’s plates up and give herself scarcely a tattie and a scraping of mince.  Time after time, I watched her do it.  She went without her fair share of square meals to give her menfolk more.

And each and every time I saw it, inside I blanched.  She worked just as hard as they did in a full time job and keeping the house, with darn little help from them – that was another feminist observation which I didn’t really understand at the time.

And I vowed never to do it myself, but of course I did.  When we lived on benefits, I regularly used to just make the big chicklet’s tea and eat his leftovers.  Women and mothers across the globe have been doing it for centuries:  going without so their weans don’t.

But all the time, burning inside with the injustice of it and remembering my gran spending a lifetime doing it and vowing not to, any longer than I had to.

So, a feminist since I was old enough to yap basically.  All the way through life, I’ve seen it:  women being  excluded and marginalised, for the pure and simple fact they are women.  And here we are, on the run-in to our big constitutional moment, and the men who run things – parties, media, debates – are keeping it all cosy for themselves.  If we didn’t have the estimable Nicola Sturgeon as Depute SNP leader, I doubt we would be hearing a female voice promoting independence at all.

Which is not to say that the SNP, the Greens, the SSP and indeed, the cause do not have some great female proponents, because they do.  And in particular, when I stray far from the SNP crowd – which is often these days – nothing reins me in more than sitting with some of the fine women of the SNP – those who have beat the drum for decades – and listening to their views on it all, on their journey and what they believe in.  Frankly, more of them, telling their personal stories, in their own words would do much to make the emotional and practical case for a Yes vote, sadly lacking right now.

And because there are two sides to every coin, there’s plenty room for female Naysayers too.  I’d just like to hear a different tone, reason and cadence in this debate.

Even though we are in the campaigns’ earliest days, one thing has become clear.  The sisters can not rely on the blokes to invite them in.  We’ve tried tapping on their door politely;  we’ve even called ahead to check they were in.  And their response has been to turn the lights off and sit in the dark and hope we’ll go away before too long.

So it’s time for positive action, to demand a say in this debate.  And while we’re at it, to demand our share of seats at other tables too.

Which is why I hope Jenny Marra MSP’s amendment to the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) bill proposing 40% quotas on police and fire boards for women succeeds.  Not quite full equality, but it’ll do.  It’s a start.  Which is why feminists everywhere – men and women – need to lobby their MSPs to support it.

Because once we’ve got 40% on these public boards, there’s nothing to stop 40% – and higher- female representation on other public bodies.

Just in case it doesn’t happen, we can always follow the Norwegian route and put a law in place requiring it to.  Norway’s gender quota - a laboratory for the advancement of women, if you like – means that 40% of the seats on boards of market-listed companies have to be filled by women.  And get this:  the sky has not fallen in.

Of course, we don’t have the power to do this in Scotland.  Yet.

In the meantime, we can require it for public appointments to quangoes and the like, and there would be nothing to stop a member’s bill in this regard.

And for me, these are the sorts of reasons to vote yes to independence.  So, we can insist upon equal representation here, there and everywhere.  And where by virtue of a written constitution, 50-50 becomes the norm.

It will be a start – a very important one – to creating an equal society and economy.  One where women no longer have to go without and do without.  One where women are seen and most definitely heard.

Why?  Because if half of the population is excluded, we simply don’t have the best people.

And the winner is… the verdict on the first Scottish leaders’ debate

Twitter was on fire, the live online thingy at STV nearly melted, and at various points, my brain froze trying to keep up with it all, while actually listening to what was being said.

Yes, folks, welcome to the Scottish election leaders’ debates, the first of which was on STV tonight.   And for each debate – yes I am that much of an anorak – the burd will be making special awards in a range of categories.  Feel free to add your views, especially if you disagree, and even your own awards…

Overall winner - that would be Alex Salmond.  But then most of us expected that.  It was a good performance, though he only reached top gear once, on the session on tuition fees and why higher education should be free.  He appealed on the values of aspiration, fairness and society and sounded like a leader.  His answer to the question on why he would make the best First Minister was spot on, focusing not on himself but on the SNP’s team, record and vision.  However, he lost us on the detail of apprenticeships and jobs, and tried to cover too much ground with his explanation of the al-Megrahi decision.  And while he kept his tendency to smugness and smart Alexness under wraps, his body language towards Iain Gray won’t have gone down well with some viewers. 

Best wardrobe - Bernard Ponsonby, hands down winner.  The STV political editor showed them all how to do it.  Salmond played it safe and it worked.  Annabel needs to ditch the beads, Tavish Scott the lurid pink tie, and Iain Gray needs a whole new wardrobe, and make up artist for good measure.

Worst audience contribution - gosh, so many to choose from.  There were some good ones:  the woman on fuel poverty raised a serious issue, offered some strong facts but forgot to ask a question.  And the sweetest member had to be the oul yin with the buttonhole there to woo Annabel.  Bless.  The audience was dire, to be honest.  Far too many plants and partisans, far too many folk trying to be a star, no one offering a killer question.  A toss up for worst between the wee lassie who nearly wept making her Oscar-like adulatory exhortation of Salmond for First Minister and the racist who questioned the Tories wanting to make young people pay for university tuition while we give money away in foreign aid.  He wins it by a shade and I was disappointed that no one booed him or told him to leave.

Best pantomime moment - they all belong to Annabel, and frankly the whole charade of the flirty matron, alternatively showing an ankle trying to secure a position as a junior coalition partner and scolding those naughty boys, is beyond tiresome.  It crowds out the substance – some of it actually quite sensible and principled (which does not mean I agree with it!) – of her answers.  Get a new routine, Miss Goldie, please.

Worst omission - no questions, no comment, no discussion about the cuts and our financial situation.  Remarkable really.  In the next few weeks, it all becomes frighteningly real – job losses, income squeeze, benefit changes, tax hikes, local services closing their doors.  And no one so much as furrowed their brows on it.  Like I said, remarkable.  Surely this issue will feature in, nay dominate the debates to come?

Best exchange - the man who asked about the release of al-Megrahi was brave enough to challenge Salmond, politely, on the first part of his response.  Good for him.  This whole segment was rounded and rich and reflected well on the leaders.  They all argued their positions thoughtfully and passionately.  No clear winner but it showed our politicians at their best, for once.

Biggest fail - call me biased, and I am, but I am utterly bemused that a debate largely dominated by the themes of education and youth unemployment only managed a handful mentions of “children”.  In fact, the ability of the party leaders to talk about issues while scarcely mentioning people throughout the debate was pretty astonishing.  People vote, institutions and issues don’t, and while children obviously don’t have a vote, their parents and grandparents do.  Most folk with children in their lives would not hesitate to state that they, and making sure they are provided for and have a secure and promising future, are their priority.  So why do they not feature more highly in our parties’ priorities?

A few other observations.  Whoever coined the campaign phrase, Scotland deserves better, was damned right.  Whoever suggested to Iain Gray that he take the fight to Salmond and try to disconcert him in the opening exchanges with a pugnacious approach and aggressive interventions should be sacked.  Whoever advised Tavish Scott never to crack a smile nor attempt a joke and to aim for earnest and dull was wrong.  Whoever picks the audiences for these things needs to find some real people without party affiliations.  The first leader to remember that there is an audience on their sofas and respond not to the host nor the studio audience, but straight down the camera to all those thousands of voters, wins.

However awful this one was, I’ll definitely be tuning in next time.  See you there?

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