You’ll forgive me for having more than a passing interest in how women are going to vote in the referendum. In the last two years, there has been a concerted effort – largely by women and largely by women from both Yes and No sides – to ensure women’s voices are heard in the debate. You might wonder that we really are in the 21st Century but women have had to fight, call out and argue for their right to be represented in media discussions and speaker panels in the referendum debate. But we are winning, even if falling somewhat short of equal representation. Apparently, one women’s voice will always do, while often two or more of men’s is considered requisite.
Carolyn Leckie’s inspired idea to create a space for women who support independence in which they could engage with other like-minded women has borne remarkable fruit. The aim was not to create an echo chamber but a safe space which operated differently from traditional party and campaign structures, in which women could gather and importantly, invite other women to participate in. The focus throughout has been on listening to other women and giving them a space of their own in which to explore their thoughts and concerns on the referendum debate. But let’s be honest, the point of what Carolyn and the other founding members of Women for Independence (of which I was one) created was also to enable and encourage more women in Scotland to vote Yes.
That it has worked suggests that it was sorely needed. Because of Women for Independence, there are women involved in this debate, campaigning, speaking out, engaging and still listening to other women’s voice who have “never done this kind of thing before”. Women for Independence now has 1,200 individual members from all over Scotland, with over 40 local groups ranged all over the country.
And while our focus is on the campaign to win independence for Scotland for the next nine weeks, we won’t be going away on 19 September. The work will continue – hopefully with women from all parties and none, and from both sides of the constitutional debate – to ensure women’s rights and equality feature high up the agenda in post-referendum Scotland. Yup, that’s a threat and a promise.
Increasingly, Women for Independence is attracting women who did not start out voting yes. They have travelled to the conclusion that women in Scotland will be better off with independence either through a long and dissatisfying journey with the Labour party or over the arid landscape of two years of constitutional debate. Some of them started as No voters, most as undecideds.
But don’t just take my word for it, look at the polls.
Frankly, during this campaign, the polls have been all over the place. The differential in voting intentions being recorded by different pollsters and across polling periods is often so volatile that the only safe conclusion is “eh?”
There have been a lot of polls and very little can be said about them that tells us definitively what on earth is going on in the minds and intentions of the Scottish people. Though John Curtice does his best.
James Kelly at Scot Goes Pop! has done a sterling job, not only in keeping up with polling activity, but also in providing essential analysis. In particular, he’s tried to get to the crux of why the polls are still showing big leads for no when any of us out on the doorsteps know it’s a lot less clearcut than they suggest.
Looking only at ICM’s polling results in 2014 (from the surveys run for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday), two tentative conclusions can be reached.
First, the longer the debate continues and the more information they have, the less men seem to know. Wasn’t it always thus?
ICM’s polling suggests that the closer we get to Referendum day, men are being pulled away from a previous yes voting intention and increasingly, don’t know how they will vote. The fact that they do appear to be moving to undecided means there is still hope: one in five of men’s votes is still up for grabs. Why anyone thinks excluding the don’t knows at this stage is a good idea is beyond me. Every second voter I canvass is a genuine undecided either because they cannot make up their mind or simply haven’t thought about it. Read that last bit again, Yes and No stalwarts, and weep.
Second, women are largely where they started the year, having been on a bit of a journey in the last few months. Having reached a low point of support for independence in May, women do now seem to be moving towards a yes vote. And there are still plenty who have yet to make up their minds. ICM suggests that when they do, they are largely deciding to vote yes. Again, these undecideds are still genuinely undecided for the reasons outlined above. Few can be categorised as not voting because most I meet absolutely intend to do so. Once they’ve had a chance to think about it and get hold of information because they’ve not had anything much, is a frequent refrain. (Note to Yes and No folk – try harder!)
There are many factors at play, of course. But the visibility of a campaign working so enthusiastically at the grassroots to encourage more women to vote yes, will have made a contribution. When women who support independence get the chance to expound the benefits of independence to other, undecided women – benefits for themselves, their families, their communities and the country’s future – those messages resonate.
Moreover, the issues matter. Women have been most affected by Westminster’s cuts. They are concerned about the future of the welfare state and NHS in Scotland as they see the privatisation of the NHS South of the border. More and more women are realizing that only independence guarantees a fairer and more prosperous future for them and their families.
Last week, I met a woman in her thirties, who despite the draw of a warm, balmy summer evening, sat on a hard seat in a village hall for two hours and listened. I watched her throughout and she was listening hard to everything that was being said: her attention did not waver, not even for a minute. I spoke to her at the end and asked her why she had come.
With tears shining in her eyes, she replied that she wanted to make sure she was making the best choice for her children’s future. That how she voted really mattered and she wanted to make sure she got it right. She did not want her children to be denied a better future because she got her vote wrong. She has been undecided throughout, swinging from undecided to yes, back again and over to no, before landing up firmly back on the fence for the last month or so. Since then, she has immersed herself in the debate, in gathering and reading information, on turning out to meetings like the one I met her at, because she absolutely wants to make sure she is doing the right thing by her children.
She’s finally made up her mind. She’s voting yes.