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.

9 thoughts on “Sisters need to do it for themselves

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  4. Having watched ‘the Debate’ today in parliament( regarding Independence,)the reason why more women are not prepared to put themselves forward in politics is clear to see.
    Contrast Linda Fabiani, in style, dignity and sheer reasonableness with both Ruth Davidson and Johann Lamont.
    Ruth Davidson (IMO ) appears to treat the whole event as if it is a rehearsal for the latest school drama production ,while J Lamont comes across as being able to dish it out but has obvious difficulty when her view is questioned.
    Why would your average woman want to become more involved when this is the example they see ?
    There are capable women across Scotland ,perfectly able to plough their way through policies and issues but it does not mean they want to be shouted down in what (especially ) in Holyrood,appears to becoming a very acrimonious atmosphere.
    That is not to say that women do not /are not involved.I attended the protest against the BBC last week and was pleased to see that at least half of the demonstrators were women,(not dragged there by their man ),there by choice,quietly supporting but with strongly held views.
    History shows, whether it be rent rises or seats on buses or peace protests, women quietly without rancour can bring about massive change to the ordinary lives of people.
    To legislate ? Do I (as a woman ) really want my views represented by a belligerent ineffective female ,to make up the quota or do I want my views expressed effectively by the person most able to do it ?
    At present ,my jury is out .
    When I look at my chicklets and their friends I see,self doubt,teenage awkwardness and bewilderment at what is expected of them.I only hope as they develope,into young women their confidence grows in their abilities because of their knowledge and skills at their polished fingertips and their ability to achieve rather than their gender.

  5. I’m just back from a few days in Norway for work, and I saw a leaders debate on the TV. I was struck by three things: 1) there were seven of them, which makes a complete mockery of the idea that it’s okay to leave the Greens out of debates here as it would suddenly lead to too many people on screen; 2) the debate was remarkably civil, with no one talking over other people, no one getting angry, and people raising their hands to speak; and 3) there were four women and three men.

    I’ve argued against quotas on blogs before, but stuff it, you’re lucky if even 20% of politicians in a parliament are truly brilliant people, so any men who lose out at the expense of quotas are more likely to be middling-to-average politicians, rather than outstanding ones. Ach, let’s go for it. The worst that can happen is a few average male politicians being replaced by average female politicians, so nothing lost overall. But it’s far more likely that we’ll get more good politicians instead. Maybe it’ll even have the handy side-effect of bringing different kinds of people into politics too, leading to more civilised Norwegian-style politics?

    Couple of things that raised my eyebrow here though, Kate.

    “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.”

    Elaine’s played a massive role in the cause, but you don’t hold up a launch just for the sake of one person’s schedule. Looking at the Susan Boyle musical tour dates, that would have meant waiting a whole extra month, giving the No campaign a chance to beat them to it. I’d be very surprised if the organisers hadn’t already tried their best to ensure as many people as possible were available for the launch. Maybe when Elaine was available, everyone else wasn’t. I’ve not seen anyone arguing they should have held it up just to let Sean Connery appear…

    “Women and mothers across the globe have been doing it for centuries: going without so their weans don’t.”

    Eh? The alternative would presumably be that you fed yourself and let the big chicklet eat your leftovers instead. What you’re describing there is a good parent putting her bairn first, not a woman being forced to make do without because of male oppression.

    Don’t mean to criticise, but those two things just seemed a bit odd…

  6. I agree with the arguments in the post and I also agree with Jenny Marra’s amendment. The legal requirement for a quota of a minimum, and it is a minimum, of 40% women on all public boards should be an urgent priority for both the SNP and Labour.

  7. Will the best women apply for the positions?or will it be left to the, what can I say here,the way it is in the politics one or two good men and the rest hardly worth inviting to a party.Or like I suspect the best get on with their own lives and leave the numpties to meddle in other people lives.

  8. This has to be made right now if we are genuinely serious about a truly democratic, independent Scotland. There can be no excuse for any form of chauvinism nor democratic deficit of any kind if we are to set the right tone and pace for the country post-independence.

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