Today – though I say so myself – marks a watershed in the constitutional debate and in the campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
Women for independence, an autonomous, all party, nay party group of women, by women and for women, goes live. And I am proud to have played my role, alongside a fairly large band of hardy and hard-working women, in getting us here.
As is our way, there have been big chats going on for a while. Working out whether, why, what, who and how. In establishing that yes, a women for independence group which sits outside the mainstream but will rub along with it quite nicely, was needed, we came to the conclusion that being women for independence wasn’t enough. We also need to establish that independence is for women and how exciting it could be if independence for Scotland also helped deliver true, real independence for women. Sisters, to coin the song title, doing it for themselves.
So, this movement is not just here for the referendum – I hope – but for the afterwards too. We intend to play a role in developing a new politics, one in which the needs and interests of women are better represented and considered. The more we blethered and cogitated, the more we realised that if we can deliver, our efforts could result in a very different politics in independent Scotland.
And this long-term goal is just as important as the short-term one.
For fairly obvious reasons, our immediate focus is on encouraging more women to vote Yes in 2014. We are well aware that the polls show a marked reluctance by women in Scotland to opt for change. For those of us who already believe in independence and whose votes are in the bag, we struggle to understand why. But we also realise that we really need to understand why, or else how might we ever change all those made-up and undecided minds?
We wondered if there had been research conducted with women that showed some clues. We couldn’t find any (though I concede we might just not have access to it and maybe Gender Politics in Edinburgh could help us out here? in a non-partisan way of course). And we realised that if we could unlock this conundrum, we might well hold the key to a successful yes vote.
Because women are rarely listened to for their political opinions in this country. Few of the parties outside of the electoral cycle actually take time to engage with groups of women voters and give them space to talk about their hopes, fears, concerns and aspirations. Occasionally, they might grumble, but they’re not heard.
Until now, the independence referendum campaign has involved a shouting match. Two polarised camps delivering a barrage of claim, counterclaim and occasionally, insult. If it’s turning me off, then it’s bound to have taken its toll on women voters who are largely disinterested in the day-to-day of political warfare. The parlour game being played over key parts of the process? Necessary but tedious.
And even when the protagonists deign to invite women on to their platforms, it is often – with absolutely no disrespect intended – only the chattering classes who are included. Women who are highly educated, very articulate and more than happy to try to hold their own in a predominantly male mix. I can say this, because I am one of them.
What do ordinary women think? Ordinary not in the sense that they are, of course, but because they get on with the mundane. The going to work, the keeping of houses, the raising of weans, the paying of bills, the reading of celebrity magazines, the lying awake worrying about the finances, the washing of clothes, the tidying of toys, the caring of parents, the treading of gym mills, the watching of Saturday night telly. The everyday stuff which keeps our worlds ticking over and which leaves precious little energy or time or inclination to ponder the pros and cons of a one or two question referendum.
Are they as exercised by membership of NATO as the SNP seems to be? Do they care if the Queen is head of an independent state or not? Or are their questions about independence to do with totally different things? Questions which no one has raised, never mind provided answers for.
This is what Women for Independence is going to be about. Listening to women, proper listening. Giving them space and time to have their say, elucidate their doubts, share their views, articulate their aspirations. In a safe space. In a way which no political party has engaged with them – en masse – before.
Women for Independence goes live today. We already have way more than the 214 women supporters that we set ourselves at this stage. And we are going to spend the next few months listening to other women, allowing them their say in this most important debate in Scotland’s modern political history.
In doing so, we hope we are sending all the parties and both sides in this debate a clear message.
Women’s views matter. Women’s voices should be heard. Women’s votes will count.