Scotland’s women agree – they haven’t had a fair deal from Westminster

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.


Wimmin’s week in the referendum (2)

So, the gap between men and women’s voting intentions is still there.  Stubbornly there.

The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings show it, as does the Daily Record’s Survation poll published today.  But it has those of us who like to spend our waking moments on the doorsteps perplexed, because we’re not finding such a big gap.

Indeed, we’re finding that the gap is closing and has closed over the last three months in particular.

The fact that there is a gap has grabbed all the headlines: little note has been made of the fact that support for independence has grown among women in the last year.  It’s up by 4% according to the SSA survey and taking all opinion polls since Scotland’s Future was published in November 2013, support for independence among women has grown by over 8%.  Which means that fewer are now intending to vote no.

Indeed, support is much higher among younger age groups – 30% of women aged 18 to 29 intend to vote Yes, and a full third of those aged 30 to 44 will vote Yes and 28% of women aged 45 to 64 will also vote Yes.  How this then translates as an overall figure of 20% support for independence is beyond me, unless of course, far more of the oldest age group, women over 65, participated in the research.  And oh look, that is exactly what happened.  Hmmm.

The SSA survey does show what is evident “out there”, that there are large numbers of women who haven’t yet made up their mind how to vote.  Some of them genuinely haven’t, some of them haven’t even begun to think about it, some of them are swithering on a daily or even, an hour by hour basis.  Mebbes aye, mebbes naw.  I feel for them, particularly when you see the anguish on their faces. Because they want to be sure and want to make the right decision.

Nearly a third of women, according to the SSA survey, have still to decide how to vote. The analysis in its Minding the Gap paper tries to explain both the gap and the high level of indecision.  But its starting point is an implicitly negative one, that there is something wrong in women’s standpoint.  Far from it.  Why wouldn’t women want to take longer to decide how to vote in what will be one of the biggest decisions in their lifetimes, not just for them, but their families and communities?

Seeking more information, then weighing it all up before deciding is a good thing, surely?  Don’t we want informed voters? Women for Independence does. This stunning blogpost from Land o’ the Leal? explains our rationale and approach perfectly. The author absolutely nails it,

And the experience of Women for Independence is that if you give women the space they need to articulate their opinions and feelings, they work through it for themselves.  Putting their doubts and concerns out there makes them seem smaller and much more manageable.  They get to talk about the positives independence offers and having focused on these, they then get where the risk actually lies. There’s no evangelising, no telling, no pointing, no shoutiness.  Just space to let women talk it through for themselves.

Sadly, that’s not what Better Together are doing.  I was on BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning Call with Ruth MacKay on Tuesday.  It was embarrassing listening to the fear mongering she indulged in.  “They have concerns about the impact of independence, around the currency and the economy… concerns about the jobs and the impact independence would have on that; the impact on the costs of shopping and their daily household bills, how their pensions would be paid and how institutions like the NHS would be paid and set up.”  She added too that there are no benefits for women from independence and challenged me to list those – apparently better pensions, free childcare, an equal wage, a written constitution guaranteeing a fairer deal and equal rights for women are all things that can be delivered now.

We may all splutter and scoff but this is what is causing women to doubt and to fret. When I spend time talking with them – listening to them by asking prompt questions actually – most say they want to vote Yes. But.  And it’s that “but” which is being fuelled by the kind of nonsense outlined above and fed daily by the Better Together campaign.

How else do you explain the Daily Record’s poll findings that the three words women would use to describe Alex Salmond most are arrogant, ambitious and dishonest? I get the first two but dishonest?  Really?

I’ve known Alex Salmond as a politician for a long time – he and the Big Yin used to be on first name terms, so it really is a long time.  I’ve seen him up close and personal and I’ve also had long enough away from the fray of party politics to be able to observe him and consider his qualities and weaknesses through the lens of an interested bystander.  He may be many things but never once would I ever consider him dishonest. Like all politicians making his case he may omit unhelpful facts and ensure that a narrative is crafted to suit his ends. That just makes him a politician frankly and one who is good at it.  The idea of him being dishonest also suggests that he is somehow making a big pile out of his public office. Not true: he actually donates his First Ministerial salary to charity. [UPDATE: I got this wrong.  Sorry.  Apparently, he donated one of his salaries while still an MP and an MSP.  And might only have done it once.  So not so generous but not dishonest either..]

I’ve know a lot of politicians in my time, and can spot the shifty, slimy ones and the ones on the make and in it for themselves a mile off.  He ain’t one of them and in over 20 years of knowing him, thoughts that he might be have never entered my head, not once.

And what to make of the fact that women voters consider Alistair Darling to be intelligent, arrogant and principled. Me, I’m gob-smacked. Here is a man who made an additional quarter of a million pounds on the after dinner circuit last year to add to his not inconsiderable MP salary which is three times the national average wage. And he was absolutely one of those MPs with his fingers in the till when there was free rein on expenses, flipping his home not once but four times to ensure the taxpayer paid his mortgage or rent and household bills. The home he bought for his family and in which he raised his family in Edinburgh? Apparently that’s not where he lived most of the time – that was his second home so the mortgage could be paid for by us. He even had the cheek to claim £300 a month for food from the taxpayer when we were already paying for him to stay in Number 11 Downing Street. There is absolutely nothing principled about any of that behaviour and most women if they knew about it, would be disgusted.

And yet, as Minding the Gap shows, what women think of Alex Salmond doesn’t explain the gap in voting intentions in the referendum. In fact, it has little to do with it.  As the report concludes, “although various hypotheses have been put forward to explain the gender gap, it remains stubbornly difficult to explain away using actual empirical data on public opinion.”

Partly that is because there has been very little research conducted into what makes women “tick” in terms of voting choices.  No matter what the results show, the poll conducted exclusively by the Daily Record, therefore, is welcome – it gives us all a little more insight into women’s motivations and views.  But given women’s importance to the outcome of the referendum, it is unhelpful that among the myriad research projects, there appears to be only one following women’s journey through the campaign, looking at risk in the constitutional debate and no doubt, exploring some of the uncertainty identified by the SSA survey in more depth.  The only obvious conclusion to be drawn for the moment is that uncertainty over some aspects of the impact of independence is resulting in more women indicating they are going to vote No on 18 September.

Am I only the one to feel queasy that there are women positively poking this uncertainty with a big stick in this campaign?  Day in, day out, you’ll find a woman politician warning of the dire consequences of a Yes vote for women’s lives, ignoring for convenience sake that actually women haven’t really got a great or a fair deal from Westminster.

Perhaps they are so willing to pile on the fear because they are feart themselves.  Because we have been here before, with evidence of a big gender gap just a few weeks before polling day in 2011. Six weeks before the Scottish election vote, there was a gap of 11% between men and women’s voting intentions, with men much more likely to vote SNP.  The gap fell dramatically in those last few weeks of the campaign, to just 4% three days before.

Which suggests that women’s votes are still there to be won in this referendum campaign.  Crucially, though I’m all for winning their hearts and minds too, so that they make a positive choice, however they end up voting on 18 September.  I’ll leave scaring them into submission to the No campaign.



Wimmin’s week in the referendum (1)

So, a risible piece in the Telegraph from Cathy Newman, the latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey focusing on the gender gap in voting intentions in the referendum and a keynote speech by Margaret Curran to women in the Better Together campaign today.  Hmm, am I the only one to doubt that serendipity is at work here?

This, then, is a blog in three posts and firstly, let’s have some fun dismantling not just Cathy Newman’s meanderings but also Professor John Curtice’s frankly offensive stereotyping of how women think and behave as voters.

If you missed it, the Telegraph piece is here, out before the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in which Professor Curtice is involved.  Setting that aside for this post, I spent a frustrating evening trawling What Scotland Thinks? disaggregating findings from previous surveys along gender lines.  And the lesson?  Pretty websites do not make for easy analysis. But also, sometimes it pays for academics to heed their own research.

However, perseverance pays off, as there are some interesting findings on the key constitutional questions asked over the years as part of the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, especially when you compare women’s responses to those of men.

For example, women are equally in favour of independence as men even if it makes no difference to living standards. More women than men think Scotland’s economy would be a little better off with independence or that it would make no difference. Both genders favour taxation powers being given to the Scottish Parliament and women are more in favour of Holyrood making decisions about defence as well as welfare. Beyond the devo-max option then. And here’s something radical – more women than men favour welfare being devolved to local councils.

So for John Curtice to suggest that women are more pessimistic about the economic consequences of independence – as he does in the Telegraph article – is just wrong. They might be less confident about independence and somewhat worried about its impact but that’s different. Are they risk averse? Not on this evidence which suggests that women are keen on exploring a range of innovative options for delivering powers, services and resources in Scotland.

What then of Professor Curtice’s statement that “gender of candidates makes very little difference in elections”? Sorry, wrong again, even just from my personal experience. I know that the votes of women helped me to be elected as a councillor, including those of women who had never voted before, because they felt they had a candidate who reflected their interests and needs. This “role model effect” – that more women in politics might suggest to women that their interests will be better represented – was shown to exist in a US study in 2001* which found that   women candidates/representation have a positive effect on women’s participation at a mass level. They boost women’s interest, knowledge and sense of political efficacy. And while a more recent study did not find links to increased participation, comparing findings across a number of countries showed that when you have more women in Parliament, both men and women are more likely to have positive political attitudes. Finally, research for the Electoral Commission into the 2001 UK General Election found that female turnout to vote was higher than men’s in seats where women were elected. This study also found that participation more widely can be affected by gender: women were less likely to campaign/volunteer in seats with a male MP compared to in seats with a woman.  And it’s an international trend: countries with higher numbers of female Parliamentarians tend to have less of an activism gap between men and women in politics.

Professor Curtice has form with these lazy assertions – he made them two years ago. Professor Fiona MacKay suggested then that Curtice missed an opportunity to think about more plausible explanations for women’s uncertainty in their attitudes to independence than simply that they were “feart” and “deficient men”. Sadly, it is an opportunity he continues to miss and it is a shame that Cathy Newman approached him for an opinion, rather than Professor Mackay or indeed Dr Meryl Kenny, who both happen to be experts in this field.

You’d think that the woman who does Channel 4 News’s Fact Check blog might have checked more than one referendum poll to get a proper sense of women’s voting intentions. Leaving aside the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings, the trend in polling across the last six months suggests the gender gap – which admittedly is still, stubbornly there – is closing. And all the companies also agree that more women are still undecided on how to vote.

That is a good thing, not a weakness. Women want more information on independence and what it means for them, their families and their communities. On this, I agree with Margaret Curran and actually, would also concur that the Yes campaign needs to do more to get its message across to women.

For independence offers clear benefits to women – a living wage; better pensions; a written constitution to improve representation and enshrine equality. This last, in one step, would improve women’s lives. It’s no coincidence that in small independent countries like Finland and Denmark, women are more satisfied with life and think it is fairer for them. By contrast, Westminster isn’t working for women in Scotland – they still earn 12% less than men; they’ve been punished on state pensions for taking time off work to raise children; and of the £14 billion austerity cuts, nearly three quarters have hammered women and children. Margaret Curran suggests the childcare offer is “piffling”; Scotland’s women disagree with 29% of them thinking childcare would improve with independence.

I know from months now of engaging women voters, through the wonder that is Women for Independence – (subtitled “how to reach the other, really important parts of the population effectively on a shoestring”) –  that when the choice is presented between a fresh start towards a fairer, more equal society or things getting worse for them under the current system, they get it. They also get that this vote is not about Alex Salmond or any party but about them, their lives and their future. Those undecideds shift to voting yes, quite readily in fact.

And if you consider those research findings again, that women participating in politics act as a role model to encourage other women’s participation, you can see who might be “feart” and why.  Women for Independence’s experience has been exactly that. By offering a visible space for women to get involved in the referendum, we’ve attracted women who have never before done this kind of thing. Every week, new women join us and are willingly throwing themselves into the fray, empowered and enabled.  It’s joyous.

Which is why this is wimmin’s week in the referendum and why there has been an onslaught of information and myth peddling to stop the flow of women to yes and perhaps also, to stymie women’s participation in this campaign at all levels. Not least that it’s all to do with Alex Salmond…

Women for Independence is buoyed rather than cowed by all this activity.  They’re panicking, we’re not.  And in the last weeks of the campaign, we’ll continue to do what we set out from the start: to listen to women rather than shout at them; to treat them and their views with respect rather than misrepresent them; to consider them not as a homogenous group but as individuals with valid concerns; to give them information to enable them to make their own minds up, rather than trying to do it for them.

It’s disappointing that Professor Curtice and indeed, Cathy Newman can’t do the same.

*References available on request