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.