Why No’s video appeal to undecided women won’t work

Normally in my house, a pot of lentil soup is made every week. It’s been a staple of both boys’ lives, all their lives, and they love it. I make better lentil soup than anyone they know. I learned how to from my Gran.

It’s been a rarity in recent times so on Monday, I decided to fix that. A pot was duly made. I burnt it. I burnt lentil soup. Boy Wonder, somewhat in awe at my spectacular fail, is now seriously questioning what has happened to his mammy. So am I.

And I’m writing this, surveying the wreckage that is my house.  I hoovered at the weekend but not that you’d notice.  Since then, there have been so many folk piling in and out with deliveries and the like that it looks like I’ve not hoovered for months. There are piles of clothes everywhere, dried, en route eventually to bedrooms (wardrobes and drawers might be stretching it a bit).  

There are bits of paper. Hunners of them. In strategically placed piles on every surface.  And boxes.  Of leaflets, materials, and other campaign paraphernalia.  I try heroically several times a week to clear the dining table only for it to fill up again with campaign flotsam and jetsam almost immediately.  We eat in whatever corner happens to be bare at the time.

But I know this is not a normal woman’s house.  Women everyday open their doors to me and their houses gleam and sparkle. There is order. There is not a speck of dust to be seen.  Women – even busy working women – still take pride in their home. They might grumble about the division of labour, that even though they too work full time, sorting school bags and shopping and washing and ironing still largely falls to them. But they do it, even grudgingly, Because home is where the heart is, in all senses.  

And what will these women – the undecided women still making their minds up how to vote on 18 September – take from the No camp’s video?  

Forget the words, it’s the images that will stay.  Here’s a woman who sits down with a cup of coffee in amongst the crumbs and debris of the morning rush hour.  And then gets up to go to work without shifting a dish or wiping a surface.  She might be a woman I can identify with, but not them.  hey’d never dream of leaving their homes in that state. They’ve missed their target audience completely, probably because the video was made by men. 

For they’ve also managed to patronise these women. Suggesting they don’t really like their husbands and partners, and worst of all, think poorly of their children – all the women I engage with speak with pride and love when asked about their families. That the reason they’ve not yet made up their minds is because they’re bored with the referendum dominating all conversations – not my experience – or because they don’t know enough about everyday politics to come to an informed decision – well wide of the mark, I’m afraid.

Many who have yet to make up their minds are indeed waiting for a quiet moment, to sit down with all the information and go through it, and decide. They know there are only a few weeks left but that’s enough time.  Until then, they carry on, carrying on.  Absorbing the mood music all around them, chatting with friends and family, raising queries, listening to those they trust.  But also engaging with folk – like me – who bother to pitch up on their doorstep, who don’t evangelise, who empathise with the big decision they have to make, and who listen to them and try to offer a factual account of the ifs, buts and maybes. I explain I come from a Yes position but I try to be honest and acknowledge that there are unknowns.  

But I also set out the bit No don’t want them to hear. That a No vote might not offer the best of both worlds actually. That women haven’t had a fair deal from Westminster. That there are known risks from voting No – £5 billion cuts in the next two years to the block grant will put spending on public services they care about under strain like never before. 

None of that subtlety was evident in their video. In fact, it contained downright lies. There is no uncertainty over pensions: the DWP itself has said that folks’ pensions are safe. Just as if they chose to go and live in Spain now, as ex-pats in an independent Scotland, the state pension will still be paid.  Private pension providers based in England already pay out pensions to people living in other countries, why would they not for Scots in the future?

Many women I’ve listened and chatted to are worried about their children’s future. So I give them the astonishing fact, supported by independent research, that this generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings is likely to be the first generation ever to be worse off than their parents. Thanks to austerity and the running up of huge levels of government debt, there’s very little left for them.  They will be paying for it all, all of their adult lives. They are hurting already and that’s why so many of them – and the polls now show that a majority of voters in their twenties are now likely to vote yes – are choosing the one opportunity offered by independence for a better, different future.  I encourage these women to talk to their sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and find out why they are voting yes and to think about that when they come to make up their own minds. 

I also encourage them to listen to and read other women’s stories, of women who didn’t start out yes but arrived there. To see if there is anything they can identify with from what they say.

Everyone on the Yes side is having a lot of fun with this No video. David Greig came up with a brilliant mini-play/pastiche on twitter last night. Robert Florence’s take on the messaging is laugh out loud funny (but also hits hard at its inherent sexism). 

But the most powerful counter to it comes from women themselves.  If you do one thing today, encourage undecided women you know to watch Women for Independence‘s video.  It’s a simple, direct appeal to women of all ages, from all parts of and communities in Scotland to make their voices heard. There’s no insulting of women’s intelligence, no misleading on the issues, there’s not even any crumbs needing cleaned up,  


Tales from the Campaign Trail (2)

So, eight weeks of the sabbatical down, four to go.  Where on earth did the time go?

On the doorsteps mainly. But also at meetings, in leafleting, on street stalls, on the airwaves, providing training, dealing with 100 emails a day and making lists that contain important details like “buy milk”.

The target of engaging with 100 voters a week is proving a scoosh.  Easily that and then some. And I’m loving it.  Even the cranky old No voters.  Because actually, there are few of them.  Instead, there is a populace whose political conscience has been awakened.  Who want to chat. Even if they have decided naw, they’ve thought about it, weighed it up and made their decision.  

And then there are all those “yes but” women. Oh bless them all. If I could hug each and every one I would. And sometimes do, especially if there are tears.  Because they all want to. Get. It. Right.  To make the right decision for themselves, but mainly for their children.

All Jock Tamson’s Bairns

And what of those children eh?  What to make of the decision by 27 of our 32 local authorities “banning” the referendum from their schools?  It’s no pasaran to either side in the campaign oh but, children will be allowed to talk about it.  Well, that’s ok then.

But where are they to get their information from?  To whom do they address questions?  Ah, the teachers. Of course, because they have all the answers, all the facts and absolutely no opinions at all.  Aye, right.

Only in Scotland – the country with aspirations to be the best place for children to grow up (only clearly not just yet) – would we exclude children from this great big chat we are having with ourselves.  After all, what’s it got to do with them?  Why, it’s only their future that we are all discussing. Why on earth might we want them to be informed and engaged and to feel part of all that is going on around them?  Why would we want them to feel that they are allowed to form a view and have a stake in what is going on?

Kez Dugdale MSP, who took time out of her own busy campaigning schedule to help me launch the book – out soon, don’t worry you’ll hear about it – hit the nail on the head.  We don’t run schools for children or design them around their needs. Schools are built and provided to suit councils and bureaucrats.  And this decision emphasises just how so. Because this decision has been reached in order to make life easy. Never mind that it excludes children from the debate on their future and sends entirely the wrong message about citizenship and the role of politics in our day to day lives. 

The problem is that they are picking it up. They glean snitches of headlines and snippets of adult chat and chew that over and discuss it among themselves.  And see all this nonsense about “breaking up” and “splitting up our big UK family”?  It has got them worried.  They put that into the context of their own, often complex, familial relationships and are filled with fear and dread about what that will actually mean.  And their instinctive, emotional reaction is that they want us all to stay together.  One great, big happy family, just like the one they wish they had in their everyday lives.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. Or rather, Better Together should.  And so should the authorities with whom the nation charges the education of oor weans.  Because they have denied our children the opportunity to make their voices heard, to form considered opinions, to make their own minds up, to have all the facts in front of them and reach a decision. To learn and to reflect among their peers, in a space that should belong to them, in which they should feel comfortable and in control. If ever there was a case for changing the old order of things, these councils just helped make it.

Being out on the stump, you actually get to engage with children, of all ages and all backgrounds.  And they are inspiring in very different ways.

There’s the beautiful, articulate young Scots Asian woman I met last week who is seething with indignation and frustration. But also action.  She set up the feminist society at her elite school.  That made me smile.  She is trying to engage her peers in serious debate about her country’s future, about what it means for them, but primped and preened and with wealth priming them for a shiny future no matter the outcome, they are indifferent.  What can I do, she asked.  Keep on doing what you are, I said.  You are amazing and you will find some of what you are discussing with friends and classmates is getting through.  Sometimes, though it’s a long haul.

And then, the other extreme.  A girl the same age but with quite different prospects.  Down at the chemist’s, picking up her granny’s many prescriptions.  Granny, who reared her, is a yes but I’m a no, she said, over the handlebars of her rickety old bike.  So I gave her one of Women for Independence’s bookmarks to give to her granny.  And she held it carefully and looked at it like it was something.  A present.  Something special.  She looked at it in a way that said she doesn’t get given very much to have for herself.  And I could see that she felt she couldn’t ask for one for herself, cos she wasn’t voting yes. So I gave her one and the smile she gave me back has warmed me ever since.

Then there’s the 15 year old boy who rushed out to talk to us when visiting with the Margo Mobile.  I’m not 16 until November, I cannae vote.  He was distraught.  I want to, I want to vote so badly.  My whole family is Yes and I’ve converted half of them and I’m the only one not getting a say.  So I gave him my special tartan Yes badge, which a pal had sourced off the internet for us, that many have coveted and none have been able to prise away from me.  But I gave it to him.  Because someone who cares that much about not having a say in this debate deserves it.

And talking of Christmas leavers, what to make of the feral pack of teenage boys who roam Muirhouse and Pilton, who appear to have made it their mission to part me from Jinty the moped? Twice now they’ve had a go. The first time I tried to talk to them, to ask them not to steal her, to explain why I was there and what I was doing. The venom with which they responded was incredible. Their faces contorted with pain and rage. Howling insults and threats in language that they thought would send me scarpering, for daring to try to engage them. And despite all of that, and the fact that they have inconvenienced me hugely, I’m not angry at them.  I feel for them, actually. A week into the new school year and none of them appears to have bothered going back. And no one appears to have come looking for them.  As some local residents – who are good, decent, kind folk and rescued me and Jinty – explained half their parents are junkies, the other half don’t give a shit. They roam the scheme, fending for themselves, left to their own devices.  

Do not pass go. Do not collect nothing, for these boys are headed straight down a path marked jail and poverty and addiction and failure.  A dismal past, an empty present and absolutely no chance of a better future, whether Scotland votes yes or no on 18 September. And no one seems to care. Or gave up caring a long time ago.

Finally, there was the gang of wee lassies.  What are you doing, missus?  Trying to speak to people, to persuade them to vote yes.  We’re aw voting naw and so’s all our parents.  Can we have a badge?  I gave them badges. And balloons. And bookmarks. Have you been to ma door, one of them asked?  She told me the address, I checked my canvass sheets. I had. What did my da tell ye?  That he’s voting yes.  That made her pause.  Eventually she asked, so why are you voting yes?  I told her and explained that it was about wanting a better future for us all, but especially for them. So that they when they grew up, they had choices that I hadn’t had. They considered this for a moment.  Ah don’t need a better future, their leader said, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder.  Ah’m goin to be a model.  And with that they were off.

Brief Highlights

The Latvian woman who has been here for three years, whose son started school for the first time two weeks ago.  Who loves Scotland and wants to stay here.  And who wasn’t on the electoral roll because no one had told her she was entitled to vote in some elections as an EU national.  She is now.

We’re not quite a split household but we are split neighbours.  My house – as you can imagine – has had Yes windaes for a while. But my pensioner neighbour put up his wee Labour leaflet the other week “I’m voting no”. He won’t be budged,  He’s a No and that’s that.  And he’s entitled to his view and for it to be treated with respect.  And anyway, we’re good neighbours – we do each other’s bins, I send him soup over now and again, he watches the cat when I’m away.  So he now has a great big No Thanks poster in his bedroom window.  What can I say?  He’ll still be my neighbour when all this is over.

Things I am going to do after 18 September

the ironing  that got done, we’d run out of clothes

the garden – the back is a jungle, I pretend it’s no longer mine

for Boy Wonder and I to stop wearing odd socks 

read a book




Salmond v Darling: who won?

So, I went to bed last night somewhat discomfited.

The stress engendered by trying to watch the bloody thing in Scotland’s far-flung southern most corner hadn’t helped.  It might have been on ITV Border but it would seem there are two versions of this channel on Freeview.  Sadly, the folks appear to have the Cumbrian version.

The STV player crashed, indicating the level of interest in watching this debate all over the UK and no doubt, the world.  I even tried the pub next door but alas, the woman behind the bar didn’t know how to change the channel.  Frustrated at every turn, relying on twitter to gauge how it was all going was probably not wise.  By the time I arrived, the No side was crowing, the Yes side strangely muted.

So with only little more than half the debate to go, I finally got to settle down with my beer and popcorn in time for the First Minister’s cross exam of Alistair Darling.

Did my toes curl at the opening exchanges?  Yep.  Gathering all the online snippets and insider jibes of *he says, she says* didn’t seem appropriate or relevant. This was focusing on flotsam and jetsam and point scoring, no doubt leaving much of the audience of non-aligned and non-partisans in the dark.  Eek.

The section on the EU was better but surely the point wasn’t to get Darling to agree to remove the misinformation from the website but to agree with what the European President said? On the successful, independent country issue, well that was better, but surely Darling landed a few blows by getting some substantive points into his attempts to avoid answering the question?

Then it was Bernard’s and the audience’s turn.  It seemed that the No camp had prepared its questioners better.  Short, sharp and digging not just at the currency issue, but also having a pop at Alex Salmond personally.  But generally, thoughtful and often, heartfelt questions.  And if anyone can claim to have had a good debate, it’s Bernard.  His exam of both men was incisive and this made for the best segment.

My conclusion by bedtime?  It hadn’t been a great day at the office, as they say.  Alex Salmond could do miles better than this, surely.  I know, I’ve seen and heard him do better.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of all those undecided voters I keep encountering on the doorsteps, would the First Minister’s performance have propelled them further towards a Yes? Especially women, who largely want to vote yes but just don’t like that there are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions, particularly on economic matters? Frankly, I didn’t dare answer that one.

But what a difference the cold light of day makes.  I watched the whole debate this morning from start to finish.

On opening statements, it was positive versus negative.  Salmond won, hands down, setting out three areas he wanted independence to change for Scotland.  Darling slung some soundbites together and focused on what we can’t do and wouldn’t be allowed to do. It was no, not and never for Darling from start to finish.

The currency cross-exam and sections on it afterwards were uncomfortable but Salmond stuck to his key message – it’s my job to argue for what is best for Scotland.  And Darling got tied in knots when Bernard took over: on scoring points, Salmond actually won, subtly undermining Darling’s supposedly rock-solid reputation on fiscal management.

And Darling was often flippant throughout, dismissive of the Yes woman’s question about who subsidises who – never a good move on live telly – while Salmond was earnestly serious, calm and measured at every stage. He got across all the key messages for a Yes, on democracy, social justice and the economy:  Darling had little to offer in terms of what voting no actually means.

Then there’s the body language.  Coming out from behind the lectern to engage with the audience in the room and beyond was a good move for Alex Salmond.  At one point, Alistair Darling had actually turned his back on them and preferred only to engage with Bernard. And all that finger pointing.  At Salmond, at Bernard, at the audience.  Not good. Worse, he actually lost it at some points, hectoring and floundering and throwing out scare stats in equal measure. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond calmly set out the arguments for and was actually majestic on social justice issues.  Visibly angry at how ordinary people are suffering under Westminster austerity: many out there will have identifed with that.

Did Alex Salmond win it then?  No.  But he did among some of the key voting groups in this race to the referendum finish.

The 512 hardy souls who were polled by ICM immediately after the debate decided that Alistair Darling *won* 47% to 37%.  He clearly found favour among men, the over 55s and those living in Central Scotland, the Lothians, the Highlands and North East of Scotland.  Perhaps worryingly for the First Minister, only about two-thirds of those who had been yes before the debate or who were SNP voters think he won.

But only 4% of women thought Darling won; more in the 35 to 54 age group thought Salmond won; in Glasgow, the voters were almost evenly split on it. And among the undecideds generally? Overwhelmingly, whether they had been undecided before or still were after the debate, they thought Alex Salmond won. In fact, post-debate, an astonishing 40% of undecideds reckoned Alex Salmond won, compared to only 14% who believed that Alistair Darling did.

Who had the more appealing personality?  Men plumped for Darling, women overwhelmingly plumped for Salmond, as did voters in most parts of Scotland.

Who had the better arguments? On this, Darling emerges as a clear winner.  But again, not among women or undecided voters.

And on voting intentions in the referendum?  It would appear that what many thought of the debate made no difference to voting intentions.  Young voters 16 to 34 might have thought Darling won but as many of them intend to vote yes as vote no, while the opposite is true of the 35 to 54 age group.

And it might be small numbers, but more of the undecideds before the debate had shifted to yes than to no afterwards.

But given that over half of those undecided voters are still undecided, it’s clear that this debate didn’t provide anything like a game-changer.  No is still ahead and according to this poll and the general consensus, won the debate.  Yet, look below the waterline and Darling might not have had quite such a good debate as the pundits have opined, nor Salmond taken the *pounding* favoured by the headline writers.

Alex Salmond actually managed to close the gap in voting intentions – down to 6% between No and Yes – and in particular, close the gap among women and young adult voters.  Yes would win in Glasgow, Mid Scotland and Fife, Highlands and the North East and over a quarter of Labour and Lib Dem voters would vote Yes.

The strategy then appeared to work, in parts.  It was never designed to appeal to partisans like me – after all, my vote was won a long time ago.  And occasionally, it pays to remind myself – and indeed, ourselves – of this.  These debates aren’t about us, for us nor aimed at those of us who are already voting Yes but at all the others who can still be persuaded to in the six weeks that remain.  I think I’ll sleep better tonight realising that.