From there to here

Today, some 200 women, mainly from the Lothians, will gather for a conference. There’s still time to join us.

And I’ve been asked to explain how we got from there to here. The truth?  I don’t know.

So let me set out what I do know.

Today’s Women for Independence conference has been organised by a handful of resourceful, redoubtable women. Most of them have never organised anything more than a family do before, never mind a conference for hundreds of women, lasting all day, with keynote speakers including Scottish Government Ministers, MSPs, Directors of national organisations, leading journalists, authors – all of them women and not all of them supporters of independence.

To say it’s been a stressful experience is probably an understatement. I’ve organised big events like this: they are a nightmare; a canvass of tiny detailed threads, which just as you think you’ve got it all neatly tied off, begins to unravel at crucial parts. But they have been amazing. And this small group of women approached the task with little fear and huge reserves of enthusiasm. They won’t realise it yet, but they have brought their life skills to bear and today will be a resounding success. Because of them.

And that there, in a nutshell, is how Women for Independence got from there to here.

Where is there? Well it all started with Carolyn Leckie, whose idea this was, way back at the turn of the year in 2012. She and I met in late January to discuss it: it was a brilliant idea to try to bring like-minded, independence supporting women together to do their own thing, to make a contribution in their own way to the nascent Yes campaign.

We met again at the end of March. She brought a few pals, I brought a few and ten of us ate, drank a bit and of course, the more wine we had, the more it all seemed like the best idea we’d ever had. A planning day in April/May at the Pearce Institute in Govan brought in a handful more women and we spent that time setting out a plan. Who would we be, what would we aim to achieve, how might we do that. And that plan, more or less, sustained us right through from 2012 to the referendum in 2014.

We would embark on a listening exercise – we had to try and work out what women thought. Our long collective history of political campaigning meant we knew that the official campaigns would struggle to reach women and women would be much more cautious about voting Yes, slower to convert to the idea.

In July, we set out aims and a sort-of constitution. We decided to officially launch in September 2012. We created a website; we launched with just over 100 women supporters and remarkable media interest.

We listened and we shared. We went on the marches and rallies. We made our presence known. We grew.

We challenged the male-dominated refrain which was already beginning to corral this debate within conventional headlines and narratives. We insisted women be invited to participate, in meetings, on media panels, in debates. We were challenged back – one of you come then.

From the beginning, we attracted women who had never before been involved in any political activity before. The appetite for local activity grew and groups were encouraged or simply sprung up on their own. By the end of the referendum campaign, there were over 60 that we knew of.

Edinburgh’s was slow to get going. After a series of false starts, a meeting was held in a space – not even a room – in the National Library on George IV Bridge. The organisers expected a handful to show: over 40 did. We agreed to focus on “adding value” to already organised Yes activity. Women for Independence started supporting the Super Saturdays, canvassing woman to woman, setting up street stalls to allow women to engage with us, organising drop-ins for local women in local cafes. It worked.

We were on panels everywhere. We talked in groups, in one to ones, to great big public meetings. Setting out the case why independence for Scotland was women’s best chance of having independence in their own and their children’s lives.

By being open, inclusive and welcoming, women got involved who had “never done this sort of thing before”. We supported Women for Indy national days of action by focusing on voter registration – doing school gates, outside where playgroups met, bus queues in areas where women (and indeed, men) traditionally did not vote. We stalked bingo halls – our free Yes dabbers – were scooped up by Yes and No alike. We kept going back, to the same areas, the same women, allowing them to move from No to Yes at their own pace. Our favourite day out was Porty prom, especially when the sun shined. Me and my Boy Wonder

In the summer, in common with groups all over the country, we delivered thousands of our leaflet, through letterboxes, directly into the hands of other women, many of whom didn’t want a Yes leaflet but took ours.

On the glorious, sunny Saturday before the vote, we had Elaine C Smith speaking back to back at meetings in Muirhouse and Craigmillar, encouraging women whom traditional politics had ignored ever since deigning to give them the vote, to choose hope and vote yes.

WFI cavalcade photo In between those meetings, we had a huge cavalcade of women in cars and vehicles criss-crossing the city’s schemes, with loud hailers, balloons and streamers, attracting well-wishers all the way.

And then it was all over. Or so we thought.

Since September 2014, Women for Independence, nationally and locally, has grown. A national conference of 1000 in Perth; over 3000 on our mailing list; over 80 women turning up to the first post-referendum planning meeting in Edinburgh; by Christmas 2014, Edinburgh’s Facebook group had doubled in size. And still they come.

With an appetite – a hunger almost – not to keep fighting the Yes No game but to campaign to change women’s lives. Right here, Right now. As we saw with the campaign to prevent a new women’s prison being built.

They want to learn. They want to know. They want different lives. They have taken out something stored away far deep within them, conditioned to believe that their roles are as nurturers, earners, deliverers, keepers, makers, managers, lovers, holding-it-all-together-ers, But only in a space where they can be controlled. And now they have found a political space for them where they can be all this and more, where they are in control and feel safe.

The referendum has awakened in many of them something of huge significance that none of us yet fully understands. That they do not have to be invisible. That they have skills and talents to contribute to the common weal. That they are worth something much more than society has decreed them so far.

And still they are more. Today there will be women attending who were not even involved at all in the referendum campaign – at least on the Yes side. Who have never done anything like this. Who are inspired and enthused and who will leave South Leith Parish Church even more so. Who will want to commune with other women, to keep on growing a movement, by women, for women,

By the end of March, 24 more such events will have happened, some big, some small; some political, some social; all created by women, for women. Engaging in their communities, reaching out, striving for change.

On 14 March, Women for Independence will hold its first ever AGM. Women members – nearly 1000 in less than a month – will vote for whom they want to represent them nationally. We are shifting from boundless, joyous, fractious organised chaos to begin the process of planting shoots and creating roots to ensure our continued growth.  It will still be boundless, joyous and on occasion, fractious.

We started there. We are now here.

We are Scotland’s fastest growing political movement. We are now focused – utterly – on working, on our own and with others, to push and prod at every opportunity for independence for Scotland’s women in every sphere of their lives.

We will give voice to those women who have rarely been listened to, ever. We will enable women to find their own voice and make it heard, We will raise our voices to make change happen, in small and big ways.

We came from there to here.  And we are not going anywhere but onwards.

Send sexism off in the General Election campaign

Women for Indy send off sexism pledge

Yesterday, Women for Independence launched a campaign to root out sexism and send it off in the General Election campaign.  The movement – of which I am a part but not the only woman involved nor a leader nor a spokesperson – believes that everyone should welcome and foster the increased participation of women in democratic life, whether they campaigned for a Yes or a No vote in the referendum.

“Women should be able to raise their heads above the parapet without being a target for sexism or personal abuse.” you’d think that might be a given in 21st Century Scotland but apparently not. Already women have been targeted; some have been subjected to online abuse like this: “She’s what you might call a political prostitute whoring herself to whoever will have her.” (about a female SNP candidate).  There’s also a hideous cartoon doing the rounds grotesquely caricaturing a prominent Labour MP in the same vein.

Apparently, some women are carpet bagging and careerist now some activists have decided to do what men in their parties have been doing for generations – seeking to become candidates and MPs.

Frankly it’s unacceptable and it’s why Women for Independence is calling on all parties, all party leaders, candidates, activists and party staff to sign up to its campaign and code of conduct.  Already, the campaign is delighted to have secured the backing of the SNP and the Scottish Greens – it is hoped that Scottish Labour, which is at the heart of a great cross party initiative in the Scottish Women 50 50 group, will follow suit.  And of course, the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats too.

The campaign calls on everyone involved or going to be involved in the UK General Election campaign in Scotland to pledge that:

  • they will conduct a democratic, respectful campaign that concentrates on political issues
  • no personal abuse will be directed at rivals
  • women will not be objectified or subjected to sexist language or behaviour
  • where there are panel discussions, all parties will insist on gender balance
  • where abusive or sexist behaviour occurs, parties will make clear that they do not tolerate it from their members, staff or representatives

The referendum saw women – of all ages, backgrounds and demographics – get involved in participative politics to an astonishing and probably unprecedented degree in Scotland.  It is in the interests of all who believe in democracy to ensure that this Westminster election campaign leads to even greater women’s participation and that women do not get put off ever getting involved again.

You can support the campaign by tweeting and sharing the pledge on your social media and if you’re a candidate sign up and say you’ve done so publicly.

The Emperor’s new clothes

So, the first priority for the Emperor is to get himself some new clothes. His suit is no longer a la mode; folk point to him in the street and whisper. Some even openly guffaw. The old clothes have to go, but what to replace it with?

Fortunately, the Emperor has employed a tailor of some renown and expertise.  Though there are many who doubt his talents, and in fact question whether he has any at all, the tailor is perceived in most quarters, as being one of the best there is.  What he appears particularly to be good at is invisible mending, a skill which is indubitably going to be required in looking after the Emperor’s attire.

The tailor shows the Emperor some fine cloth options but the Emperor is not happy. To cut, shape, fit and sew an outfit from scratch?  That would take too long and there’s a big event in May for which the Emperor needs to be properly booted and suited.

Instead, he spies some items hanging at the back of the tailor’s shop, waiting for collection. “What about those”, he asks.  “Ah”, says the tailor, “they’re orders for other people. I can see why you like them. They’ve been skilfully made, beautifully cut, expertly sewn. Because these people took time to choose, to research the right clothes before deciding on what to wear.  Also, they picked styles that suit their personality. Perhaps, Emperor, you should do the same?”

But the Emperor had no idea what might suit him. He had a few suits hanging in the wardrobe but wasn’t sure they fitted anymore. They just didn’t seem the right thing to be wearing.

Then the Emperor spotted something vibrant hanging on its own. “Bring me that”, he instructed the tailor. The tailor began to protest: “But that is for quite a different customer, one with a real sense of their own style, who knows what they like and what they should be wearing. I really don’t think…”

No matter. The Emperor insisted the clothes be brought to him.  He tried them on and posed in front of the mirror.  So it was a bit tight across the chest and a bit baggy on the bum. Nor was he sure that purple suited him – even if he was the Emperor – but he liked it and liked how it looked.  He felt good in it.

The tailor rolled his eyes. “Really, Emperor? I really do think you should at least think about wearing a colour that suits you, that you can call your own.”  “Nonsense,” replied the Emperor, “Let out the seams here, tighten the fit here and I’ll take it.”

And so, the Emperor stepped out onto the stage for his first public engagement and the crowd gasped. The women in particular were astonished. “That’s our clothes he’s wearing,” they muttered. “What made him think he could just take our clothes and not tell anyone where they come from?” asked one. “That’s the new Emperor for you,” added another, “Doesn’t care whose clothes he’s in, he only cares that he’s wearing something, anything to dazzle the crowds.”

“Ah well,” the women agreed, “He’ll get found out soon enough.”

And guess what? He did.

– JIM MURPHY, IF YOU WANT TO WEAR WOMEN FOR INDEPENDENCE’S CLOTHES, AT LEAST HAVE THE GRACE TO TELL EVERYONE WHERE YOU GOT THEM FROM.

IF WE THOUGHT WE NEEDED OR WANTED YOUR HELP WITH OUR WOMEN’S PRISON CAMPAIGN, WE’D ASK YOU. THANK YOU .