Women of Scotland will lead the way to a new independent country writes Cat Boyd
International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated on 8th March. This year’s IWD had a special significance in Scotland, because in 2014, the opportunities provided by the referendum also provide opportunities for women.
Firstly, this is not politics as normal, and that is the greatest thing about this referendum. I spoke to a “No” panellist at a debate I participated in recently. He told me that he couldn’t “wait till this whole referendum was over”. I was genuinely annoyed. Why would someone wish this period to be over? So that we can go back to “business as usual”? “Business-as-usual” politics - as far as I am concerned - suits no-one. It especially does not suit working-class women.
Those of us involved in the Radical Independence Campaign know that Scottish politics will never be the same again after the 18 September, 2014. This is for many reasons: the groundwork being done in working-class communities; the opening up of space for left wing ideas; the growth of interest in radically different ways to organise our economy . But there is another reason too. Many of us in the RiC, and across the broader Yes movement, are actively encouraging and speaking to women about politics. For too long, women have been pushed to the sidelines of the political process, and now, across the Yes movement, we are changing this. There are more and more women getting involved, thanks to groups like Women for Independence, and at women-only Yes meetings being held across the country.
The polls have shown that women are in the social bracket least likely to vote yes. As a movement, can we convince as many women as possible that a Yes vote is not just a vote for a new Scotland, but that it is a vote for them too?
The Radical Independence conference in November last year had three broad themes; Failure, Hope and Transformation. Each of these, taken in turn, can outline why a vote for independence is a vote for women.
Britain has failed women. Britain has failed my generation. And unless we take action now, it will continue to do so. Britain is the 5th richest country in the developed world. It is also the 3rd most unequal society. Austerity disproportionately affects women. More women are employed in the public sector in Scotland, more women face the brunt of cuts to social security, and more women bear the burden of huge childcare costs. Only last week did BBC Radio 4 report that soaring childcare costs were hindering women from working. Monthly childcare costs in Britain are now more than the annual interest payments on an average mortgage.
I know women who are desperate to work, but cannot afford to pay for childcare. I know women, desperate for full-time hours, who are constantly kept in low paid, part time work. Britain has a problem - it has a chronic low-wage economy that people are forced to top up with credit. This credit, in turn, plays a major factor in the economic crisis. Otherwise these wages must be topped up with benefits, such as Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit – and both of these are about to be replaced with the controversial ‘Universal’ Credit.
Cuts in the public sector disproportionately affect women too. There are more women employed in the public sector than men. Changes to pay, pensions, terms and conditions in the public sector are massive industrial issues that matter to working women.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I finally have something to vote for and to work towards after that vote. For the first time, there is some hope. We know the ways in which Britain is failing women. We know that the referendum itself doesn’t mean automatic change, but that it is an opening, a tiny crack in a dark wall of militarism, economic exploitation and institutional sexism. And in that opening, there is hope.
The final theme of the Radical Indy conference was transformation. And this is where the comments of my fellow-panellist at the Edinburgh debate really angered me. To say that you “cannot wait until this referendum is over” means that you do want to go back to politics as normal, before this pesky business was on the table. I enjoy and savour every second of this debate. What a privilege and an honour it is to speak to people about the position and power of their class. It is humbling and inspiring to speak to women in different communities in Scotland about the changes that are possible for an Independent Scotland.
To be able to talk about ideas for transformation with people who haven’t been involved in politics before is refreshing. So let’s talk about our ideas for Women in Scotland after 2014.
I want to see a restructuring of politics as we know it. I do not want tokenism, or to be patronised by a political system that is damaged by lack of women’s voices - and where women’s voices have been shut out. Parliamentary politics has played itself out as a man’s game. Through the grassroots work we are doing now, and the inevitable changes that will come post-September, we can begin to shape a blueprint for a politics that represents and involves women.
Any decision on Social Security, on Childcare, on Education, on the Public sector - any political decision made in policy areas which disproportionately affect women should have to pass through a Women’s Assembly before they could become legislative. An independent Scotland, with its new political terrain, could certainly set up a Women’s Assembly, or a Women’s Parliament, made up of elected representatives or delegates from local community councils. It would be a constitutional right. It would bring women into the heart of policy making. It would be a chance for women to be heard as the political voice that they must be.
So, can we convince as many women as possible that a Yes vote is not just a vote for a new Scotland, but it is a vote for them too? I think we can. And I think we should relish every opportunity to discuss these ideas with women in the lead up to the vote. However, I will welcome even more the opportunity to build a movement to make sure that these things happen after September. Because that is the greatest part of this debate; being reminded every day that it is people who should shape the policies that affect them and that when ordinary people get organised, they have the power to affect change. A Yes vote opens up the door for deep and profound societal transformation. The pressure for this change will have to come from the bottom. None of the parties at Westminster who will try to win your vote in 2015 if we lose can offer us this.
It was women who led the rent strikes in Glasgow nearly 100 years ago. It was women who led the battle for the right to equal pay. It is women who are leading the battle against sexual violence in India, and against political and sexual repression in Russia. By this same spirit it is women in Scotland who will lead the way for a newly independent country which amplifies their voices, and puts the issues that matter to us at its heart.
From Yes Scotland