By Lena the Hyena
My initial response to reading Caitlin O’Hara’s piece, Independent Women, was where is the breakdown of figures showing women’s support for independence? What exactly are we talking about? What influences women in casting their votes? Do rural women vote differently from urban women? How widespread in Scotland is this tendency for women to vote for parties other than nationalists? What is the breakdown between the male and female vote in constituencies where SNP MSPs and MPs are returned?
There will be differences and once these are known it will become clearer what appeals to women in some areas as against others? Is it local policies? Quality of candidates? What percentage of working class women vote for nationalist candidates and what percentage of middle class? Is there stronger or weaker support for independence in areas of deprivation or affluent areas? Only when there is a proper breakdown of women’s voting habits will it be possible to understand how the issue can be tackled.
My own small sample vox pop showed that older women are not influenced by role models but will either be loyal to ‘their’ party or will vote on policies where they impact on their lives. Not surprisingly younger voters do appear to look to what celebrities might be saying but they can also be ‘loyal’ to a party and are more influenced by what their friends are saying than perhaps the older voter. Of course friends are selected because of shared values so this is fairly obvious. But young voters do think about individual party policies and how they will be affected and vote accordingly.
No-one I talked with could think of any prominent Scottish women that could influence how they feel about the direction Scotland takes. Role models do not appear to figure in the thinking of my sample.
Historically women have been engaged in all kinds of causes and movements during very masculine periods of history i.e. throughout the whole of time. Women support and engage with struggles for what they have to gain through them. There has to be a reason for participation. Surely it doesn’t matter if the independence message comes in a male or female voice. It is what is contained in the message that will spark an interest or not.
While single issue campaigns have been effective, very often one type of groundswell for change triggers off others. The 19th C women’s movement mushroomed during the 19thC in parallel to struggles against the exploitation of the working class and the deplorable state of housing and living conditions – mainly in the towns but not exclusively so. The women’s campaign for the franchise included middle class and working class women. Their goals differed. While the middle classes strived to achieve the educational opportunities and professional qualifications their male counterparts enjoyed, working class women were more motivated by the prospect of influencing changes to their appalling standards of living. Both class groups had concrete reasons for involvement and benefitted from the support each gave the other.
It took around half a century for women to be granted the vote, not it should be noted as a reward for women’s participation in the First World War which is still being trotted out in history classrooms but because the government feared of a return to the militant actions staged by the Suffragettes before the war and it had the example of events in Germany and Russia as a warning of what might happen. This was a risk the British government could not take.
Women voters have been seen as the main support of the Tories but when Churchill was booted out at the end of WW2 and replaced by Labour it was because of the promise of a National Health Service and welfare state – and women voted for this because they had so much to gain from these policies. Indeed women’s support for the Tories has been falling since 1945. Then women’s votes went to Labour (some to the Liberals) but following Blair’s Iraq war women are less inclined to vote for Labour. Women will largely vote for the party which shows it will deliver on their needs.
There was a time when party politics was overwhelmingly male and women were expected to vote in line with their men. Such male chauvinist attitudes were reinforced through the trades union movement which deliberately excluded women to prevent the dilution of skills but a convenience which continued discrimination against women and affectively oppressed women in this country until very recently.
During the 1970s miners’ strike the militant women’s movement in Aberdeen handed over money it had raised to a group of bemused miners in the city to raise funds. The response? Embarrassed muttering that they didn’t agree with women’s liberation – but they took the money anyway. Some things you have to rise above. The striking Dagenham women faced similar attitudes in ’68 but they knew what they stood to win, they battled on and they prevailed. Where it matters women will act, collectively and from their own communities not led by a vanguard of personality role-models.
Some responsibility for the failure of SNP candidates must rest with the party. As a nationalist but not SNP member I am often disappointed by the standard of candidates. This is by no means confined to the SNP but I don’t care about unionist candidates – the worse they are the better. In the Scottish Parliament Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon stand out as highly capable, intelligent and articulate politicians – and so Nicola can hold onto a seat in Labour Glasgow but we have seen lesser candidates unable to retain seats.
I don’t see Scottish nationalism as ‘so male’. Nicola Sturgeon and to a lesser extent Rosanna Cunningham are strong media operators – better than Kenny McAskill and some other male front benchers and much superior to any from any other party.
Local politics has a large impact on voting habits of both men and women. Here in the northeast there is a coalition SNP/LibDem administration which has been a disaster for the city and will lose the party votes in the Scottish Parliament elections. SNP councillors have been naive in getting themselves dragged into LibDem policies and their colleagues will pay the price at the next Scottish elections. No matter how much discussion there is going on over the coming months about the advantages of independence voters here will not be listening, they only have to look at the council’s track record and it will be Labour all the way. It pains me to say it but there’s no getting away from the reality.
In the rural areas very little campaigning goes on by the party. Yes I know its costly and time consuming but if no contact is made locally with voters you might as well not bother challenging.
Women voters are pragmatists. A generalisation okay but they will go with where the advantage to them and their families lies.
I don’t see what football coverage has to do with this question. Evidently it is cheap radio which is why Radio Scotland has it ‘wall-to-wall’. It’s quite amusing the reference to Mel Gibbons – what a monkey – because Braveheart did and still does make an impression on people in Scotland and increased interest in the nationalist cause. Not bad for an Australian. Personally I love pipe bands – yes, so it’s hackneyed and the kilt is an 18thC invention (which I would supplant with the plaid) – these are distractions.
Think the slow build up to interest in green politics. 10 or 15 years ago it got tokenistic attention from politicians and media – now it is being taken seriously. So it will be for Scottish independence. We might do worse than goad the attention-seeking muppet David Starkey and the likes to further the tensions between north and south of the border so that the obvious injustices of Scotland’s position will convince women to support the cause.