By Kate Higgins
Having been mentioned in dispatches, I thought I’d stamp my purdy little foot and seek a right to reply. Or at least, set out why the analogy of an abused woman was discomfiting and I considered inappropriate.
First, the timing. A male SNP MSP has just been suspended because of an alleged litany of abusive behaviour towards women in his life, with very little response from any of the MSPs – perhaps rightly – about the issue. The timing could not be more inappropriate and suggests that the SNP does not take the issue of domestic abuse and violence towards women seriously, except when required to make a constitutional argument.
Second, the construct. Anyone who has ever worked to support women (and indeed children or indeed, men) to recover from the trauma of abuse and violence knows that it takes years. I, for one, feel very uncomfortable that the very real and terrifying consequences of abusive behaviour can be used to demonstrate a political ideal in this way. And I’m not sure how any abused woman might feel about it. I doubt that many will see the joke about the dependency culture (sorry Mike). But what do I know? Some women do seem to have responded favourably, and presumably, the SNP tested this idea privately before putting it into the public domain. However, most I have tweeted with on it were yes voters anyway. Maybe it is exactly the kind of argument required to persuade more, currently undecided/agnostic/anti women to support independence. Maybe it will result in a bounce in polls. We’ll see.
Of more interest was the half-argued idea of Unionism/the UK being a sexist dinosaur, which behaves in a patriarchal way towards Scotland – a point Mike amplifies in his response. This one does I think have legs, for men and women alike and more please. But essentially, what we have here is the SNP (or at least an SNP representative) indulging in its macho constructs about independence and dressing them up in a feminine, or at least, its take on a feminine guise. The point remains, I think, that the SNP has not quite worked out how to pitch the appeal of independence, and the SNP, to women in a way that builds a real wave and movement of support, rather than a protest vote. This is still not language or ideas that will carry a majority of women towards a yes vote.
Third, this is the first public gambit that the SNP has made to appeal directly to women; one of its MSPs has done so in a highly negative way. Vote for independence to get away from an abusive relationship, not vote independence for anything. It totally runs against the grain of the positive message, of the cosy idea of a social union, of the idea that a vote for independence is just that, a vote for that is being articulated more generally by the party just now. For that reason too, the premise jars.
Fourth, it is not particularly well constructed. In fact, the article runs out of steam. Listing key SNP achievements – free tuition, council tax freeze, free prescriptions and ending bridge tolls – without explaining how these have benefited women is simplistic. Have these measures benefited women as much as or more than men? And frankly citing Labour’s failure to reduce poverty is a hostage to fortune, when poverty – and child poverty in particular, something that by definition affects women – has risen significantly under an SNP Government, whether its fault or not. The article finishes with a flourish “Women are just as capable as men. In fact, we could do a lot better.” How? And how does that premise stack up when made by an MSP in a party which cannot, does not elect as many female MSPs as male ones? A little practising of what is being preached would go a long way.
Finally, the article does nothing to outline what it is that independence will change. As usual, we are in the realms of independence for its own sake, with change and difference being a blind tenet of faith. Yet, women’s current negativity towards the idea of independence suggests this really doesn’t wash. By turns more cautious and conservative about the prospect of constitutional change on this scale, women really will have to be persuaded that independence is a means to an end. And the article is silent on how independence will first of all, break down the oppressive structure inherent in how the UK goes about its business – financially and otherwise – and deliver a different approach for Scotland, and indeed, women in Scotland.
There’s still plenty of time for that yet, of course, and maybe this is only the start of a discourse. If that is the case, it is welcome. But some serious thought – in my opinion – needs to be given to the nature of that discourse, and the language and imagery to be used, to engage women in the debate.
Still, for the first time I can recall, at least we are having some kind of debate about women and independence. That in itself is welcome. And if that was Joan McAlpine’s purpose, she appears to have succeeded.