Independent Women 2

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.

Comments (4)

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  1. bellacaledonia says:

    Lena in answer to your opening question: ‘Where is the breakdown of figures showing women’s support for independence? What exactly are we talking about?’ This from Lallands Peat Worrier:

    “Interesting, then, to read Jennifer Dempsie arguing in the last edition of the Scotland on Sunday, that “Winning over female voters crucial to SNP ambitions”. Dempsie contends that:

    “Apart from devising a bargain basement manifesto, the greatest challenge the SNP faces is how to return to government with a greater share of the vote. I think this can only be done if the gender imbalance in the party’s support – the lower number of female supporters to male – is tackled.”

    What is the evidence for this claim? Like the other Scots psephological categories mentioned, lurking in the political unconscious of the press – and occasionally finding deliberate expression – there is certainly the idea that women are generally less Nationalist and nationalist-inclined than the male electorate, attitudes albeit fluxuating with the times. We needn’t be entirely impressionistic about this theory. Chapters in Gerry Hassan’s (2009) edited volume on The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power address some of these questions directly. Fiona Mackay and Meryl Kennedy combined to write on “Women’s Political Representation in the SNP: Gendered Paradoxes and Puzzles”, while James Mitchell, Robert Johns and Lynn Bennie ask “Who are the SNP members?”, drawing on evidence unearthed by their recent Economic and Social Research Council funded empirical research project into the socio-demography of SNP members. Table 6.1 (Hassan 2009, 69) outlined the membership figures.

    In 2007/08, 31.8% of SNP members were women, 68.2% men.”

  2. lenathehyena says:

    Thanks Bella for the impressive references. Don’t come much more impressive than psephological .

    I don’t doubt the evidence that fewer women voters support the SNP than men but my point was there is substantial support for the SNP in areas of Scotland and if that is broken down then it might be possible to construct an impression of what it is that attracts women supporters to vote for the SNP.

    Personally I don’t go for the idea that more women candidates will make any difference although I believe some study does show there are occurrences of this happening.

    People will vote for the SNP for differing reasons. For some it will be virtually irrespective of manifesto policies or the Party’s track record. For some it will depend on what is being offered and how far past manifesto promises have been achieved. There I suspect is where the difference lies with women voting taking the latter course. If women become convinced they will be better off in an independent Scotland then naturally they will vote for that irrespective of the guns and butter arguments.

    Higher profile debates on independence involving prominent women may increase support by a percentage or two but in practical terms how would this happen that would make it meaningful? What advantage would there be to a debate hosted by Kirsty Wark, for example? She is part of the problem …the very obvious obstacle to winning over more women or indeed losing women voters is down to how the SNP and the prospect of an independent Scotland is reported by the Scottish media. Irrespective of the quality of SNP spokespeople the undeniable bias against the Party demonstrated every day in the newspapers and the broadcasting media will continue to inflict substantial damage on the SNP’s reputation and for many women giving them their votes will be a risk too far…unless it can be shown otherwise.

  3. Indy says:

    You will never get an actual breakdown of how women vote because that information is not recorded. You can analyse data which tells you how people voted on a sub polling district (i.e.street to street) basis from 2007 and I very much hope we will be given that information again – but it will not distinguish between male and female voters. There are two ways to only obtain that kind of information 1. By breaking down canvass data by gender, which would be a pretty time-consuming job and could only be done within constituencies which have sufficient canvass data to be statistically relevant. It would also be very labour intensive and time consuming as a gender field would have to be created (as I said EROS do not record gender) so that the data can be analysed by gender. In reality that is something which could only be done on a national basis by HQ and even then you would have to factor in the bias that would come from the fact that the constituencies with the most canvass data would also be the ones that the SNP did best in. 2. The other source is academic research, polling and surveys and I think that is the main source that is used.

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