Harpies & Quines
Women for Independence, the grassroots network to persuade more Scottish women to vote yes to independence, officially launches today (Sunday 30 September) with an informal cultural and political event in Stirling. The project is sure to further unsettle the No campaign as a burgeoning chaotic creative movement continues to build relentlessly.
The event has an all-woman line up, with a sketch from Rosie Kane, former MSP and now Edinburgh Fringe performer, music and song from members of the Miss Smith Singers, stories from Lari Don, acclaimed Scottish author of 13 children’s books and speeches from Carolyn Leckie, former MSP, Kate Joester, Scottish Greens and Kate Higgins, political blogger.
Women for Independence are gathering in Stirling to officially launch their network, with a new website at www.womenforindependence.org. The network now has over 1000 supporters and will continue to grow during the next two years, as it works to convince more women to vote yes to independence in Scotland’s historic referendum. In the week when two women – Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont clashed in parliament over the future makeup of Scottish policy – we celebrate with a feature on what this project means and where it’s come from.
By Kate Higgins
I should probably start at the beginning.
I first canvassed for the SNP aged seven in 1974 for Margaret Ewing. I still have hazy memories of climbing up and down maisonettes in Cumbernauld and presenting voters with a toothy gap and a plea to vote for my godmother. She was a glamorous and exciting presence in my early childhood – I can recall being hurtled about in the back of her Hillman imp racing from one vital demo or meeting to another and she often turned up on the doorstep unexpectedly with a bottle in one hand, fag in the other, a gaggle of pals spilling out behind her, here to stay for a few days and nights of long political discourse, punctuated by passion and polemic. It’s on the banned list now but the word on everyone’s lips then was freedom.
So I grew up believing instinctively in freedom, and through each of my ages and stages as a woman, have grown to understand it better. Freedom is not some outmoded masculine concept but actually a vital right and aspiration for women. Yes, independence can deliver freedom for a nation to take charge of its own destiny but it must also result in freedom for communities, families and individuals. Freedom from fear, from hurt and from pain. Freedom to choose, to take control, and to say no. Liberty from poverty and for equality. The freedom to hope, believe and strive for a different life with the prospect of better. Independence for me represents all this and more for women.
All movements are of their time and place. In the 90s, Margaret Ewing would have disdained the concept of women for independence. She was a party woman through and through and saw the SNP as the vehicle by which to deliver the cause she devoted her life to.
Now? I’m not so sure. She would have loved last week’s March and Rally for Independence, and been energised and buoyed by its positivity. There was a palpable frisson of realisation that here was a movement, made up of many disparate parts, mobilising. And Women in Independence exemplifies the vital strength of the movement, of people coalescing around a common cause and for a greater good, of organising themselves for change. The Margaret Ewing, who tirelessly promoted and worked for democracy in far flung places where people’s views had been marginalised and even oppressed, would have identified with all of this.
When I reflect how far Women for Independence has come in such a short time, my heart swells and a shiver runs up my spine. In February, we were two. Then we were ten. We went live with 214 and now have over 1000 women for independence. And there is hope, opportunity, optimism and determination vested in each and every Woman for Independence to deliver a better Scotland for themselves, their families, their communities and their country.
But most especially for other women. And not by treading tried and tested sterile party lines which contain, constrain and limit debate to what they want women to hear and to know.
I was astonished to hear Patricia Ferguson of Scottish Labour try to scare the women of Scotland into submission, trying to tell us all what and how to think. Keeping women in their place – and what an irony that it falls to the supposedly socialist sisterhood to do so – is what modern party politics is all about. No wonder so many women don’t even bother to vote.
What motivates me is the prospect of a better, fairer, more just and equal society. With an unhealthy and inappropriate conceit of myself, every day I go to work to achieve just that and what sustains me is the thought of if not now, then soon. That by doing little things now, it paves the way for the bigger change to come. Independence by itself won’t change anything, but its very achievement will offer the prospect of a very different way of things, so long as there are people – women – prepared to work to achieve it. For, there is no point to independence if it is business as usual, if the old political mores and structures survive the transition.
And that is why what Women for Independence is doing is so very important.
Listening to women, their views and concerns, is the vital first step to politicising a generation who have eschewed or been denied access to the democratic process. Listening for independence is about encouraging women to start claiming a stake in this debate and in their country’s future. We know we won’t manage to persuade every woman we engage with over the next two years to vote yes. But actually, that’s ok, for we will have encouraged more of them to vote at all. And we will, I hope, have enabled them to engage fully in what happens afterwards. To reject the old mores which have resulted in poverty, fear, violence, inequality, ill health, glass ceilings, drudgery, discrimination and pain for so many.
Which is why of course Women for Independence both titillates and terrifies.. Our listening for independence exercise is the kind of home made, communitarian activity anybody could do, but few have. All winter, women will be listening to other women – friends and colleagues whose politics they don’t know – encouraging them to talk about politics, many of them for the first time. Having done this kind of work with people whose voices have struggled to be heard, I know that once these women start talking, they won’t want to stop. Good.
Because what these women tell us will shape Women for Independence’s campaign for a yes vote. And it will inform how we reach out to these same women to encourage more of them to choose independence. And it will help shape the contribution we make to the debate about Scotland’s future and what that might look like. The work of Women for Independence this winter is to say little and listen hard.
Some might be wondering how Margaret Ewing came to be my godmother. She and my mum met at university and they became best pals. They made a great double act, combining brains and political nous. Thus, they found an old but huge student nationalist banner in a cupboard and made sure they took it to the head of every student march and rally. There were just two of them, but it was assumed that those who marched behind were with them. They led, others followed and they resurrected a moribund student SNP group, making it one of the strongest student clubs around
And if Women for Independence takes the same approach, if we have the confidence to lead, to reach out to women we know, then we will enable them not to follow, but to join us as equals campaigning as women for independence and for independence for women. Women for Independence has the potential not just to help deliver a yes vote in 2014, but change the way we politics in Scotland forever.