WOMEN for Independence launched in Stirling at the weekend with a fabulous cultural and political all-women event. After that? Well, we intend to do and say very little.
Which I appreciate is a unique premise in Scottish politics. We won’t be issuing press releases, we might turn up at the odd Yes Scotland street stall, but by and large, we’ll be keeping a low profile.
That’s because we intend to listen.
So far, in this, the most important political debate in Scotland’s history, women’s voices have struggled to be heard. I’m fed up watching independence being debated by men in grey suits, through a very narrow lens of party rhetoric.
Similarly minded women formed Women for Independence because there was no other way we could see how our voices would be heard. We think it’s premature to force people into two polarised camps.
There’s a lot of listening to be done, particularly to women’s concerns about the future. Women are clearly not bowled over by whatever arguments in favour of independence they are hearing.
Only by spending these first crucial months listening to women who either intend to vote no or are not sure how they will vote, will we work out what the barriers are.
And only then might we be able to frame the arguments, in a language and tone which women respond positively to, to convince them to vote yes.
So this winter, we will be listening for independence, using a toolkit that enables women to set up informal focus groups in their own living rooms and workplaces.
We want women who already support independence to download the toolkit, find a handful of women friends whose voting habits and intentions they know little about, and give them the space to talk politics.
There’s also an online survey for women to take part in. We want to understand more about what motivates women politically and to tease out information about their values, hopes, fears and dreams.
We will use this to help us change the tone of the debate on independence and political discussion in general. It’s an exciting, revolutionary idea: real grassroots activity that will create space for the often ignored half of the electorate: women.
People shouldn’t be feart of expressing contrary opinions in case the media cry “split” or “crisis”; or your contemporaries cry “sell out”. That approach subverts genuine and illuminating democratic discussion.
Women for Independence began as an idea over dinner. In a few months, we have become a movement which has attracted more than 1,000 women supporters from all over Scotland, all walks of life, all ages and all political persuasions and none.
We believe that independence, and just the very possibility of it, opens up infinite potential for new ideas and new confidence. And we want women to feel confident about taking control, on an equal basis, of the big decisions and our future.
We agree that independence needs to be better for women. How that looks will be a significant and interesting discussion our group will have. We will explore with women what “better” means to them. And we will strive tirelessly to make sure their voices are heard.
Crucially, it’s evident that building women’s support for independence is fundamental to the outcome of the referendum.
The most recent findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey suggest that not only do fewer women than men intend to vote yes – 29 per cent compared to 36 per cent – but that far fewer women feel confident about independence. Only one in four of women do, compared to 37 per cent of men. This is the nub of our purpose.
We want to create a space where all women’s voices can and will be heard – no matter their views.
Yes, we want a yes vote. But we want more. We want to mobilise women in pursuit of their own independence as well as that of the nation, to enable them to participate fully in the referendum by listening to them.
And once we have listened, learned a lot – and only then – will we try to persuade women to support independence.