Carolyn Leckie: Women are crucial to referendum

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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The independence debate offers future generations a great opportunity, but the No campaign has work to do, writes Carolyn Leckie

‘IT IS not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.

She could have been in the living room at a recent Women for Independence listening group. Among some of the many comments were, “I have the fear” but “it feels like we’re on the cusp of self belief”.

Unlike large meetings, when you listen to women in small groups, they’re a mine of ideas, creativity, aspirations. Like the findings of the recent Church of Scotland report on the country’s future, Women for Independence have found that women are motivated by values and community:

“There’s no point in independence if we still have food banks and welfare cuts.”

“It’s not just about individuals; being in your own house, community, matters for quality of life.”

They’re also motivated by democracy and accountability, with the Scottish Parliament esteemed for its accessibility:

“At least you can hop on a bus to Edinburgh and eyeball them.”

It is the prospect of being able to eyeball politicians with the big powers – to increase and equalise women’s independent income, to abolish poverty, to refrain from war that awakens women’s sense of their own power and kindle the confidence to take it.

That’s only a small step away from taking the power to be the politicians.

Whether or not you support independence, you’ve got to acknowledge that the referendum has stirred a democratic revival. Spontaneous networks have grown. Groups have formed. Political events are stowed out. I’d have hoped that, no matter if you favour remaining in the UK, progressive democrats everywhere would be joyously joining the democratic bandwagon. But, disappointingly, opposing independence seems to go hand in hand with the dead hand of cynicism.

The No campaign’s strategy seems to be a three-point plan:

1, To ruthlessly exploit and reinforce the disempowerment caused by successive failures of Westminster governments to deliver the democratic will of people in Scotland.

2, To scaremonger about business flight – as if capitalism will miraculously stop being capitalism with independence. (I wish!)

3, To insult our intelligence by saying “Alex Salmond” often enough to try to delude people into thinking that a vote for their own self-determination is actually a vote for a dictatorship, 1984 style.

Probably, this is because, when people are involved in real discussion, the overwhelming trajectory is to Yes. This was evident at a recent debate organised by the Scottish Women’s Convention.

Better Together’s arguments had a rare public outing. The atmosphere was friendly and open. Women were genuinely interested in what all the panel had to say. But the lack of substance from the No side, their negativity and wilful misrepresentations, sparked polite anger. This was from an audience of mostly undecided women.

So, No has an interest in keeping everyone in their box. It has an interest in fear. Because it fears losing power. To us, the people. To women.

As a feminist, progressive democrat, I like the means as well as the ends to be principled. Yes has an interest in the means of participative democracy. No has an interest in silence, disempowerment and frustration of the process. I can’t believe that women I know in the Labour Party, trade unions, the wider women’s movement, can be comfortable with this.

Women for Independence have been doing our bit to reach women the politicians do not reach. By meeting in living rooms, having a laugh, discussing and, now, persuading. Most of our time has been spent encouraging women to talk, to make sure their voice is heard. And to use their vote, and their power, when the referendum comes.

We’re also holding public events and campaigning –z making sure women know we’re here. Dependent on funding, we’ll ensure no woman will be allowed to be silenced in this momentous time.

Women are bursting with ideas about how our lives could be improved – ideas like equal representation: “If women were there, ‘women’ wouldn’t be absent.”

The ideas bursting forth from our events are not homogenous. But they are not matched by anything on offer by any Westminster party.

At Westminster, if you’re lucky, you might get variations of the same choices on the lunch, pre-theatre and dinner menus. The referendum is not a party political election. Independence offers the potential of an international buffet with as much as we can eat.

The breathtaking plurality of women’s ideas we have listened to makes the “chances” of independence something we need to “seize with both hands for the sake of future generations of women”.

It would be more positive if other means of achieving better lives for women were on offer. I thought by now, since an overwhelming majority consistently say they want control of tax, social security, etc, that federalism would have been added to the menu by the UK parties. But there’s no “special” on the menu, just more of the same.

I know there is much discontent about that in the broad unionist alliance. Women across the spectrum have common interests. We’d like to share our methods with women in Better Together. How about we do joint groups? Surely we all have an interest in rumbling up women? We are the 52 per cent.

• Carolyn Leckie was a Scottish Socialist Party MSP from 2003 to 2007.