NICOLA Sturgeon is a stronger feminist role model than Theresa May, former Labour Deputy leader Harriet Harman has suggested.
The Scottish First Minister “espouses a lot of the things” that the women’s movement has campaigned for, Harman said, while claiming the Tory leader has never stood up for other women.
I don’t think that Theresa May has ever been a feminist
But she warned that SNP plans for a significant increase in childcare in Scotland did not go far enough, as the proposals stop short of full universal provision which would have a transformative effect.
Harman served as a cabinet minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and remains the UK’s longest continuously serving female MP. She is in Scotland later this month at Holyrood’s Festival of Politics to discuss her recent autobiography, A Woman’s Work, which charts her struggle to overcome the everyday sexism which has plagued the political system.
But she takes a dim view of the current Prime Minister’s feminist credentials.
“I don’t think that Theresa May has ever been a feminist or stood up for other women at all and she’s more like the Margaret Thatcher style of Conservative woman,” said Harman. “Although there are some Conservative women who are much more feminist, Theresa May is much more of the old school and argued against all the things that we were pushing for, like an increase in the number of women MPs and she voted against the Equality Act. The thing about Nicola Sturgeon, well obviously she has espoused a lot of the things that the women’s movement have put forward and no doubt would see herself as part of the women’s movement.
“At the end of the day it’s what you actually deliver for women that really matters, not just that you’ve got into that position. Although it is important to have women in those leadership roles, it’s important for them to then use those leadership roles to give more opportunities to other women.”
Harman insists the women’s movement has come a “helluva long way” over the past 30 years. But a key transformative change which is still needed is the creation of a system of universal free childcare. The Scottish Government plans to double childcare entitlement from 600 to 1,140 hours by 2020, which would effectively mirror the school week.
“It’s definitely adding to the existing availability of childcare and it’s definitely going in the right direction,” Harman said of the SNP plans. But she added: “It’s still not like the NHS where it’s a universal, ‘must be available to all’ service. It’s still kind of on the fringes. What we need is comprehensive childcare which includes after-school clubs, breakfast clubs, holiday playschemes, half-term clubs and childcare from the age of one upwards which matches working hours or where parents can choose the hours.
“Yes it will cost a lot but a lot of things do cost a lot and we still decide they’re necessary and we do them because they’re necessary for half the population plus children.”
• Harriet Harman: A Woman’s Work, takes place in the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament on Friday 20 October at 1pm