Having spent two decades in California where feminism is alive, well and a major political force, let me disclaim right from the outset any delusion that I am qualified to speak for women. Several bright, articulate female friends taught me well. But, as an active and longstanding participant in this debate on Independence, I nonetheless feel entitled to express my views—in this case on the pivotal role I believe women are about to play in these last few weeks of the debate.
To date—as with most political issues of national import—men have dominated the debate. Do I betray my gender when I assert they have made something of a pig’s ear of it from both sides? Fifty years ago, women scarcely registered on Britain’s political radar; pioneers like Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher achieved what they did largely by playing to the unwritten male rules of the time: aggressive postures; military vocabulary; unsociable hours; old-boy back-room networking.
We have come a long way since women made the tea but analysis of the speeches given or questions posed by Johann Lamont or Ruth Davidson are hardly distinguishable from Milliband or Cameron after 15 years of a Parliament that was supposed to introduce a politics different from that of tradition-encrusted Westminster. And before conclusions are jumped to, this is no wistful plea for touchy-feely or any other supposedly ‘feminine’ approach. Any readers puzzled by this are referred to the writings of Texas-based Molly Ivins who regularly takes on the good ol’ boys of the Texas legislature with wit, humanity and pragmatism in a potent formula women can achieve.
So far, there has been a dearth of such pungent bullshit-antidote here. Nicola Sturgeon comes closest but is too wrapped in party message to realise the bias-transcending lucidity of a woman who knows her stuff and is not going to let ego, career or chest-butting ambition (foibles endemic among males) deflect or dilute her message. And—despite being on the record as a convinced YES—I confess the debate (and thereby the decision) would be much enhanced by such articulate right jabs from the heart from either side.
Churchill was a great orator but let his unbridled love for the British Empire confuse his politics; Blair was a virtuoso in media manipulation but his acolytes have brought politics into disrepute by breeding widespread cynicism in the voting public. Thatcher betrayed her “where there is discord may we bring harmony” speech from the word ‘go’ by using power in a typically unbridled male manner: “Might is Right” is a watchword few intelligent women ever use or even acknowledge as valid.
Gro Harlem Brundtland was three-time Prime Minister of Norway. Not only was she partly the architect of Norway’s current prosperity but also of its peaceable and popular profile in the world, despite membership of NATO and UN deployments to hot-spots like Lebanon and Sudan. More than that, the UN’s Brundtland Commission developed the concept of sustainable development in the course of extensive public hearings distinguished by their inclusiveness. The commission, which published its report, Our Common Future, in April 1987, provided the momentum for the 1992 Earth Summit.
In the current independence debate, poll after poll has shown men largely have their minds made up one way or another; women now provide a significant proportion of the ‘don’t knows’. Much of the debate has centered around the absence of key ‘facts’—will we get to use the pound? —how will we defend ourselves? —how could we comply with EU and/or NATO requirements? These are always presented in typically male confrontational fashion—an “answer now or you’re a ten-stone weakling” kind of approach.
Despite women supposedly having a reputation for deciding things by ‘intuition’, the vast bulk who aren’t in politics are neither happy with such playground behaviour nor swayed by glib conclusions thereby implied. The stand-up comedian image of women as flighty, indecisive, vain and uninformed went out with the Carry On films. As they have flooded the workplace, captained RN ships and dealt with household budgets that now may include mortgage rates, investments, their pragmatism, empathy and ability to interpret and anticipate life’s vagarities have developed steadily: flouncy ’50s Doris Day has found the unruffled competence of the IMF’s Christine Lagarde.
These modern Scotswomen are being fed a diet of doctored disinformation by both sides. No serious businesswoman would run negotiations the way Better Together implies Scots will suffer penalties if they leave ‘home’. Women do feel that huge emotional tug as their own children leave home—but swallow their own needs and salve the hurt with pride as their children achieve on their own. No woman balancing a family budget would accept the bland but unsubstantiated assurances Yes disseminates about pensions, social support, debt repayment and future oil revenues. Budgets survive unknowns through rational anticipation and shrewd evaluation of probabilities. Ask any woman.
Modern Scotswomen need honesty and transparency; neither side is making much of a fist of giving them that. More than men worried over pension pots or border tariffs, women are used to assimilating factors across dissimilar axes and weaving best estimates into acceptable conclusions. More than men focused on today’s results, women feel the longer run of life into the future, using imagination and—yes—intuition to derive best estimates for the future that are between fact and fiction but more probable than improbable.
Mothers especially know in their hearts that this is not about them. Like the Highlanders who took white-sailed ship for America, this is about their grandchildren’s grandchildren and whether, in the centenary celebrations of 2116, they would be welcomed as brave visionaries who seized the way to a better life. Or are they like the Clydeside’s shipbuilding unions of the 1950’s, circling wagons to defend a life they know for fear of something new?
It is not that women are feart—the way many men seem feart at losing their pension or their power. It is because big decisions for themselves or their family need to be picked over, talked over, mulled over by heart and head and women are right not to be rushed into any conclusion. Being judged by your grandchildren’s grandchildren is no matter to be taken lightly.