This is the text of the address that Maggie Lennon of our National Committee gave to our AGM earlier this month on the Committee's thoughts on what our strategy should be for IndyRef2.
We live in interesting times, and not in a good way, when the leader of the free world - and I say that with suitable irony – is a self confessed misogynist, who is facing fraud and rape charges and who by his actions, his words and his influence promotes the abuse of women and the subjugation, by the state, of women’s bodies and a womens right to choose, through his stance on abortion. From an outsider’s point of view it looked as Trump’s Presidential campaign was not just promoting a line “anyone but Hillary Clinton” but also anyone but a woman. While he drags his feet on his transitional team choices, I’m not seeing too many women being included among his alt-right buddies. Unless you count his daughter…..the one he said he’d like to date.
And if you think this has no relevance in a discussion about how Women for Independence set the agenda for a future Independence Referendum may I suggest that its relevance grows every day. Because an attack on women anywhere is an attack on women everywhere. As we prepare to get back into the very visual and front-line battlegrounds of grassroots politics we should be prepared for a growing resistance towards women and politically active women most of all, that might be coming down the tracks. Who amongst us, who has campaigned politically, as a woman is not used to being silenced or shouted down by angry men?
But closer to home its been an interesting two years. We have all been doing a lot of voting since 2014 and we seem to have embraced the love of the referenda. So it was disheartening to say the least, to hear some Leave voters admit that they had used their referendum vote as a protest, because they didn’t think their vote would count - as it so rarely does in general elections. However people voted in June this year, we all have a duty to make clear to the electorate, as the prospect of Indyref2 approaches, what a referendum means - and it means that every vote does count. Perhaps we are more electorally educated or astute up here; that might be why the vote to remain was so decisive in Scotland. We’ve had more recent referendum experience than our English neighbours and have other options than first-past-the-post when electing our representatives. YET for all that political education sadly still too many of us fall for the lies, the half-truths and the fear.
In the two referenda that have passed since September 2014, we know about the fear, we know about the half-truths and we are living with the results of the lies.
And as for the good folks over the pond we do not yet know the impact of the lies, half-truths and fear which swept Donald Trump to power. But the impacts will be life changing for whole sections of US society and for any country that continues to support and promote the special relationship that Theresa May was so quick to champion. A rather different take on the value of the President Elect than that of Nicola Sturgeon or Angela Merkel, who both refused to uncritically endorse him. So as I say, we live in interesting times.
I take no pleasure in being someone who called the No vote a few days before the poll in 2014 and both the Brexit and US election result some weeks before each of them. It was neither second sight not rocket science that led me to these conclusions but simply this one critical fact; never underestimate the silent majority. Because those that won’t say who they are voting for, or those that don’t wave a flag, or go on a march, or hold up a placard are not necessarily the undecideds, not necessarily the people we need to win over; they are more likely the ones who made up their mind some time before but simply won’t admit it.
Many confirmed NO voters stayed silent on their intentions for fear of intimidation, for fear of being pro-Unionist unpatriotic Tories, when perhaps they were just anti-change, genuinely worried about their pensions or believed the Vow as the vote got closer.
Many confirmed Leavers stayed silent on their intentions for fear of being labelled racist, xenophobic, little Englanders, when they were maybe just worried about their jobs, and believed the big shiny bus.
Many Trump supporters stayed silent for fear of being lumped in with the lunatic fringe who attended his rallies when they were maybe just genuinely worried about their personal prosperity, or actually thought by voting in a billionaire that they were sticking up two fingers to the establishment, or believed he couldn’t be as bad as he sounded…could he?
But the Nos, the LEAVER’s and the TRUMP supporters have all been played. Played by vested interests, played by neo-liberalism, played by the alt-right, played by governments trying to cover the tracks of their failed policies on austerity. It’s only a matter of time before each group begins to see that. Every day it seems President-Elect Trump is backtracking on his policies, poor blue collar workers are going to see their incomes slashed by new changes to overtime rules. When the people who sought to victimise others during the Brexit campaign, and the US election become the victims themselves, maybe the scales will fall from their eyes. In Scotland it seems, for some, the penny is beginning to drop.
It’s important to note too, that polling companies reckon that people who voted NO, Remain and Trump generally didn’t poll, didn’t engage when the circus came to town, or hung up when pollsters called or said they were undecided or wouldn’t vote.
So we must remember for Indy Ref2 just because we might be more visible on the streets, making a noise, doesn’t mean the opposition doesn’t exist, or has gone away. And I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who changed their mind about independence by having a Saltire waved in their face.
So how should we approach Indyref 2? What should be our Declaration of Principles? We must be, informed, targeted, unified and specific in our messages. We must appeal to women universally and we must listen. And when we do respond and persuade it must be with reasoned argument which appeals to women everywhere.
We must at the heart of our message have the belief that what unites us as women in Scotland is greater than what divides us and that we believe, as we did before, that the surest way to have a country which promotes, values, and rewards women and puts them at the centre is as an Independent country. That the surest way to have a country which can produce an economy and a social security system fit for purpose for our and our children's and grandchildren’s futures is as an independent nation. And that the surest way to have a country which will protect all of our citizen's rights and those of our communities, and to have a voice in the wider world is as an independent country.
National Committee will not proscribe how you campaign, but we will choose the agenda we want to see as women, and we will be proactive in taking that agenda to the electorate, to politicians, to the media, and to women everywhere. We will set our own agenda, not react to the agendas of others, or to their lies, half-truths and fearmongering.
We will concentrate on the issues which effect women most and we will use the knowledge and expertise of the membership.
Our role as your National Committee will be to provide the information, the materials, the facts and the briefings for groups to use; to provide speakers and to train up and empower speakers from within the membership and activists. To share good practice and campaigning ideas and to build on success.
Our strategy puts women at the centre and is holistic and understands the important cross cutting links and relationships between all the subjects.
The first has to be the economy. Who it serves and who it benefits, but more importantly who it should serve, and who it should benefit. And alongside the big questions; currency, GDP, onshore v offshore economy, tax revenues, citizens incomes, our economic base, the future of manufacturing. We have to make it clear that we don’t seek independence to do more of the same that we have done as part of the Union. It’s about using the opportunities Independence offers, to make things better, to reject tired ideologies. It has to be about taking the resources of this country, this rich country and using them more effectively. It’s about making sure that budgets and revenue plans are assessed for their impact on gender, it’s making sure that the work we do as women is rewarded and valued and not consigned to the lower end of the pay scale. We know that austerity hits women hardest and there will be no place for an austerity model in a new Scotland. Economics is about choices and priorities and so we must make sure that the future choices about our economy, equally benefit women and to make sure the priorities of women are heard.
The other side of the coin is social security and we have something of an early win here in the form of Jeane Freeman MSP Scotland’s first Minister for Social Security, WFI co-founder and member. If anything is going to send a clear message about the potential of a new Scotland, it's getting a social security system that is fit for purpose and fits with our people. It must be just and must not judge. It must be fair and compassionate. Women have the most to lose when a social security system fails or is unjust. We must stop women losing out.
The third focus will be on food. Its production, its processing, its consumption and its potential. Next to housing costs the largest portion of a family’s expenditure is on food. And due to still-antiquated division of labour in most family households , it still falls mostly to women to purchase and prepare our food; and a large part of the female productive economy is in food production and processing. Scotland has some serious issues with food and nutrition, hampered by an unhealthy attitude to alcohol and sugar. A country as rich in food resource as Scotland should be able to feed its people efficiently, economically and healthily. A healthy population is more productive, a more productive economy supports more generous and supportive social security and social justice policies. We need to become the food nation we could be. Food isn’t just the preserve of those involved in its production or the preserve of the countryside. Food poverty shames and taints us all. Food is a feminist issue.
But none of this; not the economy, not social security, not food production and consumption will create a better, more equitable society unless our rights, human rights, workers’ rights, women's rights, children’s rights, the rights of minorities are at the centre. Women are 52% of the population. Women’s rights ARE human rights and human rights ARE women's rights. The Scotland Act is based on human rights. An independent Scotland will enshrine that even further with all matters relating to equality being finally in our control and with a written constitution that lays out the rights and responsibilities of our citizens, and our governments and our institutions. A rights based approach to policy which doesn’t seek to exploit the many for the benefit of the few. A rights based system that doesn’t allow some to win at the cost of others failing.
So that’s the plan! And we want to hear from as you discuss things with your groups, your networks of women, your female colleagues, women at the school gate, women you meet over a drink. You as the membership and the activists are our ambassadors for this vision we will develop together.
A significant part of upcoming National Councils will be dedicated to honing these messages and getting it right, and we can’t start soon enough.
Part of winning will be about creating an alternative vision for a new Scotland. One that has appeal and enough answers to make the transition from a tired old Union to a bright new independent future all the more attractive. One that persuades women that their future and that of their kids and grandkids will be better served in an independent Scotland.
So what are the next steps? Talk to us. Talk to us today, talk to us at National Council. Share your plans for activism. If you haven’t already done so complete the Scottish Government’s short consultation on the new Independence Act by Mid -January. And of after you have read it you think there is key message or messages you’d like WFI to include in our national response let us know by 19 December. Gather together, debate the ideas, develop campaigning strategies, tell us what you need.
The future’s bright, the future’s independence, the future’s female and it’s within our grasp.
Sisters let’s do this thing and sisters, this time let’s win this thing.