What do Women Want from the Scottish Parliament?
Prior to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Women for Independence (WFI) used a loosely structured listening exercise to engage with women, and to discuss their hopes for constitutional change. This proved to be a great way of bringing women together to discuss politics in settings where they felt comfortable and free to speak.
In the run up to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, WFI repeated this Listening Exercise, asking women what they want from the Scottish Parliament. Hundreds of women took part in discussions in Glasgow, Dundee, Angus, Edinburgh, Clydebank, Fife, Kilmarnock, Lochaber and Paisley.
This report summarises what women chose to talk about, and what they said. Inevitably, we cannot report on every point made by every woman; that would take a book, not a blog, so this report pulls out the key issues that were mentioned the most frequently, which proved to be very similar all over Scotland.
Democracy and Independence
Democracy and Scottish independence are inextricably linked. We believe an independent Scottish Parliament would be, in itself, more democratic for Scotland than staying in the Union.
WFI supporters will be voting at the Scottish Parliament elections. Conscious that women have only been fully enfranchised in Scotland for less than a century, we believe that women should use the vote for which our foremothers fought so hard. We are aware that not all women in the world are enfranchised, and we’d like the Scottish Parliament to be a loud and strong voice for women’s rights in the international arena.
The Scottish Parliament elections are more important to us than Westminster elections. At Westminster we can only vote for a voice for Scotland, but at Holyrood we can vote on some important aspects of how our country is run. We want to see a pluralist parliament, representing all of Scotland’s voices, a lively Parliament, where the Government is held to account.
To increase political knowledge and democratic engagement we want increased local decision-making. We want power closer to people, and are interested in ideas like participatory budgeting, where communities themselves decide how public services are provided. We’re hopeful that the new Community Empowerment Act might help to bring more power to local communities. Local councils should hold business meetings in outlying areas (not always the town hall or city chambers) to enable people to participate, and community councils should be given much more power. We’re interested in the idea of Scotland having more, smaller local councils.
The urgent need for reform of how land is owned, controlled and managed in Scotland is one of the most important issues for the Scottish Parliament. Land reform is a complex, multi-layered issue and we have no simple solutions. We supported the ‘OurLand’ festival last year, which raised the need for radical reform of land ownership in Scotland and greater control of and information about who owns Scotland. We look to our Parliament for an informed and wide debate, and for radical change and leadership on this issue.
Without radical land reform, there can be no social justice in Scotland, and we’re interested in how local government finance and tax policy on land might be linked (we’re not keen on the council tax generally).
But it’s not just about who owns land and how it’s taxed, it’s also about how land is used. We are interested in food and want a Scotland where people are connected to the land and use it to grow healthy, natural and cheap food.
Food is a political issue connected to land use, the economy, health, poverty and wellbeing in many and different ways. The Scottish Parliament should deliver a food strategy for Scotland that focuses on issues like localism and health.
Land for leisure and play is important too, particularly for children in inner city areas whose lives and movement are restricted.
This is a vital issue, a redline issue for many of us. We support the banning of fracking in Scotland.
Health and Communities
The single biggest thing the Scottish Government could do to improve health is to eliminate poverty and inequality.
The political debate on health seems to focus on a handful of statistics, usually about outcomes at the acute end of service provision. But the health of a nation is not measured by how many Accident & Emergency patients are seen within a ‘target’ timescale. Physical health, mental health and general wellbeing are inextricably linked both in individuals and in communities, and are more dependent on socio-economic factors than on medicine. More equal societies enjoy better health.
On the whole we think the Scottish NHS is good. Our acute Services are among the best in the world, but the media tell a different story. We’d like the Scottish Government to be better at telling people what they’ve achieved on health.
However, there is still room to improve it further.
Firstly, we’d like increased localisation of service delivery (where appropriate), from the Health and Social Care Integrated Joint Boards downwards, and greater local involvement in the development of services that meet community needs, and that employ local people.
Secondly, we’d like more resources to be put into mental health services. Many of us have direct experience of the lack of intensive support for those who need it urgently, and we believe that suicide rates among young men are too high.
We recognise that the UK has relatively low numbers of GPs per capita compared to other European nations, and that 10 minutes is one of the shortest consultation times in Europe. In some areas women report real problems with getting an appointment with their GP. More work needs doing on the equitable and logical distribution of GP and community and district nursing services to ensure they align with demographic changes and local needs.
When it comes to the provision of frontline medical services, there is not one single Scottish solution, as local needs and differences need to be considered. These services should be planned and delivered as locally as possible. Particularly, they should be considered at a community level, along with other assets that communities have that, at first sight, may not seem relevant to health.
Loneliness and isolation, especially among older people and young mothers, is a health issue. So too are care services provided (and not provided) within our communities. The prohibitive charges and cuts that are being made to vital care services in some council areas is a major concern, and many women had experience of people receiving inadequate homecare services, including palliative care. But services provided in the community are crucial, as they can prevent the need for acute services further down the line.
Stronger communities can provide early intervention health services, as well as producing and sourcing cheap, healthy, local food. Stronger communities can provide sporting activities, increasing health and providing recreation and social opportunities.
We want a Scottish Parliament which values community integration and builds health from the bottom up.
But communities rely on volunteers.
We want the Scottish Government to give serious consideration to volunteering, and to move some of the obstacles that get in the way of people being active in their communities (such as long working hours, inflexible leave arrangements, etc.). Some companies give their staff paid leave to do voluntary work – could Scotland have a national strategy to promote and incentivise ideas like this?
In terms of future health investment strategies, we should invest in the health of children, with education on and opportunities for them to participate in food and eating, exercise, and integration into their wider community. Harm caused by addictions and alcoholism often impacts disproportionately on women and children, especially those living in poverty, and strong communities with a focus on healthy children can help to tackle these harms. Investment for future health is crucial and the Scottish Government’s investment in early years is welcome. However any short term gains in child health in the early years will not endure if current levels of poverty and inequality continue and indeed continue to rise.
These strategies for creating a healthy Scotland will take longer than one term of government to implement and nurture. We need our Scottish Parliament to step above partisan divides and agree on longer-term strategies for Scotland.
As with health, we are generally satisfied with how education is provided in Scotland, but many of us are concerned about children whose talents do not lie in achieving academic qualifications, and about whether the Curriculum for Excellence is right for everyone.
We support apprenticeships and technical education that gives more technically proficient and diversely able and talented pupils opportunities to try out and learn trades and other skills which we need to develop in our workforce. While we have huge concerns about educational inequalities, we are not convinced that national testing in schools will make a difference.
Poverty should not impact on how children experience school, but it does. Having to provide school uniforms is difficult for families on low incomes and does nothing to dispel the disparity between high and low incomes, as pupils are well aware of which school clothes are the expensive ones and which the cheap alternative. (Many WFI members have been very active in setting up clothes banks to help poorer school pupils with uniforms). We welcome the fact that the school clothing grant is to be standardised, but we hope that it will be set at a realistic level. Income disparity is also apparent when opportunities such as school trips abroad arise, with poorer children excluded because their parents cannot pay the costs. Poorer children are identified, and often excluded, throughout school.
We will only close the educational attainment gap when we work to close the inequality gap and tackle poverty as a whole. We need action by both the Scottish Parliament and local councils, working together, to tackle this issue.
WFI believe that more women should be diverted from the prison system and into rehabilitative and supportive services, an approach which is generally supported by the Scottish Parliament and is in line with recommendations from Commissions, third sector and other criminal justice organisations and many other professional bodies.
The female prison population of Scotland should be reduced to around 100 by diverting women in distress from the criminal justice system and by taking prison off the menu for women charged in the lower courts. The resources released could be used to provide the services that actually are needed. There are no waiting lists for prison. Why are there waiting lists for cheaper and more effective services that have been proven to work for women and for their children?
We were pleased that the Scottish Government did not go ahead with building the large women’s prison in Inverclyde, and chose instead to look at other options.
Many – if not most – of the women currently in prison have themselves been victims of terrible crimes, and we would like to see more justice for victims, particularly around accessing legal support. For example, victims of rape and domestic abuse must be given legal representation if the person charged with attacking them seeks to have their private medical records included in evidence. Legal Aid must be available for this. The Scottish Government should legislate to make this change happen.
Preventative work to end gender abuse (and all forms of violence) must also continue, and we support educating both boys and girls around language, vocabulary and issues of power, entitlement and consent. Important as this educational work is, violence against women stems from inequality in power, finance and safety for women, so education alone will not end it. We want the Scottish Parliament to never lose sight of the need to end sex inequality as an over-arching goal.
We do not consider ‘employment’ and ‘caring’ to be separate issues. Both are work; sometimes some women get paid for this work. Caring work disproportionately falls upon women in our society, and our lives often do not allow us to clearly separate paid work and unpaid work in a way that men more easily can.
In terms of paid employment, women’s long-standing claims for compensation for years of not being paid the same as men for work of equal value must be settled. It is still the case that women’s work tends to be of lower status, and un-unionised. This must be addressed and women must be given equal rights to employment protection.
Companies should also make greater use of home working, video conferencing, flexi-hours and other measures which support women with childcare and other caring responsibilities. The Scottish Parliament should lead, encourage and legislate for this appropriately, as they have done on the living wage.
Our vision is for increased rights for workers, to enable them to take paid breaks (similar to maternity leave) to care for ageing or ill relatives.
In short, we need to think about work differently, and re-design systems to incorporate the needs of workers with caring responsibilities, who both work for pay and provide care for others.
Childcare and care services for other vulnerable people are crucial, but our society does not value those (mostly women) who work in this field. Pay, support, and conditions for workers in the care services must be improved, and the status of this work raised.
Childcare in Scotland is among the most expensive in Europe, despite the low pay and status given to workers who provide it. Unfortunately childcare is too often seen as a resource to enable women to take up paid employment (even if all the money they earn is spent on the childcare!) rather than as an opportunity for early education which should be the right of every child. The Scottish Government must prioritise action on childcare as both a children’s rights and women’s rights issue
Women who choose not to do paid work must not be stigmatised, and their children should not be denied the provision of early education.
Social Security Benefits & Universalism
While much of the decision-making has been reserved to Westminster, we recognise that the Scottish Parliament already has some limited powers on social security, and will shortly be given a few more. The powers will not be enough for the Scottish Parliament to do more than tinker with and mitigate the effects of the UK Benefits system, but it is an opportunity for them to set a direction of travel for the future.
We are angry at the austerity-driven social security cuts, the need for foodbanks and clothes banks and at deepening poverty. Women are disproportionately affected by social security cuts.
The use of sanctions to penalise some claimants is unfair. Claimants are often penalised for being late, or missing an appointment, and there is evidence that sanctions are imposed in response to targets. Women’s disproportionate responsibility for caring duties must be taken into account, as these responsibilities can often make it difficult for women to meet rigorous requirements.
You can’t leave a sick child at home with nobody looking after them, even if you do have an appointment at the DWP.
We’re also concerned about the rules under which disabled and sick people are being deemed as ‘fit for work’, and we want the Scottish Parliament to be given full powers over all aspects of the Social Security system so that such outrages can be ended.
We want the Scottish Parliament to keep universal bus passes; they are key to preventing the social isolation that contributes to poor health among older people.
Public Authority Regulation
The Scottish Government should ensure that the impact of all budget changes and all legislation is audited, especially in relation to gender impact. For example, in domestic abuse services and services for older people, women are disproportionately both service providers and service users, so cuts to the budgets for these services disproportionately impact upon women.
To meet the legal requirement for equality impact assessments, too many public bodies adopt a tick-box approach, and unequal and unfair impacts of policy and service changes on women are hidden. We would like the Scottish Parliament to improve the quality of its own equality impact assessments and to apply a new standard to a wider range of public body decision-making.
When control of abortion legislation is transferred to the Scottish Parliament, there must be no changes detrimental to women’s current rights as an absolute minimum. We would like to see the Scottish Parliament use this power to take a more progressive approach to abortion legislation and women’s access to high-quality reproductive health care.
While much of the European agenda is outwith the power of the Scottish Parliament, we want to record our opposition to aspects of the trade negotiations being carried out under the auspices of The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
We welcome refugees and believe the Scottish Government must be given the powers to control and manage immigration at the best rate for Scotland.
We want Trident out of Scotland and we regret that the Scottish Government does not have the power to make this happen.