WFI National Committee member Sandra Mills (@Sandramills1968 on Twitter) reflects on this weekend's controveries.
Last night I shared a public statement on behalf of the National Committee of Women for Independence, and was promptly told (it took 3 minutes according to FaceBook) that I should not be trying to divide the Independence movement in this way. This is a phenomenon that is appearing all over my social media at the moment, and it’s making me feel very uneasy.
The statement I shared was, of course, related to the claim by the Hope Over Fear Rally on 19 September that “Women For Independence Member Rhona McKenzie will be speaking”. This is a very high profile public event, which is going to be attended by over 5000 people, and is being shared daily on social media. Some of our National Committee members tried unsuccessfully to get Hope Over Fear to explain why they were billing someone who was not a member, and who claimed to speak for us. Hope Over Fear’s response was to block anyone who asked for an explanation, so we decided to issue a statement that clarified for our membership, and anyone else who cared, that this person does not speak for us, and we are categorically not involved with Hope Over Fear.
That’s when things got tense. Suddenly we were the ones who were trying to create divisions. We were being petty. We should just leave Tommy Sheridan, and Hope Over Fear alone, because they have “done a lot for Independence”. Oh dear…where to start with that?
Well, firstly, it bears repeating that Tommy Sheridan is a convicted perjurer who bullied and slandered several women during his high profile court case, including some of our members. Anyone who is in any doubt about the stance WFI is taking about this can read all about it here:
Secondly, we cannot just ignore it when an organisation with a profile like Hope Over Fear uses our name to promote their rally. Rhona McKenzie is quite likely, from what I can see on her Twitter account, an inspiring speaker, and one well worth listening to. But she is not a member, she is not an official representative speaking on our behalf, and the publicity around this should be corrected for the sake of honesty and transparency.
One of our founding principles is that of giving women a voice in politics, and if Rhona wanted to speak on our behalf she is quite entitled to join the organisation. We have an official speaker list – women are free to volunteer for this, it’s not an exclusive list, and I would like to invite Rhona McKenzie to put her name on this after becoming a member. But membership of an organization comes with boundaries and rules. One of our boundaries is that we do not share a platform with Tommy Sheridan, and if Rhona was to become a speaker for us then we would expect her to respect this.
Thirdly, and this should be an obvious statement, but I think its worth making, many of the members within Women For Indy don’t even agree with each other. Well, not all the time. I think I’d be quite safe in claiming that we all pretty much agree on the broad principles that Scotland should be Independent, and that women should have an equal voice within this political discourse. But beyond that we all have different opinions on particular issues, and we welcome this disagreement.
And this brings me to the main reason I am writing this.
Can’t we all just disagree without being told to shut up? If every group within the Independence Movement just agrees with everyone else, then who ends up speaking for us?
Do we allow those with the loudest voice to speak up, and then blindly agree lest the unionists rub their hands with glee? Do we allow a convicted perjurer and a bully to be our voice, and keep quiet about how we feel, in case someone spots a crack in the Independence armour? Do we attend every Independence event, regardless of how we feel about the politics behind it?
No, no and NO!
At the risk of being told I am going on and on and on (an accusation which is pretty fair, actually – I do go on and on and on… and on) we have every right, as an organisation, to distance ourselves from something we are not involved in. Particularly if that “something” is being dishonest about our involvement.
Another poster commented that these discussions would be better held in private, because it creates divisions. Again, no, no, no! Women For Independence is about allowing women to voice their opinion, to discuss their political viewpoint, to comment publicly on what is happening in Scottish Politics. If we only show dissent in private then the only voices left will be those with the deepest tone, the loudest volume and there is a very real danger that a few people who already have a great deal of notoriety will be speaking for all of us without listening to us first. What kind of an independent Scotland will that lead us to?
Unfortunately my attempt to have a reasoned debate led to nothing in this instance – my questions were ignored, and the poster attempted to belittle me. Luckily, I’m Teflon when told to shut it – as you get older there’s some things you need to accept about yourself; I talk too much – hooray for me!
By writing this I hope that other women will be inspired to talk too much. Disagree if you disagree – don’t buy into this myth that we cannot publicly have a disagreement with others within the Yes movement. It’s a dangerous comment that is being amplified by those who are trying to twist the Indy movement to their own purposes.
Say what you think, say it loud (and long, if that’s your thing!), say it over and over again. For every person telling to you shut it, I guarantee there will be several more silently cheering you on!