Edinburgh WFI Hustings - Not a Suit in Sight

Earlier this week, Edinburgh Women for Indy held an all-women hustings for regional list candidates. Here, WFI National Committee and Edinburgh WFI member Selma Rahman reflects on how EWFI's hustings - done that bit differently - were such a success. 


Let’s do it, let’s do it… a few nights back…

OK, so the fabulous Victoria Wood didn’t say it quite like that, but we did a few nights back, at Edinburgh Women for Indy’s women only hustings in preparation for Scottish Parliamentary elections, in our unofficial HQ, Serenity Café, Edinburgh.

Hustings? Nothing new there you might say. Except we’ve changed the format and, according to feedback, it turned out to be a change for the better.

Since 2013-2014 and the various referendum campaigns, not least the WFI campaign across Scotland, we’ve known that women want to do, see, hear and experience politics differently; we’re tired of the shouty-shouty, argie-bargie that we have been subjected to over the years. And let’s be honest, that was mostly coming from the suited and booted.

So, Edinburgh WFI invited the independence-supporting parties to be represented by their Lothian, female list candidates, with a view to quizzing them on their policies and manifestos, but particularly the question “why you for our second votes?”

Three audacious women joined us: Alison Johnstone, former Green MSP and former Councillor in Edinburgh, standing for re-election, Jil Murphy SNP, and Natalie Reid, RISE.

I think we knew from the start that we were going to hear about politics ‘differently’, since opening speeches kept to time with no prompting (a rare occurrence, I’m sure you’ll agree!).

From then on, the two-hour session saw questions coming thick and fast.

We ranged through 5 main questions, straight from the audience with no prior scripting or sharing whatsoever.

Women were invited to follow through with their own input after panel responses, challenging all three to unpack any throw away soundbites like “we’ll mitigate against the changes brought about by government raising the pension age”. (“So what do you mean by ‘mitigate’ and how will you do this?”)

We didn’t promise an easy ride, and an easy ride it was not! And with asset stripping of pension pots, fat cats getting fatter, and workers continuing to be robbed, it’s no surprise that BHS got a look in.

But two humdingers that really got us going were militarism and financing thereof; where and how such ‘spending’ could and should be used elsewhere.

And the other? A combination of land reform, private renting, empty homes, land banking and the ‘T’ word… Thatcher and council sell-offs.

It was fascinating to note that without direct reference to the recently conducted pan-Scottish WFI Listening Exercise, the audience touched on most of all the other main outcomes: ethical government, transparency, re-structuring local authorities, directing power to and within communities, achieving gender equality throughout socio-economic-political society… well, we only had two hours!

The challenge in the wind up for the three was simple enough …

A composite answer to the last three questions posed by audience members:

  •  - What can you do for me? Especially with a female focus?
  •  - What would be your ‘quick hit success’, again with a female focus, but with minimal expenditure in the new Parliament?
  •  - And ‘why you? As a response to MP, Mhari Black’s comments last week.

And they did sweep those three together, magnificently, with no time keeping required!

It was politics done differently. With respect, with candour, with challenge, with investigation, but without hectoring, without rancour, without ill feeling.

Was there passion? Yes, with two threads of unity and commonality: independence for Scotland, and the continuing ‘progress’ of women; our impact, our influence, now and in the future, from cradle onwards.

How will we vote and for whom? We won’t know till it’s over. But from our very own husting, we’ve re-established that every vote counts and every one of us there will use our two votes as we feel best.

So, thank you Serenity Café, Edinburgh WFI, and all those audacious women who ignored the sleet and snow to join us along with the panel: Alison Johnstone, Green Party, Jil Murphy SNP, and Natalie Reid, RISE.

And my own second vote?

I went in, honoured to be asked to Chair the event, thinking “I know where my vote’s going; got to maintain a neutrality and non-bias”.

And you know what, listening to the three feisty, wonderful women, as the evening progressed, I heard and saw three women who could all easily get my vote. And surely that’s why this matters so much.

We have to be voting with conviction and a nod to the future. But also, with a confidence in the ability of (successful) candidates to stay true to the beliefs and principles they expounded during campaigns.

We’re not looking for, nor do we require, career politicos. If Scotland’s going to do politics differently, we need to trust our appointed representatives will listen and act in the best interest of us all in Scotland, not just those who vote for them.


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