Looking back to look forward

From long-time WfI member Kathleen Caskie. We asked her to write a piece that looked back to look forward—Enjoy!

That’s another Scottish General Election done and dusted, then. It’s definitely a cause for celebration that the new Parliament will contain far more women than the old one, along with more racially diverse and disabled parliamentarians. The election of a Parliament that is 45% women is a significant milestone and reflects the work of a multitude of women (a monstrous regiment, one might even say) ever since the vote for devolution was passed more than 20 years ago.

But, looking carefully at the numbers, it’s clear that support for the Union v support for Independence is close to evenly split (not quite 56% of MSPs are Green or SNP). Us independence supporters must realistically observe that, while we’re ahead of where we were in 2014, we still have work to do to persuade more people in Scotland of independence.

Women for Independence – Independence for Women (WFI) will be 10 years old next year. We came together well in advance of the first Scottish independence referendum, and we plan to still be here campaigning in the next one.

The key goals of WFI have remained unchanged; to support Scottish independence, to give women of all political parties and none a voice in that debate and to do politics differently.

The idea of ‘doing politics differently’ sounds like a cliché now, and a Google search for the term shows it being widely used by campaign groups, academics and even professional politicians themselves. But on the ground, nothing seems to have changed. While independence was not the only issue at stake in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, it was a key one, and, just as they did at the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 elections, politicians continued to shout each other down, promise voters the earth, and attack each other in leaflets and broadcasts. Constitutional change is a binary issue; you either agree with my side or you’re wrong. Doing politics differently seems like an idea everyone supports, but nobody is trying to do.

So it’s worth revisiting what WFI does and why. From our start, we’ve eschewed partisanship. It was a point of great pride to WFI that in the 2016 Scottish election we had members standing for no fewer than five different parties. Our focus was on women regardless of their voting choices. While other campaign groups and political parties boast of their mass events with high octane speakers, maximum razzamatazz, wi’ a hundred pipers an a’ an a’, WFI prides itself on sitting with women where they are, in kitchens and cafes, staffrooms or friendship groups, listening to their concerns about Scottish politics and trying to persuade them that independence is the answer.

We don’t measure success by the numbers of bums on seats at a political rally or boots on the ground in a mass march, but by the volume of women speaking out, the women finding their voices for the first time.

So much has happened in the political world that 2014 feels like a lifetime ago (which is definitely longer than a generation), and, while opinion polls suggest that more women than ever now support independence, that vote is fragile and not likely to be sustained if the second independence referendum repeats the mistakes of the last one, with self-appointed white male leaders shouting in church halls filled with those already voting Yes. This time round, the voices and faces of the campaign must reflect the Scotland we live in and the Scotland we aspire to be, not the tired old voices of the past.

No matter how cunning people think they can be with their list vote, we cannot fool the Scottish people into independence. We have to build their support for it, brick by brick. And we’re not there yet. Independence will be won when it is the settled will of the Scottish people, of all political parties and none. Why are independence supporters devoting their energy to playing with Holyrood arithmetic instead of doing the work of building support from the ground up?

Over the past nearly ten years, WFI has celebrated the success of our many members who have gone on to conventional political careers, some at a senior level. To see our sisters succeed in that arena has been a source of much joy, and we’ve never underestimated the courage it takes to be a woman in public life. Now more than ever, however, we know the critical task is to keep the WFI spirit alive, sitting with other women where they are, listening to their concerns, and talking to them about how independence might be the solution. We listen first, talk about what matters to women, and do politics differently. (And all our politics start with a small “p”.)

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