The Monstrous Regiment of Women

Marsha Scott reflects on the transition from a campaign, to a women's mass movement, and offers some pearls of wisdom for the period in between. 


John Knox would not be a happy camper.  In 1558, Scotland’s own Knox anonymously published The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.  Seems that John not only didn’t care for women as Catholics and queens, but he disapproved of women having any power whatsoever: 

To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion . or empire, above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to his revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally  it is a subversion of all equity and justice.

 Clearly John didn’t really have a long game, and the Protestant Elizabeth I was not surprisingly unimpressed with him when she came to power shortly after.  I suspect Nicola, Kezia, and Ruth would make short work of him today.

Women for Independence has been part of a wondrous rising of women in Scotland.  And I for one quite fancy being a member of the monstrous regimen(t). 

We are many.  We are diverse.  We are willing, but we are also busy. And sometimes tired.  The critical question of how we negotiate the transition from a campaign to a women’s mass movement is in front of us, and I have a few thoughts about the in-between.

First, let’s keep in mind that there is no one right way.  A wrong turn is a detour, not a car crash, and we will have learned lots on the way.  We can only see the road directly ahead—after all, we don’t know how to create a mass women’s movement—but we have great instincts, amazing women, and gutsy leaders.  And research does say that mistakes truly do yield the best progress (trust the geek to know that); we must not be too afraid to make them.

Second, we may have some signposts already.  Our recent campaign calling on the government to halt the tendering of a new women’s prison emerged from a proposal made at a local Edinburgh WfI meeting.  Maggie Mellon made a passionate and evidenced case against the government’s plan and suggested that the group start up a petition calling on the Cabinet Secretary to change the government’s mind.   An informal subgroup of interested members then worked with Maggie to get the ball rolling.  These five women set up the petition, engaged with allied organisations, leafletted a conference on women offenders, emailed ministers, MSPs, and Parliament committee chairs, and generally made a lot of noise in the system. 

Those efforts, nurtured by take-up by the national WfI, were picked up by articles in the National, by Lesley Riddoch’s podcast, by Libby Brooks writing in the Guardian, by politicians in numerous parties, and finally by take-up in the mainstream media. Jean Urquhart, a WfI member and independent MSP for Highlands and Islands, very helpfully convened a cross-party group to build consensus and head off a damaging political bun fight. 

On 26 January, the Cabinet Secretary announced that plans for building the £75 million prison had been scrapped.  Independent women changing how politics is done in Scotland.

Third, despite the 450+ years since John Knox’s treatise, many political pundits, current affairs analysts, and journalists still make the mistake of thinking that women with power are at best an anomaly and at worst a “subversion of equity and justice.”  No surprise, our new campaign to get parties to pledge to run sexism-free campaigns has already generated some tweeters worried that some panels may not have enough male politicians.  What a great problem to have. 

Finally, let’s continue to reach out to women across the Yes-No divide who are our sisters on so many issues.  Perhaps we should rejuvenate our coffee-and-chat (alright, mine were wine-and-chat) sessions with undecided or no voting friends and family to hear what they want for Scotland now.  Maybe they too would fancy joining the monstrous regiment?

Find an Event Donate


get updates