She’s the woman who worries whether the kids can get new shoes this month, or next. Whether she can afford the petrol to work, because public transport is even dearer. She’s the lone parent who wants the best for her kids’ future; she’s the young Mum who spends all of her wages on childcare just to cling on to her job; she’s the Granny who won’t put the heating on for fear of the bills.
These women aren’t inherently fearful, the weaker sex, more timid, more indecisive. Rather, these are the women who have felt the full brunt of Westminster economics. Women have been hammered by the recession. We make up 70 per cent of the Scottish public sector workforce, we provide the majority of unpaid care for children and older adults, and we suffer most when public services are cut. We’ve got a lot to gain from independence, but talk to women around you, and the questions come up again and again. Can we really afford it? Will we be worse off? What about jobs? What about pensions? What about childcare, and care for the elderly, and the NHS?
The answers are clear: yes we can. We’re an incredibly wealthy country, and we already pay more than our share to Westminster. In an independent Scotland we’ll be able to set our own priorities – on education, not Trident; on protecting the NHS, on looking after our elderly. Voting No because you’re afraid of change is a false security. Our pensions aren’t safe with the union – as a teacher, I’ve already seen my retirement age creep up by nearly a decade since I started teaching. The Tories are already eyeing up the Barnet Formula and the block grant – the funding mechanisms which decide how much of (our!) money we can get back from Westminster to pay for the NHS in Scotland and other vital public services. They’re already salivating at the thought of further cuts in the event of a No vote – and if you don’t believe me, have a listen to NHS consultant surgeon Philippa Whitford, who certainly knows what she’s talking about: http://tinyurl.com/lgnonsr
But there are a second group of women who are worried, and who are voting No. They’re a much more select bunch – some might say elite – so I’ll tell you some of their names.
At a Yes Scotland village meeting in Straiton, a picturesque village nestling on the edge of Galloway Forest Park, I thought I was seeing things. A man in the front row was wearing plus fours and a tweed jacket – my neighbour assured me he was real, and he turned out to be with a lady who is very worried about the union – Lady Amanda Fergusson of Kilkerran.
Lady Fergusson is so worried about the union that she turned out to speak for the No side at several meetings in rural South Ayrshire. In her 80s, unlike many of her generation, she’s not worried about fuel poverty or the state pension, but the break-up of the British state and the implications of this for the ruling elite. And she’s not the only one – other luminaries turning out for No include Margaret Curran MP, Labour MP for Glasgow’s East End, and quite happy to keep her nose in the Westminster trough while ‘representing’ some of the most impoverished communities in Western Europe.
And of course, there’s the millionaire J K Rowling… And all of these women have one thing in common – they’ve done very well for themselves under the union, and they’d like it to continue. In an independent Scotland, while we’ll still have wizards and muggles, we’ll be well rid of the corruption and cronyism of Westminster. And as for the landed gentry – well, independence might finally be our chance to drag Scotland into the 21st century, and to bring much needed land reform – something that’s not going to be forthcoming under the current British state.
Independence brings us control of all the day to day issues too, and it’s our chance to create a different type of society. One which doesn’t have a huge and growing gap between rich and poor. One in which we don’t work some of the longest hours in Western Europe for the lowest wages; pay some of the highest childcare costs and have some of the worst health outcomes. Women in Scotland need independence not just for us, but for a better future for our children and grandchildren. We can do it, and we need to do it.