Stop the referendum bandwagon, Scotland’s women want to get on

I’ve grown up with the idea that independence is as natural as drawing a breath; that it is the point to which all peoples aspire, and that we should grab our chance of self-determination and run with it. I have always felt that independence offers a boundless sense of opportunity to be the best that we can be with the resources that are available to us.

I grew up in a family of formidable women who were pro-independence, and so never questioned the viability of independence or absence of other women’s voice in the debate, but missing they are. I feel very strongly that only in encouraging and including women in the debate can we shape a truly representative independence which works for us.

I have been outspoken in the past about being against zipping lists, or in any way using positive affirmation in order to gender balance political representation, and I am not going to refute that here.  That would be hypocritical of me, and would be pretence. I still don’t believe in interfering with the mechanics of selection because I truly believe it is sophistry; it masks the problem by the appearance of inclusivity whilst simultaneously ignoring root cause.

The problem with the lack of female voices in politics, and in public life is because women’s participation in politics is lower, and this is what we need to address, not hide. We need to be open and honest, and right across the whole of the political spectrum take ownership of the problem instead of the usual lip-service and obfuscation.

Never has this absence of women’s voices been more apparent or important than in the early stages of the independence referendum debate. This is the most potentially transformative political decision we will be asked to take in our lives, and also the most eagerly anticipated for some of us.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t working towards this point, praying that one day we would have the guts to put it to a test. Here it is, we have that opportunity, and I for one want my voice counted, and I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. But that isn’t enough; I want other women to have the confidence, the opportunity, and the space to shout out their voices too.

That is why Women For Independence came about. All across the political spectrum women were waiting, watching to see what was happening, and when we didn’t see women’s voices shaping the debate we wanted to hear we decided that we needed to intervene. We wanted to give women the opportunity to raise their voices, to speak their concerns, to get answers they wanted, and to get involved; creating a space for women which is for women and by women. It is easy to see the poverty of economics, but it is sometimes harder to see the poverty of representation although these are by no means exclusive of each other.  Levels of poverty of economics are substantially higher for women than men.

Over the last few months a behind the scenes grassroots group was forming, a participative group taking cognisance of the talents of the women who joined, and continue to join. That group is Women For Independence. A group designed with women in mind by other women from right across the political spectrum, across all walks of life, age ranges and geography. Now we are ready to invite more women to join us. We want to empower women to go out in to their own local communities and get Listening – Listening for Independence. We want to be a participative group, and an active group.

It has been a privilege over the last few months to meet other women who I would not have had the pleasure to meet under any other circumstance – except on twitter. It is inspirational to me that party loyalties and other prejudices can be set aside because we are united in the solid belief that if we want to win the independence referendum and have an independence reflective of society, then we need to motivate women voters. We need to listen to, answer, engage with and campaign with other women. I truly believe this could be the most worthwhile thing I am involved in in the run up to the referendum

Let me state here that I don’t believe independence will cure all the ills in society or that once it is achieved we can all sit back and enjoy it. Independence is the gateway only; a first step along a rocky pathway to a more representative society which embraces and works for everyone in it. Independence gives us the chance to create a society and constitution which reflects the values we have as a nation; to protect the vulnerable; to support people in times of need; to help the sick; to provide justice and equality for all and to give people the opportunity to achieve; through world class education, training and funding. We need to make an independence which works for women today.  Let us throw off the shackles of history and start our new country unencumbered by the weight of discrimination and inequality.

Independence is what we make of it and that is the most important part; it is what we make of it.  Who better to understand the needs and problems in our society, to explore the solutions, than us?

Of course people have questions about whether we can afford it or what the country will look like and other issues and concerns important to them that we have to address. And address them we will. But let us do this on all sides of the debate and move forward without the shadow of fear, without the scourge of misinformation and rhetoric, listening to everyone’s voices and giving the debate what we demand of it: honesty. Let us have a positive case for independence v a positive case for the union, present them in a spirit of respect and let us let the people like us decide.

I know which way I will be voting.

If you want to join us we would love to have you on board.

Natalie McGarry
Women for Independence, Independence for Women
womenforindependence.org

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About Natalie McGarry

Natalie studied Law and International Government Diplomacy at university. She currently works in the public sector in Glasgow and is an active member of Women For Independence. She like whisky, but then, who normal doesn't?

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