This was the promotional message of Ladies Leaders Lunch, a fundraising event held in Glasgow on Friday. Offered the opportunity to celebrate their British pride in the presence of Theresa May and Ruth Davidson, guests were promised they would be ‘indulging in a little glamour in intimate surroundings’, not to mention the chance to network with other anti-independence industry leaders.
Let’s be clear: the event, while billed as pro-Union rather than party political, was a Conservative fundraiser, with the £150 ticket cost going to the Party itself rather than the Better Together campaign. Of course, we are passionate advocates of the need to improve opportunities for women in politics, and support any project that does this in a way that is inclusive and progressive. But the contrast between Ladies Leaders Lunch and Women For Independence could not be more stark. Instead of making an effort to understand the views and concerns of Scottish women on an issue as complex as independence, as Women For Independence have done with an extensive ‘listening exercise’, Ladies Leaders Lunch was an exclusive fundraiser for a political party masquerading as a project promoting women’s voices in the referendum.
As Natalie McGarry argues here, Britain does not fare well on gender equality, and women are suffering disproportionately under the coalition’s dogmatic and discredited austerity programme. But it’s no surprise that the ‘UK’ appears ‘OK’ to those who can spend their afternoons ‘indulging’ in ‘glamour’ and networking with industry leaders. The organisers even boasted that they offered ‘a jewellery cleaning service to our ladies… during the champagne reception.’ To those who can enjoy such luxuries, the state of the nation must appear considerably different to the bulk of those struggling to make ends meet, to the vulnerable suffering under welfare reforms or the families in fear of the looming bedroom tax.
Ladies Leaders Lunch is reflective of a wider problem in the referendum. On both sides of the debate, but particularly in the No campaign, the voices of privileged elites are heard far louder than those of the majority. The discourse on Scotland’s future is therefore skewed towards the interests of the rich and powerful, from whom we can hardly expect a debate about the radical solutions that we need if we are to meet Scotland’s enormous social and economic challenges – with or without independence.
CBI Scotland, an organisation often assumed to speak for Scottish business and one that is often vocal with its concerns about independence, was found to represent approximately 90 of Scotland’s 296,780 business enterprises in 2011. Even then, their views – which represent business ‘leaders’ only – are given far more consideration by politicians and the press than those of their workers. While Scotland’s Trades Unions can play an important and constructive role in the debate, their membership still doesn’t encompass anywhere near the full spectrum of the Scottish workforce, having declined rapidly under anti-union legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher and retained by every government since (workers are apparently not ‘better together’). The opinions of too many people are excluded entirely. Gerry Hassan has called these the “Missing Million Scots,” arguing that it is the poorest and most disadvantaged areas of Scotland that see the lowest levels of political engagement.
As James Maxwell has pointed out, these Scots tend to be more supportive of independence and more politically radical than their wealthier compatriots, but less likely to turn out to vote. Their estrangement from politics is no doubt linked to the relentlessly preferential treatment given to the most privileged in society by our political and media establishment. With a few notable exceptions, this elite will probably fall in line behind their various friends in the Scottish Conservatives and the Labour Party and come out in favour of a ‘No’ vote in the course of the following year, citing vague concerns about ‘uncertainty’ and the benefits of ‘being part of a bigger entity’ or something equally baseless – the real motivation, though, is best summed up by our own Rob Connell:
A running theme in ‘Yes’ circles is that Independence is not the goal, but rather the fairer, more equitable, more optimistic country and society that we could build. And of course, they are right. That is exactly why the campaign against independence will be (and is) so determined, pervasive, and devoid of standards. The establishment is not concerned that an independent Scotland might fail. They are afraid that it would succeed.
This is why Better Together are so determined to accept massive donations from wealthy supporters outside of Scotland, despite pressure to place limits on external funding similar to the £500 cap pledged by Yes Scotland. Last April, The Herald exposed a pro-Union fundraising campaign being run by the “United & Cecil Club” in Sussex, which put on a ‘lavish dinner’ for rich donors. A table for 10 reportedly cost £1,500. It’s likely that the No campaign will deny all links with independently organised events like these, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from them. Better Together are directing the campaign against independence, and it would be naive to think that they’ll have no influence in deciding how all of this money is spent. They’ll let the Tories do the dirty work of fundraising on the cleanest of country estates.
When the most disadvantaged in our society support independence more than any other group, and the most privileged are holding frantic and extravagant fundraisers to stop it, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that both of those groups largely agree on what we can achieve with the full powers of a sovereign nation. The rest of Scotland sits in the middle, confused by the idea that we’re ‘Better Together’ as the fourth most unequal country in the developed world, but equally wary of independence as long as the case for a progressive Scotland is treated with scepticism and condescension by the media. That media treats our business class with fawning respect. But if they’re right, and the media’s right, and the extortionate wealth and power of Scotland’s own privileged elite will continue unchallenged with independence, why are they so determined to stop it?
While the No campaign gets its jewellery cleaned and gulps down champagne, we’ll continue to promote our vision of an independent Scotland that is radical, imaginative and ambitious. Become a member of National Collective for free using the sign-up box at the top-right of the page, and take part in our latest photo project here to join the creative campaign for independence.
Thanks to @KC_QC for spotting the ‘jewellery cleaning’ post on LLL’s Facebook page.