Women for Independence, Independence for Women

Women for Independence goes public with its website this week and will formally launch in September. “The group’s ultimate aim is to increase the number of Yes votes amongst women in the referendum”: autonomous and not affiliated to Yes Scotland, to correct the earlier opening to this blogpost. Yes Scotland are launching a campaign on Scottish independence targeted at women: Women for Independence. The most recent YouGov poll, conducted by the Fabian society, discovered that there is a massive gender split on independence: 39% of men, 22% of women.

The traditional Scottish male way of dealing with such dissension, as we see with Ian Davidson, is to berate the women, inform us we’re wrong, and instruct us how we should change our minds. According to a founding member of the campaign, Isobel Lindsay, the plan is

“Although most of ’s supporters are not involved in party politics, all of us in this new group believe in independence for Scotland. But we also know that women are less likely to vote yes than men in 2014. We want to change that but, first of all, we want to find out what some of the issues are so we can work with women to provide the information they want and, hopefully, persuade them that voting yes makes best sense for them and their communities’ futures.”

Carolyn Leckie says:

“I love that this group is as wide as its name and that we have very diverse reasons for supporting independence, but we all agree that independence needs to be better than the status quo for women. So this group will listen to women and bring women together to organise for our own voices to be heard centre stage, for our own independence as well as that of the nation.”


This is the SNP’s proposed constitution for an independent Scotland – discovered via Better Nation.

The Scottish Women’s Convention did some very thorough work (crowdsourced from meetings with women across Scotland) prior to the local authority elections on what the key issues are for women. They published these findings in Manifesto for Women. Key issues include:

Childcare.

  • Wraparound childcare in every area.
  • Women are unable to access education and employment due to restricted childcare provision. Childcare needs to be available which meets individual requirements.

  • Affordable childcare in every area.
  • Local authority nursery provision is limited and private nursery care is often expensive.

  • Accessible childcare in every area.
  • Rural Scotland accounts for 94% of the country’s land mass. Women often have to travel long distances to access childcare.

You might argue “What does childcare have to do with independence?”

Scotland is financially able to be an independent country. No one seriously denies that.

The question is: What kind of independent country will it be? Will it be a country where the wealth flows to businesses and to wealth? The kind of country where Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Brian Souter, will be happy to build businesses, confident that they will profit and we won’t?

From the SNP’s proposed constitution:

Arcticle IV.18 All forms of monopoly or of restrictive trade practice shall be unlawful except in so far as they are expressly permitted by or under laws in force at the time at which this Constitution comes into force, or subsequently enacted by the Parliament of Scotland.

(For example; a situation such as News Corporation owning BSkyB, won’t be allowed unless the Scottish Parliment decides it will be allowed. By the way: the SNP’s proposed Constitution includes no provision for freedom of information.)

The wealth is there. How will the Constitution support its being used?

From the SNP’s proposed constitution
:

Article II.7 No Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland for the levying of any form of general taxation payable in Scotland may remain in force for a period longer than eighteen months after the date upon which such Act came into force.

So, every year and a half, the Scottish Government will have to fight the tax fight again. Every year and a half, anyone with money and influence will have an opportunity to assure they get taxed less.

Housing.

  • More investment in affordable housing.
  • A shortage of local social housing increases rents in the private sector.

  • More investment in current housing stock.
  • Local authority housing is in substandard condition in many Local Authority areas. Limited availability of accommodation for the elderly and disabled.

  • Simplification of Housing and Council Tax Benefits application processes.
  • Current systems are not user-friendly and many women require assistance when completing applications.

From the proposed SNP Constitution:

Article IV.20 Everyone has a right to housing; Parliament shall be responsible for ensuring by legislation that no person is involuntarily deprived of adequate shelter and living accommodation.

James MacKenzie at Better Nation:

This isn’t some dry set of issues for constitutional academics. The answers to those questions, plus the text of a final constitution itself, would determine how decisions are made in an independent Scotland, potentially in broad terms for generations to come. Although what decisions are made is the policy arena, not the constitutional one, the two interact powerfully as well. A constitution that enshrines tough rules on access to government information will tend to make decisions on the assumption they will be properly scrutinised, for example, while one that retains the hereditary principle will tend to protect vested interests.

Debt and benefit advice.

  • Continued funding for Citizens Advice Bureaux.
  • Support for the impact of UK Coalition Government Welfare Reform.

Education and learning.

  • Funding and resources
  • Encourage young women to study ‘nontraditional’ subjects.
  • Careers in non-traditional roles eg trades, science, engineering are often not considered due to lack of information and support.

  • Protect and maintain rural schools.
  • Affordable, accessible childcare provision

The need for affordable, accessible childcare keeps coming up as a basis by which women will be able to access services.

As everyone knows – it’s part of the Scottish mythos – the first publicly-funded secular education system was started in Scotland, with Acts that taxed local landowners to pay for a schoolmaster for each locality, at a time when in England and Wales, children of farmhands and factory workers were as likely as not to grow up illiterate.

From the proposed SNP Constitution:

Article VI.22 Everyone has the right to education for the optimal development of their abilities and potentialities within an acceptable level of overall cost and subject to prevailing conditions of educational practice; Parliament shall be responsible for securing by legislation that educational services are properly maintained at nursery, primary, secondary and postschool levels and are available on fair terms to all persons.

Health and social care.

  • Equal access to maternity care provision in urban and rural areas.
  • Increased Mental Health service provision.
  • In some areas, provision is being withdrawn during a time of need. Due to increased social, economic and cultural pressures, many women are being referred to these vital community services.

  • More health and social care support for BME communities.
  • Daycare services, services for young people
  • Service provision should take into account the diversity of Scotland’s population.
    “The Council has to deal with ever deepening funding cuts and it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society who are paying.”

The NHS, while possible within the SNP’s Scottish Constitution, isn’t guaranteed by it:

Article IV.21: Everyone has the right to the provision of reasonable health care to secure wellbeing and human dignity within an acceptable level of overall cost and subject to prevailing conditions of medical practice; Parliament shall be responsible for securing by legislation that health services are properly maintained and are available on fair terms to all persons.

A “Yes Scotland” campaign can of course (and with reason) point at the attacks on these services by the coalition government at Westminster. But what can they show to prove an independent Scotland will be better than the UK as a whole in providing these services?

There would appear (unless I am simply mis-reading it!) to be an attempt to prevent Scots from appealling to the European Court of Human Rights:

Article V. 1 The Supreme Courts in Scotland shall be the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary as constituted by law, and with the jurisdiction pertaining respectively thereto, at the time at which this constitution comes into force. There shall be no appeal to any other Tribunal from decisions of either Court on any matter which falls within its jurisdiction. All appeals to or within either Court on such matters shall be determined in accordance with the law in force at the time at which this constitution comes into force, which may for the future be amended according to the ordinary process of legislation.

There is no block against a judge also holding political office: and SNP’s proposed Constitution moves Scotland away from political model in which the First Minister is appointed by the Scottish Parliament to the Westminster model where the Prime Minister of Scotland would hold the powers of the Crown. From Eliot Bulmer’s analysis of the SNP Constitution:

This might seem like an arcane distinction, but it permits a more rational understanding of the executive power, in which the executive power is separated from the Head of State in law as well as in practice; as a consequence, the Head of State is permitted, in certain instances, to act on the binding advice of other actors (such as the Presiding Officer) in ways which can limit executive domination.

Violence Against Women.

  • Ensure appropriate levels of funding for women’s support services i.e. Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis.
  • These services provide vital support and encouragement ensuring the safety of women and their children.
    “These are vital places of safety and women are having to jump through hoops to access them.”

  • Ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to VAW services.
  • The removal / reduction of service workers, particularly in rural areas, results in women being unable to access support.

  • Raise issues of VAW throughout the community.
  • Community centres, libraries, doctors surgeries etc must continue to provide information on local / national services and
    support available to vulnerable women.

  • Community Regeneration
  • (e.g. better street lighting, roads, walkways etc).

This, from the SNP’s constitution, sounds like the SNP plan to ensure that local authorities can be prevented from raising the money they need to improve local services – by council tax freezes, for example:

Article IV.2 Parliament will have the power to legislate generally for local government, and in particular to legislate concerning the composition, areas of authority, and financial and taxing powers of local authorities, but the exercise by a local authority of any power conferred on it by law shall not be subject to direct or indirect interference or overriding by any decision of the central government.

Leisure and Culture.

  • More clubs and activities focussed on young people.
  • Continue funding for Sports and Leisure Centres.
  • Ensure appropriate infrastructure to access leisure and culture facilities.
  • A lack of accessible, affordable transport, particularly in rural areas, results in many women unable to use the facilities being offered.

We need an affirmation that this is important.

The disconnect between the idea of Scotland in the SNP’s proposed Constitution and the expressed needs of women in Scotland is huge. It’s not just the difference between constitutional law and public policy.

We could have a Constitution for Scotland, sourced from the Scottish people, making a public statement of who and what we are. If you’re interested, like it on Facebook. This is about more than independence. We had a Scottish Constitutional Convention to decide the model for devolution, before we ever had devolution. We can have a Scottish Constitutional Convention for the 21st century before the referendum in 2014, and its conclusions will matter no matter how people vote in 2014.

The cost of childcare, the lack of provision and support for modern families, is one of the key problems for women in employment, education, and access to other services. Dig into the lack of support for needs like childcare and you come to a nest of rooted assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in work, in education, in politics.

But the key problem for involving the “Yes Scotland” campaign is a reluctance to allow discussion of a constitution to go ahead without tying it to independence. As the problem for this Women for Independence group may be that they cannot fight wholeheartedly for feminist causes if they are doing so only as a selling point for independence (update – or with the idea that they can convince women to vote for independence first, have equality women second). If the SNP want to fight for women’s rights, the starting point is now. Crowdsource the Constitution.

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1 Comment

Filed under Housing, Public Transport, Scottish Constitution, Tax Avoidance, Women

One response to “Women for Independence, Independence for Women

  1. I’d be tempted to interpret some of these provisions a little more generously. For example, Arcticle IV.18 creates an assumption that trade will be free, with an explicit derogation required when it is not to be so; this is equivalent to having to opt out for organ donation and will make it easier to end restrictive commercial practices. I believe that the Westminster Government has introduced or is about to introduce a similar general assumption with regard to tax avoidance, i.e. if a legal loophole is clearly being exploited simply to avoid paying tax, it will be regarded as tax evasion. Article II.7 seems to me to refer to passing a budget every year, something that is already invariably the case. Of course, tax sunset clauses can be a problem in the US, where legislative gridlock is part of the system, but I don’t think it’s generally a problem in Europe, and every, or nearly every, state in the world has annual budgets, with attendant opportunities for lobbying from all sides. We would all get rather annoyed if tax thresholds, pensions, social security benefits, etc. were not upgraded annually in line with inflation. Article V. 1 I would interpret as referring to the primacy of a Supreme Court of Scotland in lieu of the current British Supreme Court. The former would still be able, and indeed, required to apply European human rights law, and would still be able to refer cases to relevant the European court. There is general consensus that people receive justice quicker if European law is applied nationally, except where the legal interpretation is not clear-cut, in which case a case is referred up. I’m not a lawyer, and I may be wrong about all of this. It would be interesting to hear a lawyer’s interpretation.

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