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Constitutions work wrap-up

The referendum and subsequent invigorating deadlines set down by the Smith Commission have been keeping us policy types busy these past few months.

Tomorrow we will be publishing our submission to the Smith Commission on further devolution and, although we will continue to engage with latter stages of the process, this will draw a close to our Scotland’s Futures advocacy and engagement work. Here, then, is a quick look at what the final stages of the project have entailed and how this links to future plans.

Alongside the welfare reform agenda, constitutional change has been Engender’s main advocacy focus over the last two years. Vitally, this has entailed drawing on the perspectives, creativity and expertise of many stakeholders across our membership, the women’s sector, feminist academia, trades unions, public and third sector organisations, and so on. Broad engagement, with others’ work as well as our own, has helped to shape our thinking, policy positions and written materials on the referendum debate immeasurably.

Over the course of the project, this engagement has included consultation on draft policy documents, surveys, jointly-run seminars, the Feminists talk Scotland’s future speaker series, our last two annual conferences and ‘get out the vote’ sessions at community level.

In the build-up to the big day itself, we chose to run a number of world café style discussion events, rather than traditional hustings. The idea was to sidestep familiar exchanges between politicians trotting out rehearsed lines and instead hand the baton to voters. To this end, participants drove the agenda, over informal conversation and cups of tea with activists from both campaigns. It was a pleasure to see the theory in practice – there was real buzz in the room as women and men added their voices, brought their diverse perspectives to the table and were heard by representatives from each campaign. And it wasn’t mainly about oil and the pound.

The third of these cafés had a dual function. As well as discussion on the relative feminist merits of Yes or No Thanks, we held a strategy session on the post-vote policy landscape. At tables hosted by Close the Gap, Electoral Reform Society Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, campaigners and participants discussed what our immediate priorities should be as the women’s movement under either outcome. One key recommendation, from the ‘politics and power’ group, was development of a women’s charter or manifesto that our parliamentarians can endorse. This chimes squarely with our plans to build on Gender equality and Scotland’s constitutional futures, our mapping of current policy contexts across division of power and responsibility, with a set of concrete calls for change. Watch this space to find out how you can be involved with this and other proposals.

Regardless of their voting intentions, everyone was resolute that we would work together after 19 September, to sustain momentum and the comparatively high profile of women’s equality issues in the Scottish political discourse at present. Notes covering this discussion, more detail on the process and recurring themes from the other cafés can be found here.

We will be launching this next phase of our policy and advocacy work at our AGM on 20 November. As the shadow of the Westminster election looms large, with Holyrood 2016 hot on the heels, our main concern is how to translate the positives of the referendum debate into real change for women in Scotland.

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