By Talat Yaqoob
What does it mean to be a feminist and be involved in the independence referendum? Well, much like all avenues when you have had the feminist light switched on, you view it through the lens of social justice for women. It is easy for the independence referendum to become all things to all people, the reality of course being that on the ballot paper there is not a question asking whether you want action for women yes or no? It is asking only the question; should Scotland be independent? But naturally for campaigners across Scotland, we want to know whether a yes or a no can get us closer to our campaign aims and a positive future for Scotland. For me, that positive future comes from remaining part of the United Kingdom – and put simply, for the problem of inequality, the solution is collectivism.
Across the UK; every week 2 women die at the hands of a current or ex partner, every 10 minutes in Scotland a woman reports a domestic abuse incident and there is a painfully low representation of women in our parliaments. These are not Scotland specific issues nor are these issue which exist only in the rest of the UK. These statistics and these cases exist across the United Kingdom and I firmly believe the solution is one that will take campaigning efforts and ambition from across the United Kingdom.
Currently, as a campaigner in Scotland, I have the ability to push for equality for women through a number of devolved measures (and further measures which we have already been guaranteed from across parties, through an extension of devolution). This devolution has been the source of progressive strategies on tackling violence against women, on sex education in schools and most importantly, a commitment to gender analysis of structural inequality. But I am also part of a political union which gives me the ability to push for change not just for 5.5 million in Scotland, but almost 65 million across the United Kingdom. I work with women’s organisations across the UK to tackle sexism, to tackle the pathetic ongoing problem of unequal pay and, whether some like to admit it or not, it has made a difference. The implantation of the minimum wage, was absolutely imperative for women, who are the most likely to be in underpaid roles. Working with women’s organisations across the UK, I have been able to play a role in the challenging of lad mags and the culture they create; the end of Nuts magazine or Loaded magazine removing their front cover objectification of women is a feminist success (although they will tell you it’s all a financial decision or a reflection of their readers’ interests...but of course, it is everything to do with the feminist lobby which created damaging PR for them). That’s change I make and benefit from, as part of the United Kingdom and importantly, change I make as part of a political, economic and social union.
There are two poignant aspects to the referendum for me; firstly a no vote is not an endorsement of the status quo, and let’s not try and convince people that it is. It does not mean that I, or any other no voter, is satisfied or complimentary of current coalition policy – far from it, it is more a reflection of the want to change things within a wider context than that of simply Scotland’s parameters. Secondly, there is a repetitive, rather dull assumption that all women vote for the same reasons and vote the same way. In polling in March it was found that 67% of women were more likely to vote no; these women site a range of intelligent reasons; economic reasons, employment reasons or welfare reasons. Yet cue a somewhat stereotypical push on childcare promises in an independent Scotland, despite this being a completely devolved issue. Whilst I understand the political strategy at play here, it undermines the woman voter and it undermines the needs of women and families in Scotland, right now – this for me, is an unnecessary and cynical addition to this debate. Let’s try harder for women.
Regardless of how the vote goes on the 18th of September, what the referendum has created is a space to talk, widely and publicly, about politics. This must continue beyond the vote, it must be a standard practice, as must be the enthusiasm for the “women’s vote” although I eagerly anticipate it evolving beyond childcare promises.
I’m hopeful of a bright future for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom and my feminist ambition wants a voice in a strong devolved Scottish Parliament and a change making UK Government. For those reason and more, I am voting No.
Talat Yaqoob is a feminist campaigner and blogger. She is currently completing her masters in political science specialising in voter participation. She has previously worked in campaigning roles on mental health, education and international development.
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