Dr Lesley Orr gives a perspective on women and the coming Scottish Independence Convention conference in January
WHAT does it take to build a transformative independence movement? Next month, hundreds of people will gather in Glasgow with a common purpose – to begin the new year with energy and imagination, strategic focus and determination.
These qualities will be required in abundance for the challenges which lie ahead, if we are to design Scotland as a radically different place of dwelling for all who live here – and crucially, if we are going to encourage a majority of those people to believe that this is an adventure worth risking.
That demanding task is the cornerstone of the Scottish Independence Convention conference: Build: Policy, Strategy, Movement.
Women for Independence is also Independence for Women, and this feminist movement has opened up spaces of possibility to get out from under the dead weight of tired old politics as usual.
‘Build’ is a good word to characterise the task: the root meaning refers to dwelling and place of abode. So the SIC event is about assembling and creating; about carefully modelling and enhancing our design for an independent Scotland as a shared and hospitable place of dwelling – our home.
So what does it take? And who are the builders? Last month I was in Perth for the AGM of Women for Independence. The theme was inspiring Women. It was a powerful and uplifting day of listening, conversation, prioritising our agenda for change and planning our strategy.
Clear thinking and passionate women from every corner of Scotland demonstrated their capacity for resourceful and effective political engagement. There were lively debates and many perspectives shared in a safe and encouraging space. Women for Independence is also Independence for Women, and this feminist movement has opened up spaces of possibility to get out from under the dead weight of tired old politics as usual, and imagine alternative futures for our nation, our communities, our families and ourselves.
WFI has a clear strategy for indyref 2, putting women’s practical wisdom and the big issues that matter most – food, economics, rights, wellbeing – at the centre; challenging the vicious politics of austerity which have exacerbated the feminisation of poverty. The independence movement needs inspiring women on the building team.
A hundred years ago, as thousands were being slaughtered in the brutal Battle of the Somme, a group of Glasgow women launched a new war resistance movement. The Women’s Peace Crusade galvanised a grassroots women-led public action calling for an immediate negotiated end to the war.
The independence movement needs courageous women to name the realities of violation and exploitation which are so deeply embedded in the gender order of society.
It was led by Helen Crawfurd – a militant feminist and socialist – with her friends Mary Barbour and Agnes Dollan. They had been at the forefront of the successful Rent Strike of 1915, and, in June 1916, they launched an intensive campaign in Glasgow neighbourhoods, using the methods of the rent strike to inform, rouse and rally working class women.
In 1917, the crusade became a national mass movement with rallies, marches and demonstrations in cities and industrial centres across Britain, acting in the face of surveillance, hostility and often violent attacks.
Women rose up, occupied public space, spoke for themselves against the horror and injustice of war, and proclaimed a people’s peace – more than ever relevant in 2016.
Helen Crawfurd was notorious to the political establishment as a dangerous woman. A century later, the independence movement needs dangerous women on the building team.
2016 has also been a year of Scottish women speaking out, as survivors of gender-based violence and abuse. Speaking Out: Recalling Women’s Aid in Scotland is an oral history project marking the 40th anniversary of the feminist movement for social change which broke the silence on domestic abuse, and rocked the status quo with a radical alternative vision of autonomy, liberation and justice for women. And last week, Michelle Thomson spoke for many with her powerful House of Commons testimony as a survivor of rape.
For if an independent Scotland is not equally safe and spacious for women, the building will offer no secure home, and will crumble to dust.
The independence movement needs courageous women to name the realities of violation and exploitation which are so deeply embedded in the gender order of society. For if an independent Scotland is not equally safe and spacious for women, the building will offer no secure home, and will crumble to dust.
The dominant myths of Scotland’s past are narratives of a manmade nation, but the old macho stories need to be given a decent burial in the graveyard of dead metaphors.
The building of a better Scotland needs passionate explorers and big thinkers, shaping different paradigms of human flourishing – and the policies to make those possible.
In order to hear new stories from different vantage points told in surprising voices, we need to be attentive listeners, within and beyond the independence movement. We stand on the shoulders of bold and determined foresisters who believed that the way things are is not the way they have to be.
I really hope that WFI members and other inspiring, dangerous, courageous women (and that’s YOU) accept the invitation and sign up to discuss the future of Scotland on 14 January. Because without you at the table and in the conversation, this movement can’t be the change it wants to see.
Come and be part of politics as if people mattered.
Picture courtesy of Women For Independence
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