Appealing to 'Women' Voters

Feature by Phoebe Benjamin | 21 May 2014
  • Scotland's Independence Debate, 2012

It dawned on me the other day that I don’t really care about Scottish independence as an issue. As someone who was born in England but has lived in Scotland for more than half of my life now, it really should be important to me. Luckily I’ve avoided an existential crisis by pinpointing the problem: it’s a macho debate. Say ‘Yes campaign’ to me, or even ‘Better together’ and I see grey suits and feel really quite sleepy.

A little bit of research into the matter suggests that I’m far from alone in my feelings of alienation as a woman in the Scottish nationhood conversation. As a Ipsos MORI poll found - not only are Scottish women 11 per cent less likely to see themselves voting ‘yes’ to independence in September, they are also much more likely to be undecided in their opinion.

There are other people who’ve noticed this trend. Obviously. Both campaigns have grown a special ‘women’s’ wing and Alex Salmond has recently started talking about childcare. Speakers are beginning to chat about the ‘female independence vote’. That’s right, us women need our own version. Maybe put a cute puppy on the ballot paper. Or maybe it’s time to think again.

The problem is not political apathy on my part. As a childless young woman working in a manual job in a male-dominated industry, many typical ‘women’s issues’, though extremely important, are not my issues. It has never been the lack of specifically female-centric policy that has put me off becoming mentally involved. Like many of my female peers, I am broadly interested in British politics, and yet the idea of this autumn’s vote still leaves me cold. It feels like it’s not for me.

Neither is there an inherent lack of interest in the subject of nationhood on the part of non-males in general. Though historically women have often been left at the margins of independence narratives, they have constituted large and passionate movements. They’ve fought; they’ve marched; they’ve struggled for their rights and those of others because they have had something of substance to struggle for. Our very own suffragettes swapped green and purple for blue and red in order to fight the British cause on the eve of the First World War. It would be completely mad to argue that the nationalist struggle as a concept is, or has to be, purely ‘masculine’ to its core. Reading about national independence debates the world over, from India in 1947 to Catalonia in the present moment, rarely have I felt such personal detachment as a woman as I have from the debate over my very own streets.

The only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that the Scottish independence debate is falling short on a wider level than just that of failing its women. When looking to become independent, or to remain part of the United Kingdom, like any other nation in its position, Scotland is looking to exist as a concept, an idea. But any concept that is failing to ignite the imagination of a group that forms over 50 percent of its constituents is a failing overall. Perhaps this problem should teach both sides of the fence on Scottish independence that, instead of looking further into what women want, they should think harder about what they themselves want. A full debate, in which both sides have a substantive vision, should naturally interest the whole of society in and of itself; a ‘grey suit’ image is not a healthy thing for any of the groups involved, not even for the men wearing them.