Scottish Independence – a feminist response by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison.
Available from Word Power.
Our feminist case for independence faces this contradiction. Working class women are overlooked politics as we know it. It is no surprise that they have been overlooked by the official Yes campaign and liberal feminists. This is not a story of blame, but to recognise that women from working class background will continue to be overlooked, unless we vote Yes. Independence is no panacea, but it provides us with the only opportunity to connect back the power of women’s struggle as a collective struggle in opposition to the current neoliberal settlement. This involves exposing the limits of the current Scottish system for women and thinking about how to transform our society To seek equality for women under the current neoliberal order means seeking out equality that relies on other women’s inequality be that through race, class, sexuality and so on. And thus, we must have a binary approach to putting what might be deemed “women’s issues” on the table. We want more women in power: but to accompany this we absolutely must have the ability to organise women at a grassroots level, in opposition to neoliberalism. If we cannot, we face replicating and reproducing the same inequalities over and over again. [p.87]
I will repeat the last part of that last sentence: ‘we face replicating and reproducing the same inequalities over and over again.’ The replication and reproduction of inequality is also the replication and reproduction of power. In the bad old days, power lay in the hands of a few ultra- wealthy men who formed a political elite drawn from a tiny fragment of society and who managed the economy for their own ends. Through struggles which continued from the 19th century into the 20th, a more equal society began to emerge. Then about forty years ago, the movement towards greater equality stalled. Over the past thirty years it has gone into reverse.
As Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison explain, the gains women had made are now being lost., for example through privatisation. While the neoliberal restoration of economic inequality has affected men as well, the painfully slow progress towards social equality means that women are still mainly responsible for the domestic economy and still have the main caring role in families. And although there is now greater awareness of violence against women, it has not gone away.
Despite, or rather because it recognises and identifies the challenges we all face if we are to make another Scotland possible for women as well as men, this is a powerful and inspiring book. It is only 88 pages long and is a ‘must read’ for everyone campaigning for a Yes vote.
It is a political book, but one which evoked a strong personal reaction as I was reading it. What David Harvey calls the neoliberal counter-revolution took a step forward with the election of a Conservative government in 1979 and was consolidated with its re-election in 1983. This followed a revival of militaristic British nationalism during the 1982 Falklands War. This period also saw an intensification of the Cold War, symbolised by the UK’s agreement to host nuclear armed Cruise missiles at Greenham Common and Molesworth airbases.
Reading chapters 3 ‘War and Women’ and 4 ‘ States of Violence’ in Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison’s book strongly reminded me of this dark period. While this era saw a revival of CND, the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp set up in 1981 was part of a wider movement by women who drew on feminism to connect opposition to war with resistance to violence against women. In 1984-5 there was a further cross-over between Women Against Pit Closures and the Greenham Common women.
In May 1984, 5,000 women from pit villages across the country attended a rally in Barnsley, and a few months later 23,000 miners’ wives marched through London. Women from the coalfields were arrested on picket lines, addressed rallies across the UK and Europe, and chained themselves to colliery gates. A partnership between miners’ wives and the feminist anti-nuclear camp at Greenham Common raised money and consciousness. [Guardian 7 April 2014 ]
Along with many young women at the time, the anti-authority ethic of punk and its partial acceptance of feminism encouraged Pinki (my partner for 11 years) to become politically active. In 1981 she joined the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp and her political activism continued until her death in 1996.
In 1983, a group of young (17-21 year old) women I knew produced their own magazine, which reflects the punk-feminist spirit of the time. Earlier this year I scanned it plus an article from Vague fanzine about Greenham and posted it on my blog.
Thinking back to then reminds me of the sentence I quoted from Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison’s book – that ‘we face replicating and reproducing the same inequalities over and over again.’ This cycle- the production and reproduction of elite power – must be broken. But how?
To break the cycle and awaken from the nightmare that is history we have to understand how it works. This is where our collective experiences of the Yes and No Scottish independence campaigns must be critically assessed and analysed even while the outcome remains uncertain. For example, is the grassroots aspect of the Yes campaign able to overcome the No campaign’s complete control of the mass media? This is important because many Yes campaigners have been shocked to discover just how vigorously newspapers, radio and television have supported the status quo.
If this discovery becomes a permanent ‘raising of consciousness’, it will limit the effectiveness of the mass-media as a mechanism for the reproduction of power and inequality. This should help in future struggles to achieve a more radical Scotland. If there is a Yes vote, this will have an impact beyond Scotland. For the past 35 years, the dominant narrative of power has been ‘there is no alternative’. For radical campaigners and millions of disaffected people in the rest of the UK, a Yes vote will show that there are alternatives and that other futures are possible. It will throw a spanner in the works of the reproduction of power and inequality.
Finally, it is vital that the Radical Independence Campaign embraces the message of this little green book. We must place its insights and values at the heart, the foundations, of the new world we aspire to. Without ‘equal respect to women’s time, labour, bodies and access to power’ [p.92] the cycle of inequality will continue to be replicated and reproduced. Over and over again…