Feminism in the Scottish post-referendum movement – #the45plus feminists rising

Village Aunties were awful quiet on this blog for the last part of the Yes campaign. We, and other feminist and social justice fellow travellers, were mostly busy doing other stuff: leafleting; hosting stalls; canvassing; registering voters; going on marches and rallies; writing in other channels; helping with other #indyref groups like Women for Indy, Scottish Asians for Yes, etc.; discussing indy with relatives, co-workers, neighbours and friends; etc. etc.

In the wider movement, no real feminist challenge to the various campaign activities took hold. None of the pro-indy leaders and coordinators thought the issues important to intersectional feminism, beyond “reaching women so they vote Yes”, were important to Yes. “Wait until after the revolution”: the standard cry of patriarchal movements going back forever, was implicit.

This is a shame, and it is something we need to remedy now, as the Yes campaign morphs into a movement to achieve, come hell or high water, the things we wanted independence to give Scotland. It is early days and we, all 1.6 million (and growing) of us, are still reeling and weeping and raging and basically working through our grief as we evolve into something new and powerful. We are becoming excited again about the potential for a new Scotland.

But from Village Aunties’ point-of-view, let’s be clear about a few things first:

  • We and other feminists tried to alert folk, and keep reminding them, about how darlings of the Yes movement like Wings over Scotland were, and are, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, and otherwise arseholes who make the movement unsafe for women, queers, ethnic minorities and others to fully join in on campaigning and activism (see here, here and here). Beyond a small group of committed people, we were largely ignored.
  • Feminists tried to get involved in the early formation of groups like RIC and the National Collective, mainly with a view to ensuring that safer spaces policies were implemented, and that known abusers of women, etc. were no-platformed (for an example of a No Platform Policy see here). Again, we were largely ignored (counter-examples are welcome in the comments).
  • Women for Independence, whilst not explicitly feminist, plus other individuals, worked hard to ensure broader representation on public forums such as TV and radio debates. This largely ended up being a few white women joining the mostly white men on the stage or in the studio, but still there was a bit of queerness and age diversity about, so it was moderately successful although still often frustrating.
  • Apparently, notorious destroyer of (a previous incarnation of) the Scottish left, Tommy Sheridan, did quite a few public meetings that brought out a constituency who admire him and don’t really know (or care about) the reasons why some of us think he should not be let near organising anything ever again. Elsewhere, he was essentially no-platformed: by the SNP, the mainstream Yes campaign and RIC (with a few exceptions where he slipped through the net).
  • As always, the rape apologist cult Socialist Workers Party tried to piggy back on the incredibly energised people’s movement of Yes by showing up with stalls and papers at every bloody rally and demo, and they were aggressive and threatening towards young feminists who tried to no-platform them around the rape scandal that erupted during the referendum campaign period (see previous link, and Google it for more).

Well now. Here we are. We were kind of waiting until after the revolution – see Jenny and Cat’s short sharp feminist book for a good summary of why independence was to be just the first step of a feminist overhaul of Scotland. A lot of us were rubbing our hands, preparing to return to vigorous feminist action as the new independent Scotland was formalised. Instead, we are now (still) part of a wider movement in danger of ignoring our concerns. This is a huge problem; we can still see an independent, or at least hugely devolved Scotland on a horizon somewhere out there (different folk have different ideas as to when). But we can also see folk (mainly men, but some pretty scurrilous women too) in the movement jostling for position so they can have some power and influence after.

The folk we let lead us now will help form and lead the new Scotland. We can no longer wait until after the revolution.

Case in point: somehow Tommy Sheridan is slithering his slimy way back into the public consciousness of the new #the45 campaign. People are RT’ing him, reporting on him, giving him a voice. The SNP must have been squirming when he told folk to join their party. At least, I bloody hope they were.

Enough already. I am distraught with what happened last week. It’s no longer sufficient for me to unfollow, unfriend and block people on social media who put Sheridan and Wings into my personal timelines. This is starting to scare me. I didn’t fight for a patriarchal Scotland where misogynists and their female fellow travellers stomp on those who resist oppression.

What next? We are, Village Aunties hope, moving towards a Scotland led by a feminist woman for the first time!

A few other positives: A Thousand Flowers has given us more than we could have hoped for during the campaign period: young, working class, socialist, queer, feminist, anti-racist, anti-ableist writers with pungent Glaswegian wit. You can tell how important they’ve been to documenting Scotland during this period by the number of times I’ve linked to their articles above. See also the afore-mentioned book by Jenny Morrison and Cat Boyd. The Glasgow Feminist Collective took steps toward installing an intersectional, trans* inclusive, sex worker inclusive feminism in Scotland. There are many other examples of grassroots activism and creativity out there to build on. And Nicola Sturgeon, Lesley Riddoch, Jean Urquhart, Jeane Freeman, the late, great Margo MacDonald, are examples of women who have rocked our world in the public eye, up against the might of the British state and media – we are not short of role models.

But, apart from acknowledging that there are good people doing good things in Scotland, I don’t know where to next, because I don’t know who has energy to move forward on this. Everyone I know is exhausted, burnt out. Many of us are happy about the emergent new movement but do we have the energy to start bringing feminist energy and solidarity together now? Before it’s too late?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jenny Morrison
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 11:25:40

    I’m so happy you have written this! I’ve been lurking around hoping there’d be comments but I’ll take the plunge and hope that it’s not a lack of interest
    My immediate thoughts are here, they might be blunt and badly thought -through but are intended in a supportive way as I think what is suggested needs to happen-we’re already two years behind.
    My first feeling is that I strongly think we should build an explicitly left wing movement. Left conceived broadly and trying to win people in of course but not just a broad feminist coalition for a few reasons.
    1. There’s already a tonne of broad feminist groups out there
    2. although we’ll never get everyone agreeing on everything there does have to be a certain degree of agreement if anything is to be achieved, particularly practical activism. I know this is controversial as there is a cult following of Nicola Sturgeon…but we should be in opposition to her. As probably new head of the neoliberal SNP she will be bringing in major attacks on women over the next few years. I want a feminism that protests that, supports strikes etc not sits finding excuses for it. Similarly I don’t think Jeane Freeman stands remotely for the interests of the majority of women.
    3. As an extension, athough I think it is logical and the majority of members would be pro-indy, I don’t think that should be the main focus of the group. Ie it shouldn’t be feminists for indy precisely. I’m not one of the 45% although I campaigned and voted for indy-I stand against right wing supporters of indy and all nationalism (I realise that we disagree on nationalism, but I think we’ve got to look bigger than that). Many feminists only support independence tactically and we want them and good people who voted no. (Here for example I absolutely loved Jonathon’s recent article on ATF on post-indy)
    4. Less immediate maybe but I’d say early on establishing some explicit goals is important because my experience is that in the absence of those even promising ideas can just die away. Again I’d say these should be explicitly focused for more marginalised women-ending zero hour contracts for example. Otherwise ‘intersectional’ is just becoming a cover for white middle class feminism.
    Having said my concerns the other side is that, as far as possible I will give all that I can from Barna and in person when I am over to help build something like this! For all it’s faults RIC is a model in overcoming sectarian divisions in the left-I feel we need that type of thing for feminism on the left. [snipped section at request of commenter] When people say the left needs to be internally critical I totally agree but same applies to left feminism and I’d say a new feminist movement will fail if it doesn’t aim to move beyond these groups


  2. Jenny Morrison
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 11:37:51

    As the blog poster pointed out in another thread-she does disagree with nationalism, we disagree whether Scotland constitutes an oppressed nation so this is a correction to the above post on that point!


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