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Scottish Independence Debate / Shetland women gather to talk independence

THE SHETLAND branch of “Women for Independence” saw an encouraging turn out at its launch on Thursday night at Lerwick’s Isleburgh Community Centre.

A gathering of around 25 (including two men) engaged in a wide ranging discussion about matters relating to the future of an independent Scotland over a selection of home bakes and hot drinks.

In a week where national polls have shown women to be less likely to vote Yes in the referendum than their male counterparts, and more sceptical about Scotland’s ability to go it alone, the mood among the assembled company regarding the prospect of an independent Scotland was markedly hopeful and positive.

The Shetland group, a branch of the national “Women for Independence” campaign, was formed by Jenny Stout from Fair Isle.

In a passionate opening speech, Stout presented her views on the case for independence and for forming a local women’s group.

Such a group, she argued, did not seek to patronise women by discussing issues such as childcare; instead it acknowledged the reality that the responsibility for such matters continues to fall on women’s shoulders.

Women Fro Independence campaigner Jenny Stout

She pointed out that many independent groups exist within the Yes campaign, for example Labour for Independence, Greens for Yes and National Collective, a group of artists and creatives who support Scottish independence.

As the evening progressed, the existence of several more special interest groups came to light, including Window Cleaners for Independence, Hairdressers for Independence and North Yorkshire for Scottish Independence.

Stout went on to say that many women find “shouty” politics off putting, and feel too intimidated to make their voices heard. She views the exclusion of women from the debate as “a gender issue and a class issue”.

Independent MSP Jean Urquhart’s opening speech reinforced Stout’s concerns about the under -representation of women in the political debate, stressing that the Women for Independence movement aimed to represent women from “every walk of life”.

Rather surprisingly for a long serving MSP, she admitted to being unwilling to be “the first to ask the question” in public discussions and contrasted her own reticence with men in politics who “never hesitate to voice their own opinions”.

Urquhart’s many years’ experience of knocking on doors had done much to impress on her that a significant number of women prefer to leave the political decision making to the man of the house.

In a bid to emphasise the pressing need to assess the relevance of the union, she spoke about the Act of Union, which was signed in 1706 and voted on by 180 “self–appointed” men (70 of whom voted against joining the Union).

Urquhart sees the referendum as being the first time in history that the people of Scotland will get their say on how they want to be governed.

“Even three hundred years ago this vote did not truly represent the people of this country. It is time for a review,” she said.

Concluding her speech, she noted the resurgence of interest in politics which the referendum has inspired. Expressing her hope that this interest and activity will continue after September, she urged her audience to become more involved in the male-dominated local political scene.

Speeches over, a lively question and answer session followed.

Kate Wills wondered whether “the lefties in England” would “get a kick up the bum” in the event of Scotland voting Yes in the referendum. Conversely, she wondered whether more right wing policies would get pushed through Westminster in the event of a No vote.

Stout admitted that she “didn’t like to think too much about what would happen” in the event of a No vote, but went on to predict that inequality and child poverty would almost certainly rise.

Denyse Harper has made her home in Shetland after emigrating from Maryland in the USA. She feels “excited” to be in a country “on the brink of independence” and expressed her belief that the current electoral system means that “Scotland will never have a say in the UK government as things stand”.

Although the overall mood of the meeting was one of optimism, a number of concerns were expressed.

Isobel Mitchell wondered how best to “ensure that principles of fairness are maintained after the referendum”. Others felt overwhelmed by the quantity of literature on the subject and insufficiently informed to argue Yes, despite their “gut feeling” that Scotland would benefit from independence.

Jan Bevington felt that such feelings should not be ignored; she described her own decision to vote Yes as “a light bulb moment, a deep decision where something just changed”.

The Shetland branch of Women for Independence is planning to hold regular meetings and events.

To find out more, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/womenforindyshetland

Genevieve White