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Making a rare public post here, because a) it doesn’t belong on the professional blog and b) some people on Facebook/Twitter would like to read my thoughts on this. If you must comment, do try and keep to the ‘be excellent to each other’ rules, hm? Apologies for any typos or nonsensical bits; I was on the tail-end of a migraine today and the words didn't, er, word sometimes.



On Saturday, I braved the worst driving weather I’ve seen in a while and headed to Perth for the Women for Independence post-referendum meeting. The weeks following the vote have really been extraordinary in terms of a surge in political engagement; SNP membership has soared to over 70000, the Scottish Greens have doubled to 6000, at least 7000 have signed up for the Radical Independence conference next month and several rallies in George Square (renamed Freedom Square for the events). I was very lucky to get two tickets for the WFI event, as the first lot sold out within a day. The venue was changed twice, eventually settling on a church big enough for a thousand women. Yes, a thousand.

The meeting was chaired by Kate Higgins AKA prominent blogger Burdz Eye View, with keynotes from former SSP firebrand Carolyn Leckie, Elaine C Smith and Jeane Freeman, policy adviser and slayer of Andrew Neil. Most of the day, though, was given over to hearing as many thoughts from the audience as possible, then brainstorming ideas for where the movement should go next.

Lisa and I were struck by how diverse the speakers were. Here are a few that stood out for me:

The 83-year-old old-school feminist who had lived in the US for 30 years and developed Republican leanings, but who had returned to Scotland in the hope of seeing independence in her lifetime. She advised the teenage girls that we had a ‘long, hard job ahead’ but that women had to knuckle down and get on with it.

The 16-year-old first time voter, who with her friend were the only Yes voters in her school. In a Modern Studies class debate, it was 15 Noes against two Yeses. She had come to WFI looking for a support network and was so glad she had found just that.

The English banker (yes, there were a few boos at the latter) who had been No until a few weeks before the vote. She spoke out against media bias and stressed the importance of coherence in the organisation.

The Danish girl who had come to Scotland to marry and do her PhD, but faced choosing between her career and raising her children. She hoped Scotland would become more like the Scandinavian countries in time, especially regarding childcare.

The wheelchair-bound woman with agoraphobia and severe depression, who got a Twitter account for the first time, discovered WFI and found her voice that way. She said that thanks to getting involved in political activism, her depression had greatly improved.

The union woman whose frail mother was among the residents of Hunterhill Care Home, which Labour councillors were planning to close and lease to the NHS. (This prompted audible gasps.) After meeting Mark MacMillan, he said that if the local women stopped their campaigning he would- wait for it!- extend the consultation period. They thanked him for his time, left and carried on fighting. And, holding up a copy of the local paper, the woman announced they had been successful in saving the home. She got a standing ovation.

We had some brainstorming after lunch. The main points I jotted down revolved around targeting young voters and the over-60s, starting informal ‘blethers’ with friends and neighbours, reaching out to No voters so we can work towards a fairer country together, and getting more economics-literate so we can educate local communities. That last one struck me as important, after WFI economist Margaret Cuthbert pointed out that many fear a lack of understanding of the numbers involved in debates, and also it’s not seen as a very ‘female’ thing to know. (She suddenly stopped getting invited to speak on TV and even at academic conferences in the few weeks before the vote. Just fancy that!) I was pleased that I saw many women filling in the volunteering forms to help recruitment, fundraising and outreach, and I was one of them.

The keynotes were roof-raisingly good. Carolyn was pin-sharp on the No campaign’s fearmongering; Elaine was her superb old bolshie Glasgow matriarchal feminist self (we should learn public speaking because ‘if they’re allowed on TV to talk shite, so should I’); and Jeane commented that we were all part of something special and should remind ourselves of this when the going gets tough.

There was some confusion as to whether the media were invited to the event or not, which led to a spate of anger on Twitter from those that felt somehow excluded, or that we had something to hide. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but there was meant to be a media photocall in the morning, and we did make STV News and the Herald/Guardian. I hope the media can be arsed to come to the RIC Conference next month. Elaine said the only way the media would flock to the church would have been if a thousand No men were there…or we were all naked. There was a nice impromptu photo outside afterwards where I briefly met one of the Indy Quines with her hand-stitched Yes badge. More internet Yes photo fame for me! I’ve not felt so energised since I was part of the giant Yes in Jewel Park! ;)

(My personal view is that it was nice to not have a sea of cameras all up in your grill. And what would be the odds the meeting would be reported without heavy editing and bias? Yeah.)

It seems clear that there’s still a lot of hurt, anger, sadness and passion about the outcome of the vote, and it's also clear that the women gathered in Perth were not one big homogeneous lump by a long way. There were members of all political parties and none; there were stay-at-home mums, students, pensioners, white-collar workers. And all sorts of feminists, even if as Elaine noted some might not relate to the label*. Mostly, I did genuinely get a sense of sisterhood and a chance to let off steam and bash brains together in a safe space, and that’s not something I’ve seen a lot of. And Lisa and I left feeling super-inspired and ready for the next steps. Now let’s see if we can get on with the hard work and keep the cohesion and friendly cooperation that seemed to be the hallmark of all the various Yes groups.



* I have views on this, as some of you know, but they’re not for this post and generally not up for internet discussion these days. Because it never ends well. Prod me offline for a chat about it sometime.
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