Sunday, 23 October 2011

the salmond speech - gender neutral?

I was at home for Alex Salmond's speech - and interrupted our test run of the new Dance Central game to watch it. Yes, just moments before the most important speech at a party conference this year we were bopping away to Haddaway's 'what is love'. What an image.

Now, I love me some party conference coverage but even A was keen to see this. He is always up on current affairs but is not so far down the spectrum to have 'political anorak' attached to him as I do. So the first point of note for me was that I think this might be the first time we have shared the same level of eagerness to watch this kind of speech.

The second thing is that at no point during Alex Salmond's oratory did I feel conscious of my gender. I didn't realise this until later on but usually there is at least one - if not several points during these kind of speeches - where I shout at the TV over gender issues. Usually it is when 'family values' are mentioned [usually shorthand for women doing it all for less and with little acknowledgement], 'single mothers', 'maternity leave', 'abortion' or anything to do with wages.

It made me wonder if it is because of the language used - that Salmond doesn't deal in the psephology of voter groups in the way others do. Or because in fact the SNP hasn't yet cracked the issue of the lasses. PeatWarrior posted a well researched piece last year on the SNP and women and - not surprisingly - we see that there is a gap in support both for the SNP and for independence itself between men and women [women are always less inclined - this could be the basis of a sexist joke for lazy comedians]. Is this because the voter group is 'Scots' and at the moment with independence and constitutional issues being to the fore it is more about Scots as a voter group in and of itself compared to other parts of the UK, that it is unionist versus republican versus federalist?

There was plenty in his speech that could speak to women in traditional policy areas - new schools, more training for young people, help for those in fuel poverty. The fact that women don't like seeing their sons and daughters being killed in illegal wars [I know, neither do fathers].

All parties face challenges around women. How many are members, how many hold senior positions in their parties, how many are elected. No-one has cracked it yet. Westminster is a sea of suits with David Cameron using school boy insults towards his female parliamentarians - even those in his own party. So the SNP can't be charged with being the only party that may have an issue. Susan Deacon, Wendy Alexander and Cathy Jamieson all cited the male culture of politics and of Parliament as key issues for them. Annabel Goldie suffered comments on her personal life for being single [which I perpetrate below but only as an example]. The tories like a woman who is 'male' in her approach and has a signature female 'item' [Thatcher/handbag, Theresa May/leopard print kitten heels, Annabel Goldie /doughty spinsterhood]. Jo Swinson flies a lonely flag for the lib dems. The only party I can think of where I could say a strong female role model has been supported is the Greens in Caroline Lucas.

This lady just stole my milk...

The SNP has some strong women within its ranks. Roseanna Cunningham, Shona Robison, Fiona Hyslop [taken a battering recently but seems to be rebounding], Aileen Campbell and of course, Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon is steely - I can't recall her using her gender to political ends. Normally I abhor comment on women's looks and dress. But I can't help it this one time. Sturgeon also has a wardrobe edited mainly it seems from Hobbs - a good look, I am quite jealous [she would rock the new NW3 collection] - she looks like herself. Not like someone caught between gender, politics and identity like so many women in politics seem to be - and not of their own doing. Sturgeon doesn't handbag because she doesn't have to.

Is this a sign that the SNP is getting it right for women? What I am trying to wrestle with is this. Is it that Salmond's speech just didn't address women at all in any sense or is it that it speaks to all in Scotland regardless of gender? It seems that one of their own female delegates finds the SNP a family friendly place to be - maybe my ears are just not quite attuned to a new way of discussing these issues.

Salmond's speech spoke to me of being Scottish, of a vision of Scotland. It was a brilliant speech - but I will cover that in a different post. What the SNP need to do now though is think about who the Scots are beneath broad policy statements. Because until he does women will not be as positive about independence or about the SNP as the men are - and there something about how the way in wich we treat women and children tells us about the kind of society we are. Salmond wants the Scots to set their own agenda. And this is not a negative criticism - more it is a statement of what I hope to see happen - I want that agenda setting whether for independence or not or the direction thereafter to be set by all Scots - not just one gender.

Friday, 21 October 2011

london to inverness - will I need my passport next time?

I have been working in London this week - at our Camden office - so I have been living the London life of working hard, negotiating the always hot and bothersome tube, strange pub hours and explaining that the SNP is not a Scottish version of the BNP.

I then boarded my train back to Stirling, for a quick sleep and clothes change, before I get picked up for our policy and public affairs road trip to Inverness. All day yesterday I thought three things. Brilliant - some fresh highland air to re-oxygenate the brain. I hope it isn't too cold. And, what kind of mind set shift, if any, do you need to make when moving from one end of the UK to the other.

The first thing is that I will not need to be so conscious of my Scottish words - I used 'driech', 'dwam' and 'smirn' during my three days in London and each time was met with questions about what these words mean. I think 'smirn' is used in the north of England too - although I am not sure - so I am aware that what I think of as Scottish words may be used by Scots but not necessarily owned by them [a bit like banks. I may have an RBS account and use their cash machines but I don't actually have shares in them nor do I feel as a Scot I have responsibility for the global financial business that is the RBS]. I love explaining Scots words and sharing my culture - I also prefer to do it where that sharing is supported with genuine interest and respect. I am not saying it wasn't, but there have been times in the past, with different groups of people, when it feels more like the questioner wants to tease and make fun rather than genuinely understand. Maybe that is my own Scottish cringe though colouring my interpretation.

There is also the cultural approach. It is a generalisation, but in several meetings this week I was conscious of the bluntness, the get-to-the-pointness, that Scots seem to have a wee bit more of than our English cousins. We assume that if we are round a table it is because we all have something to say - so let's say it. I saw Alex Salmond on BBC morning news saying [I paraphrase] 'It isn't difficult to understand devolution - what's the problem?' and poor Bill Turnbull looked quite pale at this direct pointing out that for us devolution isn't a particularly difficult idea to get our heads around and when we find people who don't we will address that head on.

I don't always conform to my national stereotype. I had one colleague point out that my email tone can be overly chatty and doesn't always nail deadlines and what I want from people. I didn't say this to them at the time, but that is in part because I am compensating - evidently over-compensating - for my natural communication style. It also made me wonder if I change that style just a wee bit or quite significantly between my Scotland based and London based colleagues. Needless to say I am now going to just go with my own 'voice' and deal with the response as it comes.

As I wait for the toot of the horn that lets me know my lift is here - and contemplate whether Inverness requires full blown winter gear and therefore me seeking out my wellies and abandoning my carefully selected suede shoe-boots - I feel a distinct lift in my mind that I am going to an event that could redefine how we Scots see ourselves and our nation evolving over the next few years. And I can say 'isn't it dreich?' to other attendees without explaining myself.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

rigging the referendum

I was inspired by Twitter posts and a post from burdzeyeview this afternoon while on the train from Glasgow to London - fitting really - though when I say inspired I may mean 'got all het up'.

Labour thinks that the SNP wants to allow 16 and 17 year olds get to vote in the referendum because it will be the youth 'wot won it'.

I have never been that bothered about breaking up the union. Up until a few years ago I just thought that it was generally unfair how the Scots got treated. I hadn't pondered on it long enough to form a strong opinion and in the main adhered to an uneducated federalist type of a view. I pretty much like people to get on with one another and work together so my natural bent is towards sticking together rather than splitting up. Although having seen some friends break up with unsuitable partners and come out the better for it, splitting up is hard to do but possibly is short term pain traded for long term gain. Maybe this lack of seeking out in detail my views on independence was a flaw of mine, but, boy, am I making up for it now.

I have almost always worked for cross-UK organisations, the most recognisable being that of the Scottish Parliament, itself a deeply embedded part of our constitutional settlement. Across all I experienced brilliant and supportive working relationships across the UK, a certain amount of currency in being Scottish [tends be seen as a positive even given our stereotypes] and a fair amount of anglocentric misinformed nonsense about what living in a four nation UK is all about.

Despite not being sure myself exactly where I fall in the love triangle of union, federalism and independence, I have a strong enough interest in politics to follow others closely. I love a debate and often would take contrary positions just to have a good old 3am discussion fueled by red wine. I also thoroughly enjoyed cross party meetings between the four legislatures in the UK. I am fascinated by how our United Kingdom works politically.

I did know that I wanted a Parliament and believed passionately in devolution. The devolution campaign was my first and highly enjoyable foray into national political movements. I believe that people should be responsible and accountable for their own communities within a progressive legislative framework. My last day at work in the Scottish Parliament [in a non-political and politically restricted post by the way] was heart wrenching not just because I was leaving a much loved job but because I was leaving the Parliament itself - I would no longer be a daily part of our national political life.

So - I am not someone who was brought up living and breathing a Scottish cultural and national identity. I am not a member of the SNP. I didn't personally see devolution as a step towards inevitable divorce from England.

I am someone, though, who cannot stand a small group of people playing with other people's democratic rights to score points over another political party. I have always and vehemently believed in the vote at 16 - no taxation without representation. And with this age group being one of our most marginalised and maligned I am angry at their use as a political football. To be honest, if the referendum debate boils down to this kind of point scoring to keep Scotland in the Union then that is the finest argument I have heard to give the vote to 16-17 year olds, hold the referendum and divorce if that is what the electorate decide.

In some places in the world people are fighting to be able to vote at all. In the UK we fight over whether developing and extending our voting rights to people who pay tax might give a result the powers that be might not like. I find that scarier than independence.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

having. it. all.

We know women are supposed to be able to 'have it all' and alongside that for everyone to gasp 'I don't know how she does it'. Well, I am not going to review the book or film. This is a review of one person trying to reach that mythical place where you sit with a glass of wine in hand and go 'everything is done, achieved and I feel no guilt'. However, a bit like unicorns, this seems to be something you wish so hard would exist and yet, well, disnae.

I started this blog with the best of intentions. I set myself a goal [what doesn't get measured doesn't get done and all that management speak milarkey] of at least two posts a week. I thought this was very achievable. After all, daily there are many things to comment on re politics and the wimminz. Supply outstripping demand is usually a good thing. But my demand of myself outstrips my supply of time and brainspace to damn well blog.

There are things of course that I must do - go to work, wear clean clothes, cook dinner, sleep. If I don't do these then the basics of life get a bit awkward. Then there are things I feel I should do to be a rounded individual. Read the Sunday papers, go to the gym, do a spot of shopping, watch Newsnight, have some music on my ipod beyond the heady days of 90's grunge. See family, friends and spend quality time with that guy I sometimes bump into who I married.

Then there are the things that I don't need to do to survive, or to pass as a reasonably functioning human, but are supposed to be the rewards of achieving the first two steps. Watching Jason Statham movies. Learn to knit. Blog.

When did all three of those steps become 'must have'? That on top of all that I must also do a PhD, learn a couple of languages, travel extensively, bag several Munro's and pop out a family of kids who can do all these things too? And if you don't you must cultivate a constantly present low level state of guilt that every so often, just as you think you can relax, will engulf you and thereby reduce your relxation time to around 30 seconds.

I am not bothered about blog hits or bagging some kind of 'book deal about how I became famous through my blog' [not knocking it - it just isn't my goal]. So how ironic is it that a blog with a feminist slant becomes part of my 'having it all' - or, more accurately, 'doing it all even though the world won't stop turning if you don't' burden?

So - as the washing machine beeps to tell me the cycle is done, the timer on the cooker counts down to dinner being ready, and the guy I married because, you know, I like him, pours a glass wine and tries to talk to me I have decided. I like blogging but it has to be on my own terms - that means some weeks it will be a flurry of stuff - others there will be zilch. And if I need a Sunday snooze on the sofa a blog that purports to be in support of women will not stop me.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

this is a party political broadcast

There I was, running on the treadmill and concentrating on not falling off or singing out loud to Pulp's 'Common People' on my ipod when the Conservative Party Political Broadcast appeared on the TV screen. Despite my gym soundtrack the dulcit tones of many Tory talking heads broke through 'she told me that her dad was loaded' and informed me of every party political broadcast cliche in the history of bad party ads.

Except they missed out 'you can't hate us if we talk about famine and people dying in Africa'.

Their PR guy should get a bonus [after all, big fat bonuses are what make the world go round...] - which he should then promptly donate to the East Africa Appeal. It is a clever ad on one level - 'look, we know PPBs are a bit naff and predictable - here is something unpredictable - Conservatives caring about international aid'. Yes. Is that what they were aiming for? I just don't know. But predictable formatting is how I like PPBs so I can dispense with thinking about format and focus on the content. A chance to hear each party's policies from the comfort of your sofa [or discomfort of the gym in my unfortunate case] because attending all the party conferences and analysing their detailed policy documents is a bit of an ask if it isn't your job to do so/your particular brand of relaxation. If anything they have overly proved their point. PPBs use a lot of gimics and hooks - here is a brand new one that hasn't been used before!

The thing I found most worrisome is that I genuinely didn't know how to react beyond running that bit faster when Terrorvision's 'Fists of Fury' followed Pulp and trying to ignore that sinking pit of stomach feeling. And it seems from the comments on Twitter and Facebook that many people are just as gobsmacked at the chutzpah of the PPB.

I don't know if it was meant to divert us from what is really going on with Tory policy, make you feel bad if you groaned at the start of the PPB because how evil are you if you don't care about people dying in Africa, or - more shockingly - is genuine.

Now, a caveat here. There are Conservative party members and elected representatives who do and have cared about international aid and been good politicians and representatives - disagreeing with a lot of Conservative policies doesn't mean I can't recognise hardworking elected representatives. I firmly see this PPB as being about David Cameron's leadership, his senior team and an attempt at diverting our attention away from the party's policies on health, education, justice and welfare. I actually like PPBs. I have even been known to Sky Plus them during elections. Because I actually do want to know what the policies are and the thinking behind them. I may have a natural lean to a collective, social approach to policy but I am not a die hard and can be open minded and see positives across the political spectrum [well, not the extreme parts of it - I'm not like that].

And, while I haven't analysed this thought further, it occurs to me to wonder what the response is from the Scottish Conservatives to this PPB.

I am not in any way against people raising the profile of the East Africa Appeal. I would like to see politicians highlighting it. I have no problem with Conservative politicians mentioning it at every possible opportunity. I do object to their apparent support of it being 'launched' through a PPB. People dying is not fodder for a PR stunt. I would have preferred some policy content on how the Conservatives will make sure corporates will deal fairly with people and organisations in East Africa.

At the end of the day, if you need an advert to tell people you care about East Africa and want others to care too when you are running the country something ain't right.