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.


  1. Interesting post - I'd agree that the SNP usually try to speak to all of Scotland.

    My take on it is that I don't see the value in patronising women by saying 'here you go, here's politics wrapped up in a fluffy blanket'. The points about how other parties treat their women is well made, and that's certainly not my experience in the SNP.

    On the other hand, I've had more women than men on the doorsteps who've said 'oh, I'm not interested in politics'. They're interested in all kinds of issues when you draw them out, but they don't always see that as 'political' (politics being men in suits arguing). I expect that there will be some finessing of the arguments for independence to get over that initial hesitancy.

  2. Nicely written and strikes a few chords with me!
    Hadn't noticed any "gender skew" in Alex's talks but it's certainly there in some of our other illustrious political leaders.