Friday, 3 October 2014

‘Post referendum – making common cause’

In post Referendum Scotland, as political priorities are set out and new alliances formed, some care should be taken over the conclusions being drawn from limited polling evidence. 

There is absolutely no doubt that it was a wonderful collective achievement to see 84.6% of those eligible to vote turning out on 18th September. The suffragettes, the working women and men, the parliamentarians and the trade unionists, who campaigned so hard for the right to vote to have a say in the laws that governed their lives, would never have believed that less than 100 years later, 16 and 17 year old women and men would be at the polling stations across Scotland. The STUC welcomed that extension of the vote and believes this should apply to all elections, across Scotland and the UK.

Numerous articles and blogs have quoted the Ashcroft poll carried out by speaking to 2,000 people after the poll closed on the 18th September. ‘71% of young people voted Yes’ the papers announced. Of the 2000 polled, 14 (yes, 14) were aged between 16 -17. 10 recorded a Yes vote, 4 a No vote.  Hardly adequate for conclusive analysis.  Looking at the data from the 98 young people polled aged 16 – 24, the outcome was much more even, with 51% voting Yes , and 49% voting No. But maybe that is not such an exciting headline.

According to a YouGov poll  51% of voters aged 16 to 24 voted no, and every age bracket, except 25 to 39 year olds (which was more ‘yes’), showed a narrow no vote majority, with a wider margin for the no vote amongst the over 65s.

Yet headlines ran which portrayed a big gap between the optimism of the young, aligned to a Yes vote, and the ‘conservative’ No vote.

There is now a danger of division developing between young and old which is damaging to the wider movement for progressive change. From our experience of the women’s movement and the trade union movement, we know that collective responses to the different issues faced at different times in our lives, are the most effective way of getting results.

Immediately following the referendum, social media was awash with comments which encouraged division.

Many of the older men and women who were on the receiving end of criticism for being ‘feart’, cautious, selfish, or for asking too many questions, are the same men and women who have spoken up for health and safety at work, for public services, for their communities and families, for a decent wage, defending terms and conditions, shaping so much of what we currently hold as important in our society.

Many of those ‘older women’ are women we know, with a proud tradition of campaigning on violence against women, fighting for good childcare, campaigning for good reproductive health policies; fighting for abortion rights; and speaking up for care work to be given the respect and pay it deserves. These are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and partners.  
Women in their thousands took to the streets on 30 November 2011, fighting to defend public sector pension schemes, not only for themselves and their families, but also for those who come after them. So when the young are urged to talk to their grandmothers, as at the Yes rally outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday 27th September, let’s hope the exchange is mutually enlightening as to why each voted as they did.

Financial independence and job security were, and still are, key planks of the women’s liberation movement. For women facing a longer working life, without a huge income, no criticism or shame should be attached to being ‘cautious’. It’s the responsibility of us all to address that insecurity.  The latest labour market statistics (1) show that between May and July this year the number of people aged over 65 in employment increased by a remarkable 20,000 .  Since the start of the recession the number of people aged over 65 in employment has increased by over 65%; an increase of 80% for women. The trade union movement must demonstrate that we understand those workers’ concerns and speak for them in negotiating a better deal. This will not be well served by further division between young and old in our society, not recognising where common cause exists.

The STUC Women’s Committee and Women’s Conferences over the years focus on what unites us, and that includes ‘freedom from fear’ being so important for a safe working environment, for safe communities, and freedom from fear in the home. ‘Fear’ should not be used as a criticism of those who express it.

Women’s voices have been heard loud and clear throughout Scotland for a long time if we choose to hear them, and looking ahead, we can be sure that women must be heard around every table. Voting matters – but so does what we do next.

Ann Henderson STUC Assistant Secretary 2.10.14

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