The plan…

The plan….

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Women and Independence: A New Paradigm, at RIC 2012

It’s worrying when patriarchy (or perhaps “kyriarchy”) is expressed as the one-size-fits-all concept which accounts for the world’s injustices – it hints at a concept which can never be properly understood. In the “Women and Independence” session at the Radical Independence Conference, we were urged to understand patriarchal structures as upholding imperialism, exploiting both women and men, feeding racism, worsening class relations, increasing age discrimination, and “leading to toxic masculinities.”

And, though it was half-expected, it was discouraging to see the tired old comparisons being made again and again, Lorna Waite referring to the relationship between Scotland and England as an abusive one (and our material inequalities are “Scotland’s bruises”).

At other points, the discussion focussed disproportionately on issues relating to women’s social reproductive role. Free school meals, the home, electricity, are all things that need to be discussed in relation to independence (though please, as more than stick-on policies to some kind of mystical constitutional change), but they are not the basis for a feminist independence. The focus can too easily shift to women as a voting constituency (what do women care about → how can we convince them these things will get better if Scotland should become independent) rather than on women as citizens.

The most important contributions came from Niki Kandirkirira, Executive Director at Engender. She advocated for a Scotland that recognises the patriarchal structures at the root of gender inequality, and a Scotland that understands care work, paid and unpaid, as part of our economic infrastructure.

These two points are important, but need to be expanded upon. The Scottish government does, on paper, recognise gender inequality as structural, particularly in its reliance on documents such as the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993): “By referring to violence as ‘gender based’ this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women’s and girl’s subordinate status in society.” Similarly, the Scottish Women’s Budget Group is recognised, however tenuously, by the Scottish Parliament.

To implement the points made by Niki Kandirkirira we would need to consider how a good feminist understanding of gender inequality can be embodied in the constitution and actions of a government and a society. This would mean understanding the structures and ideologies in place at the moment, and how they could change, whether that be through the medium of constitutional change, or through a change in society. Similarly, we need to promote feminist economics in persuasive and practical ways. What would be required is a positive vision for women in Scotland, based on a complex theoretical, historical and political understanding.

Feminists in Scotland need to take themselves seriously if they are going to campaign for an independent Scotland under feminist slogans and with stated feminist objectives. A feminist movement for independence requires more than the polling of Scottish women on their opinions, more than a focus on childcare, and more than a stated commitment to feminist policy analysis and feminist economics. We need original analysis, that avoids simplistic links between gender and class (the idea that the rises in gender-based violence in Scotland are wholly due to deindustrialisation), or between gender and race (links between “dominant masculinities”).

We certainly don’t lack capacity. There are many committed feminist organisations operating at national and local levels in Scotland, and recently the number of feminists in university feminist societies has risen sharply. All we need is committed thinking folk who read, discuss, and keep in touch with each other.

At least, that’s my Christmas holiday plan.

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A note to Glasgow University Library

It’s something we’ve all been thinking
for a while now
that Glasgow University Library
is perhaps not very weel.

It started wi all the repairs
made to your exterior
People absailing up and down
in the middle of study period no less
assessing your capability
to continue serving as an upstanding building

Then the saga
of the fire alarm
causing all kinds of changes to your daily routine
early bedtime
random sirens
and people staring in surprise
at the mess of tangled wires emerging from above the security desk
on level 2

Recently the doors seem to have been going wrong too
They refuse to open
Yesterday they took one right off to mend it.

so this is just a note to say
Get Well Soon

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Here’s tae us, wha’s like us

Automatically Norway

or “There’s only one Scottish Tory”

There’s been a lot of nationalist happiness floating around recently, in the forms of appeals to radical tradition, reminding folk of oor favourite piece of Scottish political culture – “the social-democratic consensus”, and an analysis that irked me, that of the “blank piece of paper”.

Some food for thought:

Gems from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010

  • 28% of people felt there was sometimes good reason to be prejudiced
  • 30% would be unhappy if a family member formed a relationship with someone of the same sex.
  • For the most part, the extent to which people express discriminatory attitudes has changed little since 2006.

Some stats on inequality in Scotland:

  • One in five women in Scotland experiences domestic abuse at some stage in her life.
  • There is a 11% gap between men’s and women’s full-time hourly rates, and a 32% gap when you compare women’s part time hourly rate to men’s full time hourly rate.
  • 46% of people think that Scotland would lose its identity if more black and Asian people came here. (2006 stats)
  • Every day in Scotland, 17 people report being abused, threatened or violently attacked because of the colour of their skin, ethnicity or nationality. (2011)
  • One in four of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty

Everyone in Scotland is aware of Scotland’s problems, but sometimes, in defending independence, we lose sight of the realities of Scotland today.

We should avoid waiting for the Tartan Messiah. The time for radical ideas is now, not after the referendum.

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Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

Scottish national identity will crystallise and develop in the run up to the referendum. The left are well aware of this, and will likely revive some old Scottish left ghosts, playing on some political anti-establishment nationalism, and on the existing political identity which holds to the mantra that Scotland is more left wing than England.

Indeed, there are already talks of a broad left party, from various sectors, and several movements might spring up in the next two years, which may be creative and original. Yet I’m wary of the left, and especially of left movements in Scotland, because of what I believe to be its structural misogyny.

I am wary of the potential for a left movement to carry on a trend which not only ignores feminism, but actively represses women in the movement. I don’t want to stand by and watch the next generation of strong, committed women pour all their energy and strength into a left movement which systematically ignores them, which is run by misogynists, and which, in conjuring up spirits of the past relies on the historical basis of a patriarchal movement.

If a left movement in Scotland is not explicitly feminist, if it is not driven by women as well as men, and if it does not have a clear vision and structure involving feminism, it will be misogynist, it will be patriarchal. This is a reflection of the Scottish left, and of society.

Further, I do not believe in Scotland bringing forward its militant left tradition, or its broad social-democratic consensus, without a fundamental consideration of the ways in which we might merely re-enact a patriarchal history. In the light of a referendum and different types of nationalism, Scottish identity has to be reconsidered, and this reconsideration must not only be critical, but must allow space for women to build their own identity.

Of course, there are ways in which Scotland’s identity is salient to left ideals in a manner which can further the movement, but we must be wary of indiscriminately invoking left traditions which we believe might be broadly identified with in Scotland. The Scottish public has a consciousness of left history that is fairly unique, and it is often tempting to ignore the fact that as one ventures further from the politically engaged, popular political sentiments such as anti-Thatcherism become more and more misogynist, and awareness of Scotland’s trade union culture becomes more male-dominated, to the point where women cannot engage in left culture without casting aside a part of our identity.

This type of image shapes and is shaped by the identity of the left itself: any female activist can testify to the male-dominated nature of the movement, the difficulty of making one’s voice heard, and the dismissal of feminism as a legitimate left concern by men. Women, it seems, can not be revolutionaries, or really be workers. The left had been stuck in this position more or less since it began, and has remained fairly static in terms of feminism, from Scotland to Russia to Palestine.

The left has not shown itself to be trustworthy to women. It is not our job to come into left movements and fight tooth and nail to be accepted, to be the advocates of feminism within left movements, and to put up with the odd display of misogyny for the good of the movement, or for the good of the public image of the movement.

But there is also a positive side to all this. Women, as an oppressed group, have a lot to offer to left movements, in terms of theory and lived experience and commitment, as activists, writers, as parts of the electorate. A truly inclusive left movement in Scotland would be historic, and covering ground never covered before. It would, essentially, be truly radical (indeed, I believe it cannot be radical without women). It could also act as an effective vehicle for feminism in Scotland.

The presence of a new group, Glasgow Women’s Activist Forum, and its sister group in Edinburgh, is perhaps the first step in a re-evaluation of the left. A step long overdue. As the left reforms, women need to be actively involved in this process, ensuring we have a voice. We must not merely attempt to accommodate ourselves within male structures, but actively form this new movement.

And we must discover and create a new left Scottish identity, a female identity, which will make us strong.

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My five favourite things…



Fire Engines

Cultural Hegemony


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