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.