As the independence debate progresses, it is becoming critical for the left not only to put forward the argument for independence but also to define and influence its nature. Independence is a critical opportunity to look carefully at the kind of country that we want Scotland to be and work towards achieving it.
The austerity currently being imposed is starting to make its presence felt. Attacks on benefits and cut backs in public sector jobs have been the cuts fall most heavily on women. An estimated 70% of the cuts come directly out of women’s pockets, but even this underestimates the burden that is likely to fall on women. With youth unemployment growing, cuts to housing benefit and skewed disability assessments it is likely that many women will be pushed back into caring roles and expected to provide financial, practical and housing support to vulnerable family members who find themselves falling through the holes in the social safety net. The cuts to legal aid exacerbate those issues, where women with no independent means of support become unable to free themselves from abusive or exploitative relationships particularly in the light of the withdrawal of many support services and the increased limitations on housing options.
As benefits is a reserved matter together with legal aid, Scottish women have limited opportunity to challenge these Westminster taken decisions. The blinkering of Westminster shapes benefit policy around the housing and employment markets of London and South East England, and while there is a different legal system in Scotland, we have no means by which to ensure its justice is shared by all. Not only are our indigenous sisters affected by this neo-colonialist attitude, but would be new Scots seeking refuge from gender based violence are denied residency based on an opt-out that the UK government signed on our behalf, and more often than not dragged to detention centres in England, far away from their friends and supporters.
The US war on women that has seen innumerable attacks on women’s rights, particularly in the realms of reproduction and protection from sexual violence is crossing the pond, with advocates for abortion restrictions being given oxygen by state broadcaster that marginalises political discourse outwith the Westminster bubble. Women in Scotland are vulnerable to having the rights over our bodies and our autonomy diminished with little say, while the NHS sell off in England is likely to see cuts to women’s services, many of them time-critical, undermining women’s autonomy and reproductive control. While part of the union, we may well see challenges under EU competition legislation to undermine the Scottish NHS, leading to the same issues being replicated up here.
Protective legislation which secures workers rights is being systematically diminished. Despite forty years of the Equal Pay act, women are still fighting for compensation for the unfair pay differentials that have been justified and proposals for geographic discrimination in minimum wages will hurt Scottish women clustered into devalued professions disproportionately. Control over our own labour resources and the conditions under which they operate give us greater opportunity to ensure gender equality not only in compensation but also in the working environment and a greater proximity to the locuses of power that would deny it.
Internationally the UK operates as a pariah state – initiating illegal wars, bombing civilians and creating millions of dispossessed peoples. All the while maintaining weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, absorbing resources that could be used for benefit of ordinary people, rather than to maintain UK military dominance. And again it is frequently the women who deal with the traumatic aftermath of the economic conscripts who return damaged in body and mind fighting in illegal conflicts of occupation whenever the UK state decides to steal the resources of another country in a more violent manner than it does ours. It does after all have the power to simply re-draw the coastline if it fancies more of our oil, to sell off the Crown Estates if it wants some of our land, and raise regressive taxation if it wants some of our income.
The women of Scotland must actively engage in the independence debate, highlighting our gendered experiences; pointing out how deep set patriarchal domination is embedded into our culture, institutions and social fabric. We have a unique opportunity to redefine our destiny, far too important an opportunity to be left to men in suits dictating from on high, or indeed to be the the sole preserve of our male comrades. We must highlight the needs of women and ensure that they come to the fore in any constitutional change. We do not need a woman as the head of state; we dont need any head of state. What we need is women at the head of the destruction of the UK state.