This is today's Sunday Post column in full. The print version is half the normal length and the headline "Why Eck's not a big hit with us gals" was not written by me and doesnt reflect the tilt of the argument. I have written to the Sunday Post - but Sunday is their day off! See what you think.
Why do women lag behind male support for Scottish independence? A BBC Scotland documentary on Tuesday aims to find out. Of course, there’s no shortage of expert explanations for the gender gap. Some think women are home-makers not risk-takers. Hmm – I’d say the average working mum is both. Some say women are pragmatic and practical whilst men will support a cause (whether it’s independence or the local football team) out of sheer cussed conviction. Others think the fairer sex are simply more able to say they don’t know. That’s got the ring of truth about it. Chaps still can’t ask directions when they’re lost – so it’s no wonder they can’t become “don’t knows” about the referendum. The one certain thing is that female voters matter. If women mirror the male vote on September 18th, independence can win. If they don’t, it probably can’t. Over the last year women have been 10-22% less keen on independence than men (depending which poll you read). And though the SNP’s ambitious childcare proposals narrowed the gap, the latest survey suggests Yes is still more popular amongst men (by 9%) but trails amongst women (by 18%). 16-34 year-old gals are the least likely Yes supporters and a big number are undecided. What’s going on? Well I’d say three things. Firstly, women are smart enough to avoid situations they can’t win – and talking to guys with Bible-like belief, rock-solid certainty and throbbing veins on their foreheads is Unwinnable Situation Number One. This type of guy shouts, talks over women, doesn’t listen and all too often dominates the TV independence debate, pointing, banging the table, looking angry and verbally whacking “opponents”. Last week I was on the panel of a BBC TV debate on Orkney and felt forced to shout, interrupt and behave like the men to get a word in edgeways. The result – all heat and very little light. That’s a big turn off for most women. In Macho Caledonia it’s far easier to appear “undecided” – even if you’re not. Secondly, voting is usually based on past performance not future promises. The SNP’s childcare and equality pledges look great but if women matter so much, why has it taken so long for the government to notice? Big changes like wars, referendums, elections and even independence campaigns have often meant big advances for the few but little change for the many – especially women, children and the poor. Even if gals don’t know their history, they can spot the pattern. Will independence mean a new boss – male, stale and pale just like the old boss? If so, independence won’t seem worth the inevitable upheaval and change. Thirdly there’s Big Lec. In Tuesday’s documentary the late Margo McDonald apparently says women think the First Minister sounds like a steamroller. He ain’t the only one! But maybe a bigger issue for women is Alex Salmond’s insistence there are no tough times ahead – we all know there are, whichever way the vote goes on September 18th. A reality check about the future wouldn’t go amiss. So why will I vote yes? A new start for any nation enshrines the values of today not yesteryear. Childcare now tops the agenda as the defining policy change of independence. Dumping Trident will provide more money for high quality public services. And without Westminster, Scots can finally walk away from the competitive, dog-eat-dog world we’ve rejected time after time at the ballot box and create the consensual, cooperative sort of society in which everyone can thrive. Gals – it’s all up to us. No pressure.
‘What Women Want’ presented by Jackie Bird Tuesday 22nd April at 2100, on BBC Two Scotland