Mary McGregor (RCN) reviews Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison.
Even when we lost we felt like we had won something. It was an exciting time to be involved in Scottish politics. There was an optimism and vibe in workplaces and on the streets that I can never remember experiencing before. And even when we lost we felt like we had won something- a movement, a connection a possibility of another way of living.
Obviously there was a plethora of literature, books and pamphlets and leaflets to accompany this political phenomenon. Usual stuff from the left – some of it good, some tedious but not much was inspirational. However, along came a wee book by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison and it captured my imagination and boosted my belief that young socialist women have ideas on class and gender which can inspire us all.
Cat and Jenny are in a tradition of feminists who are unashamedly socialist. They write about the referendum from the perspective of not wooing the women’s vote but from analysing the lives of women in Scotland and how a radical independent Scotland could be used to transform the lives of women. It is not a book which asks meekly for crumbs. It makes demands which should be part of the socialist canon and poses solutions which are, challenging and genuinely revolutionary.
Let’s start at the end. “a new type of egalitarian society is one which, at is foundation, gives equal respect to women’s time, labour, bodies and access to power.” The book starts from where we are and suggests what equal respect to women’s time etc would look like.
Cat and Jenny see quite clearly that while social democratic reforms are to be welcomed, as in the Common Weal vision, they do not go nearly far enough as they do not challenge “the root of gender and class inequality in the neo liberal system itself”. They see the struggle for self determination as an opportunity for feminism to “re-democratise, become a movement again” . This is the essence of their thesis: the necessity to go beyond piecemeal reforms and focus on the collective power of particularly working class women in delivering real change.
They highlight the need for the His/Herstory of women to be reclaimed. This is a call which many of us echo. Much as we may appreciate the role of the great Scottish class fighters we know that there are many many women who could count among their ranks – unfortunately most of us don’t know their names! Naming these women will not detract from the collective nature of the struggle but will allow us to understand our place in that struggle was not solely confined to the domestic but was well and truly political and extended geographically beyond the confines of Glasgow’s struggles as important as they were.
Their chapters on “War and Women” and “States of Violence” are compelling reading. They attempt to analyse, in two very short pieces the connections between war and sexism and Violence Against Women and democracy. I do not know if these arguments have been theorised previously – maybe they have but Cat and Jenny made them clear and accessible for me.
The chapter on “Culture and Despair” is so thought provoking it had my mind whirring. I really want to discuss these ideas on sexuality, trans inclusion, female beauty, on line activism etc in much greater depth. The gender debate is crucial as it forms so much of how we think.
Creating a space
In their final chapter on “Power and “Equality” Cat and Jenny look at ways of “bringing emancipation back into feminist politics”. Participatory Budgeting used in Porto Alegre is cited as a possibility. This is as far removed from the Tories’ Big Society as you can get and gender can be put at the centre of Participatory Budgeting. They also pose the possibility of an elected Women’s Assembly scrutinising legislation. Some of these ideas may be instantly dismissed by those “revolutionaries” who cannot see beyond traditional structures forgetting that these structures have failed the working class and particularly working class women. The referendum created a space for these ideas to be discussed. Cat and Jenny’s book is huge in terms of the ideas it throws into that space. I really hope it does not get lost in the aftermath and that these radical women are heard.
This review was first published in Emancipation & Liberation no. 23. Copies of Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response are available from Word Power Books in Edinburgh and Calton Books in Glasgow.
also see earlier book reviews by Mary McGregor at:-