These uncertainties and contingencies mean that there is not a self-evident or straightforward position around which women can coalesce. These will be considered in turn. Organised women and feminist ideas were crucial parts of the broader winning coalition that delivered devolution in the s.
The norm of gender parity, for example, was prominent in the devolution debates where it served as a shorthand for aspirations of a modern, democratic and inclusive polity, and as emblematic of a progressive civic nationalism. As Tom Nairn noted at the time:.
The final SCC report, setting out devolution blueprints included an Electoral Contract signed by the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, which committed them to field equal numbers of male and female candidates in the first elections to the Scottish parliament. For example, the SNP has not implemented any measures formal or informal since the first elections to the Scottish parliament in Gender equality measures remain poorly institutionalised within parties and there is little evidence to suggest that political parties have prioritised efforts to reform the norms and practices of political recruitment.
Despite the differential impact of welfare systems on women and men, and the widely documented evidence that current welfare cuts have a disproportionate impact on women, the Scottish Government initially failed to appoint a single female expert to its working group on welfare reform in January The second difficulty concerns the nature of the current process.
The referendum emerged as a result of the SNP victory in the elections of June This was a debate, which pitted opposing legal interpretations against each other. The legalism of the debate over the powers of the Scottish Parliament can be understood as one that also involved substantive issues.
Conceptually, the process issues revolved around a fundamental question of the extent to which the rules of the default UK constitution were sufficient or appropriate to constraining attempts to change that constitution. However, the legalism of this first year of discussion was disempowering of wider questions relating to the ambition of independence.
It is well noted that legalism carries a price in terms of public participation.
Women making constitutions: new politics and comparative perspectives
This price has been clear in the current Scottish context, postponing and even neutering deeper questions as to what the process was intended to achieve. It has done so without requiring any civic process as to what is to be asked. This process stands in contrast to the more inclusive processes in the run up to devolution, which were characterised by more than a decade of constitutional activism by civil society in the aftermath of the failed referendum. Decisions to hold a pre-legislative referendum and its wording including the-then controversial second question about tax varying powers were flagged up as part of a manifesto commitment to devolution by the Labour Party in the General Election.
The path taken in the current constitutional debates also makes the impact and content of the independence referendum unclear, again constraining the capacity for full public engagement. Paradoxically, a vote is needed to achieve negotiations, but the actual shape of any resultant independence will rest on the post-election negotiations.
Thus the eventual contours of independence remain uncertain. For women, the devil may well be in the post-referendum detail. This process contributes to a dis-empowerment of civic participation as it suggests that the substantive questions as to the shape and content of independence will only be answered post-referendum. In other words, it tends to preclude full attention on constitutional futures — and the envisioning of new social, economic and politics models — issues in which embodied citizens — women and men — and their diverse needs and interests come to the fore.
Unusually, women dominate the leadership of the Scottish parliamentary political scene, a consequence, in part of the gender coup delivered by devolution. However, the emphasis on pacting between governments in London and Edinburgh marginalizes not just wider Scottish democratic participation but also the women leaders who should be at the forefront of the debate.
The Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservative leaders and their strategies stand in a difficult relationship to their political counterparts in London, which play to a different constituency. There is a danger, thus, that their views and those of their electorate are eclipsed. In short, while women hold significant leadership positions, they may still struggle to be central to any deal-making that ensues.
At a deeper level, a straight yes-no question on independence can itself be argued to be gendered. Sovereignty is increasingly a relative concept. Already, discussions on currency, defence, monarchy and British identity reveals an independence project that aims for sharing some of the normal attributes of sovereignty. The clear-cut question, belies the fact that something other than a clear-cut choice between separation and sharing is on offer: in fact the vote most clearly affects the external consequences of sovereignty with the question of what powers and relationships with the UK will pertain in all likelihood involving creative flexibility and cooperation.
Moreover, arguably the single most critical dimension of external sovereignty for women — membership of the European Union, which has delivered substantive equality gains for women, particularly in the areas of employment legislation, also will need to be negotiated in the wake of any independence referendum. In the run up to devolution, a substantial majority of the Scottish population, including women, were in favour of devolution and the establishment of a Scottish parliament.
The actual shape of what UK or Scottish sovereignty will deliver seems peculiarly unsettled and politically contingent in the contemporary landscape. While something as fundamental as a change of sovereignty would seem to be about a long-term national project that is in some sense transcendent of the immediate policies of current government, we live in a wider moment of crisis in which political arguments about the necessity of austerity measures enable the implementation of economic and social policies with long-lasting structural consequences for women and their families, and for gender relations.
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