The Boys Are Back In Town (with apologies to Thin Lizzy)

Published: 16 September 2014

So, Better Together have sent in the 3 Amigos: Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have been sent north of Hadrian’s Wall to save the Union (and their jobs), by winning over the hearts and minds of the undecideds. They have been backed up by speeches from Gordon Brown promising something that sounded a bit like Devo Max.

Other Boys heading up to Scotland included Nigel Farage and George Galloway putting in a slightly alarming appearance at the Big Debate telling young voters that that without the United Kingdom Scots would be living under Nazi rule - something that came as a bit of a surprise to American, Russian, French and other viewers, I imagine.

And what do these people have in common, other than a desire to save the Union? Not their politics, style or reputation....But they are, notably, ALL MEN.

And this would appear to be slightly strange to some, because the hearts and minds of the undecideds at this point in the campaign are mostly WOMEN. Where are the Girls? Although they have been commenting from the sidelines, they don’t appear to have formed a significant part of the public face of Better Together.

Women are more likely to vote with their heads rather than their hearts: The Scottish Social Attitudes survey for 2012 recorded support for independence at 20% among women, compared with 27% among men, while results from some of the major polling groups since February 2013 have found a gender gap in the proportion of people stating they will vote yes of between 1% and 22% – with women far more likely to say they had not made their minds up yet because they didn’t have all the information.

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey for 2012 recorded support for independence at 20% among women, compared with 27% among men, while results from some of the major polling groups since February 2013 have found a gender gap in the proportion of people stating they will vote yes of between 1% and 22%.

In fact, emotionally, women have been largely critical of the tone of the campaign from both sides:

“Every time the Better Together campaign open their mouths, I feel like a battered wife: it’s like when you start thinking about a divorce and your husband goes "You are nothing without me, you'll never survive alone" (Facebook post from Let’s Talk Independence)

“Alex Salmond is such an awful, shouty man, telling us what to do, I can make up my own mind” (Twitter user from #BetterTogether)

Women have been won over to some degree by the Yes Scotland’s focus on key issues: fairness, promises on equality measures being embedded in the Constitution of an independent Scotland, promises to involve women in the negotiations, policy commitments on childcare, nuclear weapons, the NHS and taxation.

And the latest polls showing a slight swing towards No on the part of undecided women voters is probably a result of grassroots campaigning from the Better Together camp who have made an effort to reach out to women voters in ways that enable considered discussion, rather than combative politicised debate: round tables, public discussions, and attending events run by organisations such as the Women’s Institute and community groups (All women cabinet, Better Together women). Events designed specifically to NOT be men in suits shouting at each other.

But the Boys seem particularly wary of meeting the Girls: Nicola Sturgeon tweeted “I asked Ed Milliband to join me in a televised debate. He said no”

So, 2 days to go, everything to play for: WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE GIRLS, BOYS?? And no, we won’t ask Paul....;)

And regardless of the outcome, are we seeing a new kind of ‘feminised’ approach to politics that draws much more on grassroots campaigns, participatory styles of governance and non-combative approaches to debates?

For that, we’ll have to watch this space for a long time after the 18th September.

And for voters, not just women, who want more information before making up their minds, see http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/papers/scotlands-decision-16-questions-think-about-referendum-18-september

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