Wavering women may decide Scottish independence vote

Uncertainty over Scotland’s future a key issue issue for ‘swing’ constituency

Independence for Women campaigner Aislin Smith in Glasgow. Opinion polls show Scottish women are less likely than men to vote Yes in next month’s referendum on independence. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Independence for Women campaigner Aislin Smith in Glasgow. Opinion polls show Scottish women are less likely than men to vote Yes in next month’s referendum on independence. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 01:00

Nearly everything about the meeting in the South Leith church halls was polite: the speakers praised each other, and questions from the floor were mostly mild-mannered.

More than 350 women had come to the meeting, in search of answers that they believe they have not yet got about next month’s independence referendum.

Even the seating rules were mannerly: it was suggested that women who had made up their minds should give up their seats to those who were still undecided.

For two hours, the meeting teased through the issues, prompting candour from the speakers including Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon. With less than a month to go, both sides know that undecided women are the key “swing” constituency. For two years, they have been less likely than men to vote Yes.

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey put the gap between men and women at 12 percentage points – 27 per cent of women say that they will vote Yes, compared with 39 per cent of men – though women graduates are warming to independence, it found.

Some of the gap has been explained by declarations that Alex Salmond is unpopular. He is seen as too confrontational, sometimes boorish.

However, women’s lack of favour for independence existed even when Salmond took a break from the leadership of the Scottish National Party a decade ago.

The key issue for them is not a guarantee that a land of milk and honey awaits, but, rather, certainty that they understand what that landscape might be.

The Leith meeting illustrated priorities. Again and again, the audience displayed a demand for a more equal Scotland, but questioned the means to bring it about. Despite a relentless focus by the pro-Union Better Together campaign, however, the currency an independent Scotland will use did not emerge until the final question of the night.

Believing that the No side has “stretched the truth” by promises of Utopia, oneNo-leaning middle-aged women pressed Sturgeon on the issue of trust. Dozens of heads nodded in agreement. Replying, Sturgeon acknowledged that politicians “tend to put the most optimistic side of the argument”.

Deciding

Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s rising star in the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, said she has found people on the campaign who have asked her what they should do. “People are asking me what I think. I have to catch myself and tell them that they have to come to their own conclusion,” she went on.

The No campaign – her side – had “reached a really low point” after claims that Scots would be denied life-saving operations if the organ needed were in England, or Wales.

“There’s no reason why that [should] happen,” said Dugdale (33), who entered politics after a law degree and time working for the National Union of Students in Scotland.

Dugdale’s fellow No campaigner lawyer, Caitriona Headley, faced questions about the trust voters should have in Better Together.

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