Audrey Birt: Women have stake in Scotland’s future

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, front, with female Scottish Cabinet colleagues outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: PA
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, front, with female Scottish Cabinet colleagues outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: PA
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ON Monday, the first all-female Cabinet event took place in front of an audience of women, putting the questions on issues which matter to them straight to Scottish Government ministers.

But with fewer than 100 days to go until the independence referendum, opinion polls still seem to suggest that women are less likely than men to vote Yes, that many are still undecided, that the issues which matter to them are not being debated.

Women need to feel and to be more engaged. To that end, we are inviting women to join with female politicians and leading figures from civil society and academia to discuss women’s voices in Scotland’s referendum.

A panel including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Sarah Boyack MSP will share their perspectives on women and the future of Scotland. We will then turn the discussion over to the audience, providing a space for all participants to discuss the issues relevant to them and share their views on the choices facing Scotland.

As someone working with the third and public sectors, I believe they can play a key role in helping to shape a future Scotland we can all aspire to.

This, then, is an event that is about engagement. It’s less about having all the answers and more about having the right questions.

Interesting questions have been raised about women’s participation in the debate. Are we less risk-taking as the polls suggest or, I wonder, have women truly had the opportunity to really explore the issues in a way that matters to them? Hence, the different approach of this event. It’s about listening, it’s about informing, it’s about airing the things that matter to us, as women, poised at this historic time for our nation. And it’s about raising women’s voices in Scotland now and in the future, too.

What is women’s status in our society? Can it be better? I believe it could, and it’s not just about women in boardrooms, it’s about women’s voices being heard in all parts of community.

So this is less about right and wrong, yes and no, it’s about what we would prioritise in a future Scotland.

Yes, as women we will want to understand the risks and opportunities of the businesses we run or work in but it’s not all we are interested in, I suspect. It’s not just who owns the pound, are we in or out of Europe, which businesses aim to stay or go . . . I work in a sector where the questions we deal with are much more grounded in day-to-day reality.

Will the education system meet my needs in the future? Will I get a job, be able to afford a home? Will my illness leave me unable to work as I am? Will I be cared for when I’m unable to do it for myself? Will I get access to welfare if I need it that will maintain my wellbeing? Will my children have a future, a dinner even? Will our human rights be honoured or compromised? Those are the everyday concerns of many here.

This discussion is to allow us to get to the heart of what matters for all our people, young and old. And perhaps most importantly just now, what would we aspire to as a woman in a future Scotland.

So if you are interested to debate what is important to you as the referendum approaches, come and join us in this free event, have your voice heard and talk about the things that absolutely matter to you and yours.

Audrey Birt is coach and consultant in leadership and health and social care.

Women’s Voices – Scotland’s Future event is organised by the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme and Audrey Birt, with support from the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations