Successes and failures of feminist institutionalism and women's political leadership in Scotland


Successes and failures of feminist institutionalism and women's political leadership in Scotland

According to Jenny Morrison and Ewan Gibbs, the Women's Liberation Movement organising experiences of Scottish feminists highlighted the value of pragmatism in bridging conventional differences in order to achieve common objectives. Because of this focus on consensual decision-making, Scottish women's leadership has taken on a center-left perspective that opposes both conservatism and left-wing extremism.

As of late, Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland's First Minister with the longest tenure. Sturgeon came to power soon after Scotland's 2014 independence vote, when it still had a large number of Labour MPs, David Cameron was in charge of a coalition administration, and no one had ever heard of "Brexit." Since then, she has led the SNP to two triumphs in elections for the Scottish Parliament and seen her party win the most votes in Scotland at three UK general elections. Sturgeon has frequently been contrasted with other female national leaders from opposing political traditions who have a reputation for competence and constancy, such as Angela Markel and Jacinda Arden, as a compelling symbol of liberal tolerance.

At the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2017, Sturgeon discovered the inconsistencies between her affiliation with politics based on acceptance and social justice and the modern connections of nationalism with "strong men" like Trump, Erdogan, and Putin as well as support for Brexit.

 The First Minister expressed her concern over the Scottish National Party's name while speaking to the Turkish author Elif Shafak, stating that she thought the word "national" was "hugely problematic." These remarks exposed a long-standing conflict that existed since Scottish feminists supported the development of national institutions in the final decades of the 20th century.

The Women's Liberation Movement had a distinct national organisation when it started in Scotland. Although the SWLM was a legally recognised organisation, many of its members viewed calls for devolution during the 1970s with suspicion.

 They believed a Scottish Parliament would jeopardise the freshly secured abortion rights. Following the 1978 Garscadden by-election, when both the SNP and Labour Party candidates were accused of adopting an opportunistic attitude by not fully supporting reproductive rights, in contrast to the then-ruling British Labour Party's position, these worries were only made worse. 

In this situation, even very economically conservative Scottish socialists and nationalists might be seen as socially conservative forces in a culture where the Protestant and Catholic churches still held sway over society.

These alignments witnessed a significant shift over the 1980s as feminists came to accept devolution. They did so in a very different setting. While a changing national environment seemed to hold out more promising prospects, the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher came to be seen as a far larger threat to women's welfare and rights than Scottish lawmakers. The feminists who persisted in creating organisations like Women's Aid and Rape Crisis grew more and more involved in local politics and party affiliation.

The Scottish Abortion Campaign also forged strong ties with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), helping to create enduring networks that connected feminists and their organisations to a growingly understanding general public. These links strengthened the idea that Scotland had a unique political system that deserved to have its own democratic national institutions and that these would offer good opportunities for women.

Additionally, the tone of the calls for devolution had changed. While the STUC's support for devolution in the 1970s was characterised by calls for "a workers' parliament," by the 1980s and into the 1990s, the union confederation was at the forefront of efforts for a more pluralistic Scotland to be granted representation in a new parliament. The cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention, which published A Claim of Right for Scotland in 1988, became the main focus of this call.

Although they participated, feminists criticised the lack of female representation at the Convention's top table. They published A Woman's Claim of Right, which acknowledged the Scottish feminist approach to institutional politics' crystallisation and continued development under devolution.

 This viewpoint was centred on embracing cross-party cooperation and rejecting Westminster's masculine and antiquated customs. Grandstanding was criticised in favour of practical collaboration on realistic goals. A major goal for the new legislature was to increase the representation of women, and this goal was largely met when 37.2% of MSPs in the 1999 Scottish parliamentary election were female.

Under devolution, a revitalised political elite in Scotland has grown, with female politicians assuming a new importance. Within the previous ten years, women have served as leaders of the three biggest parties in Scotland. Politicians that are women have a history of supporting socially liberal policies. One notable instance from the early stages of devolution occurred when Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Executive Minister for Communities at the time, pushed for the repeal of Section 28's homophobic provisions. 

Alexander overcame a boisterous campaign of resistance that included a "referendum" that was backed by Scotland's most popular tabloid, the Daily Record, and was called by millionaire bus tycoon Brian Souter. Souter and his allies may have been inspired by earlier feminists' worries that devolution may give Scotland's intolerance a voice. But it turned out to be a false defeat for racists, as a slew of liberalising laws after Section 28 often passed with little trouble and bipartisan backing.

The socioeconomic failures that have disproportionately affected women and which the devolved governments contribute to highlight the limitations of these accomplishments. Alexander promoted social and economic liberalism, which was outlined in the economic strategy A Smart Successful Scotland, which signalled the end of the long-standing policy of luring new investment into the electronics sector. In reality, these adjustments solidified the trend toward a service sector labour market that is increasingly feminised and characterised by low pay and job instability.

These changes also highlight the pragmatism's limitations that the Scottish female political leadership has learned to embrace. A move away from ties to the type of protest politics that had characterised the Scottish left over the course of the previous century or so, and the Scottish Women's Liberation Movement in particular during the 1970s and 1980s, may have occurred concurrently with the development of a more diverse professional political class.

 The 2003–2004 strike by nursery nurses was one significant occurrence. The public sector union, Unison, demanded a national settlement in this protracted struggle between low-paid working-class women and their employers. Government feminists discovered themselves on the strikers' side of the picket line. The Scottish Socialist Party's legislators were the strikes' most active backers. While expressing her support for the conflict, Carolyn Leckie was expelled from the legislature, and her colleague Frances Curran presided over a discussion.

The contributions of Leckie and Curran cast doubt on the notion that the Scottish radical left is best characterised by tub-thumping male radicals and highlight the shortcomings of female political leadership in the country today. Since the Scottish Socialist Party vanished, a more cautious and official style of female political leadership has gained traction in a setting where the Scottish Government has honed the art of engaging with "social partners" and "stakeholders."

However, by actively adopting an attitude toward institution-building, the dominant Scottish feminist group was able to change the proportion of representation and parliamentary culture. However, it may be argued that they also helped to create a political and economic system that still allows for exploitation, inequality, and disproportionately heavy burdens on women.

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