‘WHEN women get together they can achieve things in a way which brings everybody forward”, Ruth Watson tells me, after she shared a story of female activists crawling under barbed wire in the moonlight wearing faux fur coats to protest against nuclear weapons.

She said: “So, she was wearing this fake fur coat, and then there was this other woman who had her head shaved at the side, and she had this amazing dog tooth coat – I never understood how she was able to keep it so clean and I was just watching these two amazing women coming through this ball of razor wire under the moonlight, emerging like they were on a catwalk.”

She added: “We were just ourselves and we weren’t pretending to be anything else.”

Watson, a journalist and campaigner for Scottish independence among other issues, is recounting her time at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in the 1980s in Berkshire, which she credits with teaching her about “dignity with action” and collective working “without ego”.

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She said: “They’re looking at the legacy of people coming behind us, and I learned a huge amount about working together, dignity in action, and working without ego – and I think that is something that women are much better at.

“Don’t get me wrong, obviously, there are ambitious women and women who can scheme – it’s a human condition and universal. But I think that working for a common weal is something that women are very good at doing, and it was something that I saw were very, very effectively.

“Women came together and weren’t up for the whole, ‘Let’s have a big committee, let’s make a big structure’.

“Women say, ‘Let’s just sit there and talk around the campfire and work out what we want to do and what we want to achieve, rather than coming up with a few structures that don’t deliver much.”

The National:

Watson, inspired by the workings of female activists, was one of the key figures in the successful spread of the National Yes Network across Scotland and Yes groups.

Along with Sharon Trish and others, Watson assisted in the development of the foundations for collective action and networking across Scottish independence activists – ensuring online awareness of events and action in a time of Covid and a changing political landscape when it comes to campaigning.

She said: “I think it’s really important that we create links, and a network which doesn’t have a built-in fragility – you can phone up each other and ask for support – and you can’t cut off the head because there is no head.

READ MORE: Roz Foyer: Women have always been at the heart of the trade union movement

“Not having a hierarchical structure works very well.

“We can help other groups, help other people, develop their skills and put in place a framework which means if one person goes down it doesn’t matter cause we’re bubbling up through the floorboards.”

Women For Independence

One independence organisation has ensured a place for the ongoing conversations among the network of female activists who are part of the Yes movement: Women for Independence (WFI).

The group was launched during the independence referendum campaign to counteract the equivalent group by Better Together which has now dissolved.

Since 2014, the landscape of the independence movement and discussions over Yes have moved away from a lens dominated by men towards a female focus – assisted by the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and first minister until last year, and other high level members of cabinets across leadership tenures.

Fatima Joji, a councillor in Aberdeenshire, sits on the WFI committee. She said a key thing Yes has to do now is ensure policy conversations include and address women’s issues at events specifically tailored for these topics.

The National:

“Childcare, healthcare, maternity and paternity leave – for both men and women. There are so many strands of the economy, for example, that disproportionally affects women and these issues are hardly ever covered.”

Joji highlighted groups such as Pass the Mic and the Scottish Women’s Budgeting Group, which has ensured activists mark International Women’s Day by doing just this.

The budgeting group alongside the North East SNP branch, which Joji is part of, is hosting a regional assembly on Saturday, March 9 (tomorrow) to encourage women’s active participation in politics, and inform participants on issues disproportionately affecting women.

Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary Shona Robison MSP, SNP organiser Jen Layden, women’s convener Katie Hagman, and more are due to speak.

Women in the room

Both Joji and Watson argue that the lack of female representation in higher levels of politics was due, in the majority, to the glass ceiling perpetuated by male politicians – even if Scotland has the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the UK.

Watson said: “I don’t think that women back off from standing – I think that there are foosty old cliques that are stale, male, and pale, and those cliques aren’t as keen for fresh winds of change blowing through.

READ MORE: Why women in Scotland are still facing obstacles accessing justice

“It is a really nasty place to be, in the public eye. The levels of abuse that male politicians get are appalling, but those levels tend not to include the threats of sexual violence, or the really intimidating, daily misery people throw at female politicians.”

Joji said: “There’s always a risk with us falling backwards and I don’t think that people realise that when it comes to gender inclusion – whether that may be gender approaches, gender representation.

“Women are there, and they are getting involved in organising and local groups, but there is definitely still a glass ceiling when it comes to the front-facing side, and we find that its men that get the platform there that women have helped build.”