I’ve always had a lot of time for Harriet Harman. I’ve had many political disagreements with her and I was disappointed in her when she lowered herself by calling Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent” but she has been unfailingly good on equalities issues over the years. She’s also been unfailingly friendly and supportive to women MPs from all parties.
She has written an article for Labour List in which she appeals to women in Scotland to say No to independence, looking at what has been achieved for equality across the whole UK, across diverse legal systems, over the last 30 years. Here’s an excerpt:
We knew that women objected to men-only politics with decisions that affect women and men being made by men without women having a say. (When I was first elected in 1982 only 3% of MPs were women). We wanted the women of England and of Scotland to have a say in Government – so, working together, including with Maria Fyfe (for many years the only Labour woman MP from Scotland) we insisted on more women being selected to stand for Labour and elected to Parliament. Now 27.5% of Scotland’s Labour MPs are women. When it came to the creation of the new Scottish Parliament, we were determined it would be a parliament of and for women as well as men – and, working together we ensured that the Labour team of MSPs would be equal numbers of men and women. And seeing the progress women in Labour made, the other parties tried to follow suit – though they still lag far behind.
In Scotland, as in England, women are an important part of the world of work, in both the public and the private sector. And their pay is an important part of household budgets. To help women balance work and family responsibilities, Labour women worked together to develop- and implement – plans for childcare. The movement for quality, affordable, accessible childcare was UK wide. And, when it came to shaping our plans for the 1997 Labour government’s National Childcare Strategy, we drew heavily on the work of Strathclyde Regional Council. There has always been a close bond between women in local government in England and Scotland with pioneering feminists like the late Helen Eadie on Fife Council.
Domestic violence knows no national borders. And women in Scotland and England worked to get it recognised as a crime of violence which demanded high priority from the police, prosecutors and courts. There had always been the culture of excuses on domestic violence: with the man blaming the woman saying what he did to her was her fault. In England a man would escape a murder charge for killing his wife if he pleaded “provocation”, saying she was planning to leave him or having an affair (the charge would be reduced from murder to manslaughter and instead of a life sentence it would be just a few years). In Scotland you had the “Infidelity Defence”. It was women from Scotland and Wales working together that challenged the shameful culture of excuses and insisted that domesitc abusers be recognised as criminals. The Zero Tolerance project in Edinburgh played a leading role. When I became Solicitor General (Government Minister responsible for our Crown Prosecution Service.) I wanted to end the “provocation” defence in domestic homicide. But it was only because I was able to work with the brilliant Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini that we were able to make progress and banish this shameful defence.
There are many issues that unite women across politics and across the UK. Sexism is pretty much the same wherever you go and needs to be tackled on a UK wide basis.