Our guest blogger Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP argues that women have the most to gain from Scottish independence
When Hillary Clinton said women were the biggest, untapped resource in the world, she was addressing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, and so her comments are routinely taken in the context of the developing world, where women are often denied access to education and employment.
However the statement fits the West too – some countries deemed ‘developed’ hold shocking statistics when it comes to women in the labour market. The UK included.
Office for National Statistics reports make for dismal reading; men have consistently higher employment rates than women and female graduates are more likely to work in lower skilled occupations. Men still make up the majority of top earners and while men with children are more likely to work than those without, it is the opposite picture for women.
Women have the most to gain from independence because we are better able to tackle these issues, and more, with full powers to make our own decisions, in the Scottish Parliament.
A recent survey has shown two-thirds of mothers find the cost of childcare an obstacle to employment. The SNP have been able to increase the amount of childcare available; however the reality of devolution is we only have a fixed budget to play with, dictated and given to us by Westminster.
With independence we can deliver our ambitious childcare plan for all children aged 1-5 – a policy that when fully implemented will save families up to £4,600 per child, per year. Increased childcare with independence will not only improve the early education of our children and help families – it is also an important economic policy. If we can raise female participation in the labour market to levels achieved in – for example, Sweden- then as well as a boost to general economic performance, we will raise an extra £700 million per year in tax revenue.
With independence, the costs can be met initially by making different decisions on defence, as the Scottish Government proposes, and then because these increased tax revenues stay in Scotland, they can be used to fund the policy for the long term, as opposed to disappearing in the UK Treasury.
The types of employment women do is also significant, because women make up two thirds of people on low incomes. Tackling the concentration of women in low paid sectors of the economy is a longer term challenge, but in the meantime, we need to take action to ensure that the lowest paid are treated fairly, and that work keeps people out of poverty. The Scottish Parliament currently has no jurisdiction on this, but with independence, we can ensure that the minimum wage will rise at least in line with inflation every year. If the minimum wage had increased by inflation over the past five years, the lowest paid would be over £600 a year better off than they are now. That’s been the cost to the lowest paid of not taking these decisions for ourselves.
We know from polls that the majority of Scots want welfare decisions to be made for them in the Scottish Parliament, and independence will make this a reality. Instead as part of the UK we are subject to the UK government’s austerity agenda which disproportionately affects women because it is mostly women who are single parents, carers, part-time and public-sector workers as well as elderly.
The UK government’s proposal for marriage tax breaks and Universal Credit fail to recognise individuals but are instead paid to a household- which means in many cases it will go to the man of the house. With the powers of independence, we can reverse these policies, protect the right of individuals to receive payments in their own right and make sure women have the same incentives to work as men.
Independence also means we can have polices which reflect our circumstances. It is a sad fact that life expectancy in Scotland is still lower than elsewhere in the UK. Young women entering the workforce today will likely to have to work until they are 70. Our taxes already pay for our pensions and will continue to do so with independence. But also having the power to decide when we get our pension – and ensure that its value is protected – would be of enormous benefit to women.
Scotland has got what it takes to be independent. David Cameron has said himself “of course Scotland can be a successful, independent country” and as reported by the Financial Times last week, an independent Scotland’s finances would be healthier than the rest of the UK.
Even without North Sea oil and gas, our economic output per head is virtually identical to that of the UK as a whole, and with oil and gas it is considerably larger- plus we are buoyed by our successful sectors such as food and drink, energy, creative industries, tourism and life sciences.
It’s having the financial autonomy to decide how our revenue is spent that will enable us to be a more prosperous nation. No country can progress while leaving half of its population behind and independence will better equip us to ensure that the women in Scotland achieve their potential.