I’m told by a correspondent that Scotland and the SNP are regularly referenced in the Catalan media as leaders of the new progressive politics. Here is a short translation from the publication ARA – the main Catalan language daily printed in Barcelona – examining what is filling the socialist Left void in Europe.
‘The collapse of traditional social democracy, accelerated by social change, the economic crisis and corruption, is producing alternatives from a range of traditions which are also either laying claim to its space or attracting its voters. The Scottish independentists have become consolidated as the national and practically the only party of reference in the country for a significant part of the popular classes. Progressive pro-Europeans steadfastly opposed to the inheritance of the Thatcher era, they have taken over the space abandoned by the London-dominated Labour Party. The independentist victory in working-class Glasgow on 18 September is significant in this respect.’*
And it’s certainly true that the Nationalists are moving into the space vacated by the old Left parties although precisely what policy areas justifies this new status isn’t always clear.
One of my own measures is attitudes towards, and policies for, women. That took me to the Centre for Contemporary Art on Sauchiehall Street last night to view a film made about the impact of Ailsa McKay, the feminist economist from Glasgow Caledonia University on people to whom she revealed her theories, including Alex Salmond who paid moving tribute. (She died last March).
The film itself does not explain Ailsa’s theory in any detail but the compelling insight and inspiration of those exposed to it acts as a lure to find out more. I intend to do so and have plans to use Newsnet as a platform for exploring where the standard measures of economics, which exclude much female input, go wrong and lead directly to women being literally undervalued.
I’ll come on to my own understanding of the feminist case in a moment but first Business for Scotland has an interesting article today by Alexandra Black explaining how women are excluded and effectively mistreated and under valued under the current economic model.
In it she writes: ‘In 2011 the UK Government created an initiative called ‘Think, Act, Report’ with the aim of exposing the transparency on gender inequality, to provide action and encourage good practice. In the research they discuss the stages of women in work and acknowledge that women in the 3rd stage (been at home with children) take a downward shift in status. Too right we do! On a positive note the report does at least acknowledge that this doesn’t make sense economically, as often these 3rd stage women have received substantial investment in education and possibly training.
In the UK, 1.3 million women want to work more hours and a staggering 2.4m women want to work who aren’t! It seems that the UK has access to a ready and willing resource that is being overlooked. In Scotland, if participation of available and willing to work women was introduced into the labour market, it would boost our annual economy by £700m in tax revenues. This massive economic potential needs to be leveraged.’
Ailsa would agree but as a member of what has become a global women’s movement in this area, she would go further and say it isn’t only about following the existing structures into work but reassessing what that actually means if you are a woman at home. If the woman (in the traditional configuration) isn’t at home, how can the ‘bread-winning male’ take part in the active economy either?
This section (from Wikipedia) sums it up. ‘Feminist economics call attention to the importance of non-market activities, such as childcare and domestic work, to economic development. This stands in sharp contrast to neoclassical economics where those forms of labour are unaccounted for as non-economic phenomena.Including such labour in economic accounts removes substantial gender bias because women disproportionately perform those tasks. When that labour is unaccounted for in economic models, much work done by women is ignored, literally devaluing their effort.’
Why don’t we count women’s contribution? Because the structures we use for accounting are organized historically by men who impose their own gender bias.** The international standard of national accounts explicitly excludes ‘non-market activities’ so that all developed countries, and in essence the entire measurable world economy, dismisses the contribution of half of the population.
The message to women is: You don’t count. Literally. All that lugging shopping bags, piles of ironing, screaming kids, sleepless nights…all for nothing as far as the economists are concerned. Your home help or cleaner – well, that’s different. They count because you pay them cash but your spending allocation (from dominant male) is just part of the naturally-recurring scheme of things. I think the equation is…Man Powerful, Woman Inferior.
Even in Norway which included unpaid household work in the GDP in the first half of the 19th century, left it out in 1950 for reasons of compatibility with the new international standard.
Ailsa believed that one solution was a basic income for all as a ‘tool for promoting gender-neutral social citizenship rights’. Turning that idea into policy is an area for the brave to venture but, if we are to rethink the very basis of national accounting on a global scale, why not give it a try? Natalie Bennett showed what can go wrong if an aspiration isn’t research-based. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/green-party-chaotic-but-have-lesson-for-main-parties
There are groups and bodies feeding into the SNP government on this and related issues but you can see how a traditional party machine would wonder privately if this would look like mad wonk politics to ordinary voters unless the detailed preparation was done first. I’m at least encouraged that those around Ailsa believe the government and SNP is genuinely open to a radical reappraisal of women’s role and much more so than any other party. But this is daring stuff and needs a concerted effort to engage and invigorate. But our world has changed in Scotland, hasn’t it? We’re progressives, right? Let’s prove those Catalans right and start leading the new European politics. And let’s use Ailsa McKay as our inspiration.
*Thanks to Joyce McFarlane
** Each country measures its economic output according to the System of National Accounts (SNA), sponsored mainly by the United Nations (UN), but implemented mainly by other organisations such as the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank. The SNA recognises that unpaid work is an area of interest, but unpaid household services are excludedby