Alex Massie

Alex Salmond’s Women Problem

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No, not that kind, the vote-winning kind. Despite the fact that the party itself has honoured or at least admired warrior queens (in the members' estimation) such as Winnie Ewing, Margo MacDonald and even Nicola Sturgeon, the fact remains that women are much less likely to support the SNP than men and, furthermore, this gender gap causes the party some problems.

As Lallands Peat Worrier reminded us: On the constituency ballot, 41% of the male electorate supported the SNP, compared to only 32% of women voters.  On the list, 35% of men voted for the SNP, but only 27% of women.

That's a significant gap. Jennifer Dempsie, a former Salmond SpAd, recently had a piece in Scotland on Sunday addressing this very issue. Her conclusions and recommendations are hardly surprising: more women in high-profile positions, a softening of language and the political rhetoric that many women (and men!) find off-putting , more focus on health and education (both subject to major SNP pushes in 2007) and so on.

All of which is, I daresay, all very well and good. But the problem is that, as a nationalist party, the SNP is inevitably big on concepts and thunderous political rhetoric and dreaming big dreams and all the rest of it. The average man is more likely to be enthused by this stuff than the average woman. That is, I think, just the way it is. Even if you ignore the bloody Braveheart wing of the party, the intellectual, cost-benefit analysis types within the SNP are ascetic number-crunchers, not the type of retail politicians best suited to the age. As a general rule - and when it comes to gender one cannot avoid generalisation - this is a kind of politics that, more likely than not, is more attractive to men than to women.

To be fair, Salmond can do the retail side of politics. But again, I suspect there are some women put off by his Smart-Eckness and who find his chummyness mildly creepy. Then again, the SNP's signature policy - independence - is a radical proposal that also frightens some people. (Similarly, one might note that Thatcherism's Scottish admirers were almost all men.) In one sense this is admirable: as the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey reported last year women are more sceptical of government than men and, hence, more sensible.

But the downside is that they're also conservative. With a small c. Which means that the beneficiaries of theis small-c timidity are the Scottish Labour Party. (Again, there are obviously exceptions to this; again we're talking in probabilities and generalities). The great ignored truth of the devolution years is that Holyrood has been a bulwark against change, not an agent for it. And that meant that the Scottish Labour party spent a great deal of time resisting Blairism, just as it will, if returned to power next year (as the polls suggest it will be) do its utmost to preserve the status quo. That's what it's there for. That's what it believes in. Scottish Labour is a security blanket and the electorate is Linus.

Roll on Holyrood 2011. Or, you know, not...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.