Socialist Womens Network

Catriona Grant writes about the Socialist Women's Network

Although the Socialist Women’s Network was set up when the Scottish Socialist Party was set up, technically it isn’t the women’s section of the SSP it is a network of socialist women, and therefore women who are not in the party can get involved.
The network has played a decisive role in the SSP particularly in arguing successfully for 50:50 or guaranteed women’s representation. The SSP founding statement said we supported women’s equal representation in politics – the Socialist Women’s Network wanted to see that in action for the 2003 elections. We met to discuss how could we guarantee that women would be represented in a fashion that represented women in society i.e. how could we have 50% of elected SSP seats in 2003 ?
We came up with a formula – and presented it as the Socialist Women’s Network motion to SSP Conference 2002 in Dundee. It caused a furore – somehow in our meagre attempt to ensure equality we were being accused as discriminatory – discriminating against both men and women, now that’s devotion to sexist discrimination for you!
The debate in the party raged on for about five months – every region and branch debated it. It was patronising to women, the merits of a meritocracy – the best person for the job, cream rising to the top (and the antithesis of that - shite floats), women in the party weren’t shrinking violets, it was a hammer to crack a peanut and finally it did not address women’s oppression.
The Executive Committee was split and the conference became quite exciting – the debate was a long one, probably the most amounts of women spoke on both sides, men spoke too – the passion was real. The SWP supported 50:50 and the CWI were against it, whole branches were for it and branches against.
Rosie Kane was the last speaker in the debate and she stated on the issue of “merit”, that she was “merit for 11 years in a horrible marriage and it did her no good, and aye the cream does rise to the top but sometimes someone’s got the door on the fridge so the bottle cannae even get oot”.
It went to a vote after lots of amendments including one from Tay Coast that only women should be allowed to stand at the top of the lists (that one was defeated!). The Socialist Women’s Network motion won by about 10 votes.

The Socialist Women’s Network have campaigned on International Women’s Day against sweatshop conditions workers work in, in Indonesia to provide fashionable clothes on the high street from women, men and kids and against the jailing of poor women outside HMP Cortonvale – we want to see alternatives to custody. We have joined campaigns against the stoning of two Nigerian women.
We have taken direct action against the anti-abortionists. Anti-abortionists in 1999 started to target the Brook (now Caledonian Youth) and stepped up their campaigns against hospitals and doctors. Some women in the SSP were targeted on the Life League website, after going to the police and calling press conferences their names were taken off.
In September 2001 Life League targeted the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, at first it was people praying – the Socialist Women’s Network are fundamentally not against people praying no matter the cause – but then the Life League got involved and began to protest outside the hospital with leaflets and pictures of macerated foetuses.
At first the SSP counter-protested alongside of them but this just looked like a big mess of leaflets, placards and newspapers. The Socialist Women’s Network then came up with the idea to hang up our bedclothes on movable poles. We decided not to engage with the Life League but hang up our bed linen in front of their placards. A much production protest took place and the police decided enough was enough and told Life League no to come back.
We’ve organised about five forums over the years – we would like to do it twice a year. We have argued whether we are feminist or not, whether the patriarchy exists or not and whether even women should organise themselves autonomously. We have debated and discussed at length what to do about prostitution and now have a policy to campaign for the “eradication of prostitution” and to “decriminalise the selling of sex but to criminalise the buying of sex”.

[part of this page has been removed on legal advice following Tommy Sheridan being charged with perjury]

Thankfully they have gone and perhaps with the sorry debacle behind us we can get on with socialist politics but reflect on how such sexism and even patriarchy can come about in a socialist party. President Hugo Chavez in 12th September 2006 stated to a rally of 6,000 women in Caracas, Venezuela “Capitalism is sexism….socialism cannot be sexist” perhaps someone should have told Sheridan and his supporters that.
At SSP Conference 2006 there was a re-run of the 50:50 debate some said it didn’t work as it hadn’t addressed women’s oppression however the SSP hasn’t managed to address capitalism and we don’t ask to do away with that (well some people do but in general within the SSP we don’t) – anyway the motion was defeated overwhelmingly. The Socialist Women’s Network motion this year was about Women and the Law. Edinburgh Central had a motion regarding the abolition of prostitution and decriminalising men which was overwhelmingly supported. More women particularly young women spoke at this conference than any other and for the first time since our conception women are in a majority on the EC – well by one, and there are a lot more young people on the EC.


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