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Agenda:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his presidency of the United States and the fight against the Great Depression in 1933 with the words:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Fear can incapacitate us as individuals or as a community; it can stop us making necessary decisions; it can put paid to investigating the possibility of new and better choices. Fear is used as a mechanism of control to stop us being bold; to prevent us from breaking down barriers; and to stop us.

The No camp's fear of losing their constituency propagates the use of fear to control voters. Fear has long been used as a tactic of oppression and suppression, and it has a history of temporary success.

If opinion polls and some responses to Women For Independence's Listening Exercises across Scotland are to be believed, the No campaign are, for the moment, making capital out of the rhetoric of fear. Fear, however, has its limitations. Constant repetition follows the law of diminishing returns. The next six months of the referendum debate will see the tactics of the No campaign counteracted.

The Yes Campaign can overcome fear through the burgeoning of the open, public, and honest conversations that happen daily across Scotland. After three decades of increasing apathy and disillusion, political discussion with women (and men) and schoolchildren across the country sees a re-engaging with debate about politics and the future.

For the last year, Women for Independence have been speaking to women in their communities, in their living rooms, in their workplaces. Instead of lazily surmising why polls claim women are less likely to vote for independence, we spoke to women about independence; not to convince, but to consult.

In the last year I've attended, and sometimes spoken at, more than 30 open Yes meetings across Scotland but the balance of conversation has been overwhelmingly male. To stick around afterwards is to be amazed by how many women approach to ask questions of the panellists, but who did not want to ask them in public. Women are by no means a homogenous group. We are individuals and shouldn't be treated like a bloc voting group but there exists a definite value in speaking to women in conversation with other women that can't be achieved in a wide public forum.

Women are multi-talented, multi-faceted, multi-careered: housewives, mothers, workers, carers, all. We have opinions - damn fine ones too - but, despite this and our population share of 52%, the debate, at least in much of the print and electronic media, fails us.

It seems self-evident the debate is dominated in the media by men. How difficult it is to sell an idea to people when they can't see themselves reflected in it? Where are the ordinary people in this debate?

Ordinary people are in their communities having organic discussions. They are driving these debates at a grassroots level.

The themes that have emerged from our Listening Exercises are about engagement with our democratic debate, with an accessible Holyrood and a more community form of politics that can be achieved by taking power in our own hands. Yet the media narrative is dominated by big business: an overwhelmingly male environment.

We, women especially, know all about big business. We know about the unregulated banks that crashed the economy. We know about the misery imposed on us by austerity. We know because austerity from Westminster has the biggest impact on women.

Women have, perhaps, the greatest stake in this referendum because we have the most to gain. Up for grabs is more equality: of pay, of income, of representation. Yes can win if we can cause excitement about real change.

On this International Women's Day we know women have far to travel for equal representation but we can start by stepping up and being involved. This debate is too important to us for our future to be decided for us.

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Local government

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