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UK women have come together to win battles

As women in Scotland weigh up the arguments in the referendum debate, they will do well to consider how the strength of the UK has improved the quality of their lives.

Many issues facing women are exactly the same as those facing men. Whether it is job market insecurity, lack of opportunity, or not enough money, life for too many is a struggle. But in the last 20 years rights for women have been won, and how and why should not be forgotten.

Many of the improvements in women's lives are taken for granted but few of them were made without a struggle. And if it wasn't for women, particularly Labour women, working together throughout the length and breadth of the UK, the struggle would have been even harder.

When Jo Richardson, the MP for Barking, introduced the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act in 1976, she catapulted a hitherto no-go area of life into the public domain. It was a modest measure that helped women who suffered violence in the home, but it was no less important for that.

Since then women on both sides of the Border have worked tirelessly together to introduce progressive legislation to improve the lives of women. They shared their expertise. Women in local government in Scotland and South Tyneside, in the law in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London and in the House of Commons mobilised to secure women's rights.

Strathclyde Regional Council's childcare strategy informed the National Childcare Strategy in England. Harriet Harman, when solicitor general in England, worked with Elish Angiolini, former advocate general in Scotland, to outlaw the excuse that sometimes women were killed because they asked for it. To this day, Ms Harman believes they needed each other to get it removed from the statute books in Scotland and England.

On both sides of the Border women united to protect the anonymity of victims in rape cases, to criminalise human trafficking, to get more women into Parliament. None of these measures happened by accident.

While it is commendable that young women in the UK can take progressive decisions for granted, they should never forget they were achieved only after a fight. Women are still not brilliantly strong on the political firmament but they are stronger for being able to work together to achieve common aims.

Many times Maria Fyfe, the indomitable former MP for Maryhill, must have been thankful to be part of a UK-wide women's movement. Strength in numbers was never more relevant than when breaching the male bastions of power.

Labour and trades union women have been at the forefront of the battles to empower women, whether they wanted to stay at home or go out to work. They fought hard to improve childcare provision, extend maternity rights, tax credits, part-time workers' rights and pension credits, knowing full well that without them the playing field would become ever more unequal for women. And when the minimum wage was introduced in 1999, women were the greatest beneficiaries.

When Johann Lamont says the huge issues that women face are deeper than any constitutional arrangement, she is right. And what she could have gone on to say is that anything that might stymie progress should be spurned.

If Scotland votes to break away from the UK on September 18, the best that can be said is that the country will embark on a journey, fraught with risk and uncertainty. Almost every independent expert in the land insists a vote to split up would cost us. Household bills would rise, and as ever the poorest would be hit hardest. And if the poorest are hit hardest, women will pay the highest price.

Recent adverts from the Better Together campaign featuring women drew opprobrium yet they were stoutly defended by women who have spent all their political lives fighting for improved women's rights.

They believe women in Scotland will be better served within the UK. They've made precious relationships. They want to keep them.

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