NOTICE more of a nip in the air this morning?
Wake up feeling Norse and healthy instead of fag-hoarse and unhealthy? Overcome with a strange desire to hike across a lava field? Then welcome to New Iceland, the country formerly known as Scotland but which has been renamed to mark the very female coup that has just taken place.
With the appointment of Nicola Sturgeon to lead the SNP's push for independence, Scotland now has women in positions of power across the national political scene. Johann Lamont, Labour leader. Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader. Tricia Marwick, presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament. And now Nicola Sturgeon as de facto leader of the SNP. That is near enough a full house – and everyone's far too busy to do the dusting.
Some nervous sorts may be wondering what effect this quiet revolution might have on the way politics is conducted in this country. My hope is that it will have no effect at all, that Scotland's female politicians will be treated the same way as male politicians, that they will not be judged any differently in the media, and that we will all live equally and happily ever after. Oh, and if you can manage it, Santa, I'd also like a million shares in Apple.
Before looking at how it all might go pear-shaped, Scotland should give itself a rare pat on the back. Yes, we have life expectancy rates in some parts that wouldn't be out of place in the developing world. We are a country with shameful levels of poverty, underperforming schools, and an economy bumping along the bottom. As if that is not enough misery and suffering to be going on with, Hue & Cry start a new tour in October.
But credit where it is due. While David Cameron is cutting the number of women in the UK Cabinet, Scotland and its parties are voting women into power. As Michelle Obama and Ann Romney try to out-Tammy Wynette each other in praise of their husbands, women in Scotland are getting on with the job of governing and making policy. And while Radio 4 listeners are soon to be deprived of the velour tones of Harriet Cass and Charlotte Green, Scotland's media is plonking microphones in front of female politicians right, left and centre. Instead of just reading the news, women are increasingly making it.
Enough back-slapping. Let us not forget, for a start, that the number of female MSPs is down from 51 in 2003 to 45 today, a drop from 39% to 34%. In local government just 21% of councillors are women. Let us not be naive, either, about why Ms Sturgeon is fronting the independence campaign. As polling consistently shows, Scottish women are far more sceptical than men when it comes to backing independence. Whatever Alex Salmond is selling, many women are not buying. A change of face is needed, the party reckons, one that is softer, rounder, and speaks in higher tones.
As a game plan, it is as patronising as a Seventies soap powder advert, and as insulting as Central Office suits telling Margaret Thatcher to tote a shopping basket about or cuddle a calf to show she was in tune with ordinary women's concerns. The SNP might as well go the whole hog and have party political broadcasts featuring two women in a kitchen discussing the pros and cons of independence. "Oh Mary, why do you persist with this tired old Unionist soap powder when you know full well it doesn't get the stains of past oppression out? Try these new SNP capsules, they'll tackle oil stains no bother. Aye, even Scotland's oil stains!" Cut to a two-shot of women laughing in maniacal fashion, cue pipe band jingle.
Women will give Ms Sturgeon as tough a time on independence as they do Mr Salmond. To hope for otherwise is insulting to both sides. With a woman fronting it or not, the independence debate today is the same as it was yesterday. It's about pounds and pence, jobs and defence, EU membership and interest rates. If Ms Sturgeon can't convince women on these fronts, she might as well be Martian as female.
While she can expect a fair shake on political matters, one fears she is in for a rougher time personally. It is always a safe bet that in most profiles of Ms Sturgeon the phrase "nippy sweetie" will appear. In much the same way, Labour's Johann Lamont is caricatured in some quarters as a wee Glasgow wifie. Another commentator, rather overcompensating when reporting a speech by Ms Lamont, described her as "shimmering" on to the stage, "poised, authoritative, yet feminine, in daring tailored blue jacket, flared skirt, dashing black kitten heels". Can you imagine her predecessor, Iain Gray, having such attention paid to his footwear? As for Annabel Goldie, the Tory leader before Ms Davidson, she was depicted as everyone's jolly aunty rather than a shrewd political operator who kept her party alive north of the Border.
Given this context, you can't help but wish Ms Sturgeon, Ms Lamont, and the others well. When it comes to women and politics, a fair few male dinosaurs still roam the Earth. If someone has to do battle with slingshot and arrow, we could do worse than these women. Ms Sturgeon in particular has shown she can handle the rougher political stuff. She can cope with the rest of it too. By doing so, she makes it less likely that other women coming up after her will be treated as if they shouldn't be bothering their pretty little highlighted heads with politics.
Women aren't always their own best friends when it comes to politics. For every Sturgeon and Thatcher there is a Louise Mensch, the Tory MP who informed a Select Committee hearing that she had to pop off early to collect the kids. Ms Mensch is now giving up her seat for an ab fab new life with hubby in New York.
It is heartening to see, then, that for all the other problems we have, Scotland is doing better than others when it comes to women in power. So we are not quite Iceland, where the number of male to female cabinet ministers is a reshuffle away from parity. We do not have, as in Iceland, a female prime minister. But we are making progress. Why, in years to come, one lucky mother, sister, auntie, or grandmother might become First Minister. Just imagine, mum going to Iceland for a summit meeting rather than a Black Forest gateau.
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