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Women's priorities point to a No vote

It takes a woman.

JK Rowling, the celebrated Harry Potter author, stepped into the public political arena yesterday with one of the most thoughtful contributions to the referendum campaign to date.

Of course, her generous £1 million donation was an important boost to the coffers of the Better Together campaign. But her eloquent words were worth her weight in gold.

They were conciliatory, not strident, neither point-scoring nor grasping for the limelight. Rather, they came across as the heartfelt, considered thoughts of someone who cared deeply about the future of her family and the country.

JK Rowling may be worth many millions of pounds but the concerns she raised are shared by women everywhere: education, health, medical research, paying the bills, security.

Earlier this week, the self-same priorities were raised in Glasgow by women as Better Together set out its stall for the last 100 days of the campaign.

They included Clare Lally, a mother of twins, one of whom needs 24-hour care; Shona Munro, an 18-year-old student; Alison Dowling from Renfrewshire and Lynn Wormald from Dingwall. Like JK Rowling, they explained why they did not want to break up the UK.

They cared about financing the NHS, about pensions, about their family links throughout the UK. For Ms Munro, nationalism was "unnecessary and old-fashioned, like dial-up internet, cassette tapes and land lines."

Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign, stood shoulder to shoulder with the women in Glasgow's Maryhill, and wisely he appreciated promptly that even his well-delivered, well-crafted speech was no match for the women's genuine, real-life experiences.

In London, Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, was throwing his weight behind the campaign to save the Union. He is always effective, but Monday belonged to the women who apprehensively took to the stage to make their case.

Ms Rowling, who values her privacy, anticipated the possibility of demonisation by "a fringe of nationalists." Ms Lally did not, so it was particularly shocking for her to be targeted online. Ms Lally and her mum were reduced to tears by the bile and venom.

The polls show women remaining steadfastly hostile to nationalism. In the four surveys carried out in May, women consistently favoured the No Thanks camp. In the ICM poll, the findings were: 27 per cent Yes; 48 per cent No; and 24 per cent Don't know.

In the Survation poll the findings were 23.9 per cent Yes; 48.4 per cent No; and 22.3 per cent Don't Know. In the Ipsos Mori poll,Yes was 28 per cent; No 61 per cent; and Don't Knows 11 per cent while the YouGov findings were Yes 32 per cent; No 53 per cent; and Don't Know 13 per cent.

The gender gap has long been a problem for the nationalist camp. It is not that women feel any less Scottish than men. Simply, like JK Rowling, Clare Lally, Shona Munro, Alison Dowling and Lynn Wormald, they are more concerned with the practicalities of life than their identity.

They care less about flags than feeding their families and hoping there will be a secure future for their children and grandchildren.

In the run-up to the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, disillusioned women, unlike men, stayed at home rather than vote. Since the referendum turnout is expected to be three times bigger than for the Holyrood poll, and women are expected to vote, they are a tremendously important constituency.

Campaign insiders confirm First Minister Alex Salmond's lack of appeal to women, even those committed to voting Yes or leaning towards the Yes camp.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's deputy leader, and Blair Jenkins, the chief executive of Yes Scotland, are thought to be more voter-friendly so they will do more of the heavy lifting.

There may be no better time to be a woman in Scotland. Their votes really matter.

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Local government

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