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'It wasn't Emmeline Pankhurst and others saying they wanted suffrage in England, but across the UK'

WHEN Better Together's Alistair Darling spoke in Glasgow last month and urged No campaigners to match the passion of the Yes side, he needn't have worried about at least one member of his audience.

Credit union worker Alison Dowling spearheads the Women Together groupPhotograph: Kirsty Anderson
Credit union worker Alison Dowling spearheads the Women Together groupPhotograph: Kirsty Anderson

Alison Dowling, a 47-year-old credit union worker who spearheads the Women Together group, is incapable of giving less than both barrels. Those in her sights are guilty of "despicable" acts, "meanness of spirit" and of waging "a crusade against the poor" - and that's just her Tory and LibDem partners in Better Together.

As for Alex Salmond, he's a fantasist, she says, a "Walter Mitty" character who reeks of "mendacity", a dodgy salesman who turns off women with a "beyond patronising" promise of better childcare under independence.

Not to mention the comparison with Walter White, the teacher who turns killer drug lord in the TV show Breaking Bad: lots of brains, but "channelled into a self-serving power-is-the-prize endgame".

Maybe both barrels was an underestimate.

She's less emphatic, however, on the origins of Women Together, one of umpteen "sectoral groups" recently created by Better Together to mirror those on the Yes side. Patently synthetic, she claims it evolved out of "organic" activity among "the silent majority".

But that wobble aside, she rarely misses her stride - or her targets.

Raised in Drumchapel and Erskine, her mother a nurse and her late father a shipyard worker, she was politicised under Thatcher in the 1980s, and has been a lifelong Labour supporter.

"The miners' strike was a defining moment for me, to see that sometimes the good guys don't win."

But the mother-of-two didn't become more directly involved until she spotted another "massive lurch to the right" looming in 2010. She was also galled at the lack of women at the top of party politics, crystallised in the Dave-Nick-Gordon debates before the election, which inspired the thought: "I can't keep raging against the inequality of it. I need to step up."

She offers a feminist twist on the Union by citing the historic fight for votes for women.

"It wasn't Emmeline Pankhurst and others saying they wanted suffrage in England, they were agitating for suffrage across the UK," she says. "That principle of solidarity, of unity, that powerful force you can generate by working together - that's what excites me."

In contrast, independence has "a narrowness of vision". It's also built on sand, she says.

"I'd rename the Yes campaign the If campaign. If we increase productivity ... If we increase employment.. If we can negotiate with the rest of the UK on currency. It's all if, if, if."

Asked about the SNP offer of a transformation in childcare after a Yes vote, she quotes one of her favourite films, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, in which a character detects a "powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity" in the room.

"It's beyond parody that, this late in the day, on the back of dire polling results, suddenly we're getting uncosted extra childcare.

"Suddenly we have two females elevated to the Cabinet - the wee chairs, mind, not the big chairs, [as] they don't have the budget responsibilities of the men in the room.

"It's beyond patronising: 'We're dipping in the polls with the women voters, we'll throw them a couple of bones dressed up with a ribbon because the lassies like nice colours.' We need something more substantial than that."

With her background in credit unions, and her daily work with folk struggling to make ends meet, isn't she moved by the Yes side's argument that Westminster isn't fixing the big issues?; that instead of addressing inequality and poverty, the Coalition is slashing benefits?

"I work on the frontline of the impact of welfare reforms," she says stonily.

"I detest the underlying poverty of spirit that drives the welfare reforms from the Coalition. It's a crusade against the poor.

"But to link that despicable, Bullingdon Posh Boy Club [attitude] to the complete dismantling and separation of everything that has brought us wealth and prosperity as a nation is ludicrous.

"You address bad policy decisions with good policy decisions, and you can do that within the current constitutional framework."

What about the argument that a Yes would end Tory rule in Scotland?

She says the SNP have a "fabulous line in social democratic idealism" but would cut corporation tax deeper than George Osborne, meaning less money for a Scottish welfare state and more wealth in the hands of a tiny elite. "How is that changing anything?"

What about Alex Salmond and women? Is he behind their reluctance to vote Yes?

"There's a real distaste towards the whole alpha male, Big Daddy knows best routine," she says.

"Women traditionally bear the brunt of things when things don't work out as the salesman pitched it. They pick up the pieces. He leaves a variety of doubts in women's minds."

On a roll, she even offers the FM career advice: rather than seek re-election, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, she reckons he ought to step back, copy Gordon Brown and go think big thoughts on the sidelines.

"Politics needs fresh blood. The future of our country's got to be about more than one person," she says.

So sling his hook, work the lecture circuit and let Nicola Sturgeon take over?

"There could be worse things to contemplate."

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