Judging by recent headlines, you’d think the Battle of the Sexes has already been won.

Nicola and Meghan will dominate this International Women’s Day – two women so well-known no surnames are required.

Every week, First Minister’s Questions features a forthright (if departing) Ruth Davidson tackling a confident (if now battle-scarred) First Minister. Last week when Jackie Baillie, Linda Fabiani and the inimitable Margaret Mitchell led questioning during the harassment inquiry, Scottish politics was completely dominated by women (albeit discussing the behaviour of one prominent man.) Finance Secretary Kate Forbes handled Scotland’s response to the Budget and, of course, the Covid crisis has propelled two articulate female experts into the limelight beside Jason Leitch – professors Devi Shridhar and Linda Bauld.

The Scottish public realm now looks so feminised that the slightly stern, bank-manager look of Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross seems quaintly old-fashioned and out of place.

From which, one could conclude that in Scottish public life, women are doing pretty well. Mebbe’s aye, mebbe’s naw.

It’s true that Holyrood is still more gender equal than Westminster (though now only by a whisker) with 36 per cent of female MSPs – the product (largely) of the SNP finally using mechanisms like women-only shortlists, long-favoured by the Labour Party. Today, the SNP with 44 per cent of female MSPs is almost level pegging Labour (47%), with the Greens, Tories and LibDems lagging behind on 20%.

But on the downside, young SNP mothers Aileen Campbell and Gail Ross are standing down as MSPs this election – time away from children, Holyrood’s pre-Covid refusal to contemplate remote working and a toxic online environment are all to blame – a factor also highlighted in research about Scottish local government where only 29% of Scottish councillors are female and shortlists haven’t caught on.

This lack of female councillors is worrying. The bread-and-butter nature of the council agenda plus the relative ease of travelling to meetings compared to Holyrood should make local government a more viable platform for politically engaged or civic-minded women. But then look at what we call "local" in Scotland. With an average of 170,000 people per "local" council compared to the 10,000 EU average, Scottish councils are distant, hard-to-reach and off-putting for anyone with caring duties. Compare and contrast same-sized Norway, where 422 genuinely local councils (against our 32 quasi regional councils) mean 40% of councillors are female and one in 88 people stands for election. The Scottish average is just one in 2,071 people and that won’t change much till local actually means local.

Still, despite low numbers on councils, women aren’t twiddling their democratic thumbs.

Scottish Government quotas mean at least 50% of non-executive members on public boards will be female by 2022. The burgeoning growth of community buyouts has had a preponderance of women at the fore, the voluntary, unpaid sector has always been dominated by women and likewise the informal Yes movement – evidenced by Women for Indy, whose leader in 2014 Jeane Freeman went on to become Health Secretary, and the new grassroots organisation Now Scotland, the majority of whose board members are female.

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In fact, the most striking area of change in political attitudes has been amongst women on the question of independence.

Thirty years ago, producing the first edition of the feminist magazine Harpies and Quines, I found my other co-founders had a negative perception of Scottish independence. “Loads of guys with veins throbbing on the side of their foreheads, battering you into submission and ignoring everything you say,” was the general verdict – backed up by opinion polls decades later, which revealed a sizeable gender gap as the first indyref campaign got under way.

But this International Women’s Day, the situation has reversed. January’s Savanta/ComRes opinion poll was the second to find that more women (60%) than men (54%) now support quitting the UK.

That’s a tidal change in attitudes.

Much of it is down to the personal example of Nicola Sturgeon – and perhaps that makes the independence cause disproportionately vulnerable to any drop in trust amongst female voters.

But the slow shift in women’s constitutional preferences is about more than the influence of one Indy "Star".

It reflects the low-key feminisation in the case for independence since 2011. Back then, the Social Attitudes Survey categorised 23% of men but only 10% of women as “heart” supporters of independence – people who would back change even if standards of living might fall. ScotCen researcher Rachel Ormston commented at the time: “The SNP is unlikely to convince women through appeals to national pride, freedom or other ‘emotional’ concepts. It will have to convince them through rational arguments about practical consequences.”

And that, pretty much, is what’s happened.

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Over the intervening decade, independence has become a relatively reasoned, practical solution to the "throbbing vein" nationalism evidenced south of the Border throughout the Brexit campaign and the 2019 election of Boris Johnson’s Tory Government.

Austerity, Brexit and the relentless marketisation of English society have led many Scots to doubt the UK Government actually believes in the welfare state – the basic safety net a disproportionate number of women rely on. By contrast, MSPs of all progressive parties (and sometimes even Scottish Tories) have voted to mitigate Westminster cuts and protect the poorest Scots from Westminster savagery. Add in the casual chaos of Brexit and Holyrood’s more cautious response to Covid and it’s clear which parliament looks like the safe and generous pair of hands.

The "instinct to protect" began with free personal care and with more devolved welfare powers, Nicola Sturgeon’s government has been able to shield more people – effectively cancelling the writ of the Bedroom Tax north of the Border and making life more bearable for claimants on Universal Credit (UC). Last month, while Rishi Sunak was pondering whether to remove £20 a week from UC claimants, low-income families in Scotland were receiving the first Scottish Child Payments – a weekly payment of £10 for every child under the age of six.

No matter who makes the headlines, it’s policies that are winning women over to Yes.

And that’s not something Boris, Douglas or Alister look remotely inclined to change.

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