IT feels a little ironic that in a week when an SNP MP stepped up his fight against unpaid work, north of the Border an almighty stooshie was brewing over who is afforded the dubious privilege of grafting for nothing.

I refer specifically to the work of appearing as part of a panel at a grassroots Yes event. And I use the word “work” advisedly, because that's what involved. Appearing as part of any panel requires a commitment of time, effort and travel. It involves preparation, concentration, and a degree of personal exposure that's magnified if the event is broadcast to a wider audience online.

Women aren't always keen to sign up for all this, for reasons that are probably as varied as women's lives and experiences.

The spark for last week's mini firestorm was a panel discussion event organised by Yes East Kilbride at which all four of the speakers were men. When the organisers came under fire for serving up a “manel” they bristled with defensiveness, insisting they had tried their best to recruit women and contacted 17 of them before giving up.

For many within the movement, this was not enough. The usual tired excuse, they said. A tokenistic effort. Tips were provided for future reference: plan events well in advance, offer childcare solutions, recruit female participants first and work around their schedules. If none of that works, I'd suggest going a step further: pay them.

This is tricky territory, as grassroots groups have small budgets and paying for some panellists but not others will always be controversial. But when considering why so many women decline these invitations, variables such as schedules, caring responsibilities and a lack of confidence are only part of the picture. What if many capable and knowledgeable women simply ask themselves “what's in it for me?” and find the answer is “not a lot”?

To some within the Yes movement, this is unconscionable. What's in it for women, and for everyone, is an independent Scotland, they say – and those who are truly committed to the cause should be willing to make personal sacrifices to make it happen. The trouble with this line is that women are so often expected to sacrifice a lot more than men.

Women in the movement who are prominent in the media – especially if they refuse to toe a pro-SNP line – are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves. There's a suggestion this is at best grubby and unseemly, and at worst a cynical ploy by scheming, opportunistic women who refuse to wheesht for indy like good girls. Meanwhile, prominent Yes men rake in thousands via crowdfunding campaigns and are defended to the hilt, even when their behaviour causes embarrassment to the movement as a whole. There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it.

Women's time – just like men's – has value. Committing to do anything for free means blocking out time that might otherwise be spent earning money, and in today's gig economy it's not always easy to predict when such opportunities will arise. Even when event organisers have no budget for speakers, a gender pay gap is still in operation if only the men are able to convert exposure and acclaim into cash.

Those who are financially rewarded for their writing, whether by publications or directly by readers, are able to fill their evenings with speaking engagements to help spread the word further and promote anything they may have to sell. A woman in precarious employment with nothing to plug has fewer incentives to traipse along to a community hall on a frosty November night and preach to the converted, so it should come as no surprise that event planners struggle – even after going the extra mile to head-hunt, flatter and accommodate.

Of course, voluntary work in politics is the norm, and without foot soldiers going out into communities and knocking on doors campaign work would be largely confined to the echo chambers of social media. It therefore might seem fair for Yes organisers – who dedicate plenty of their own time to the cause – to respond with irritation when a woman enquires about participation fees. But those who volunteer for political parties aren't all self-sacrificing altruists. While some may be happy to get their rewards in heaven, others will be eyeing paid roles in constituency offices. It could be argued they are effectively undertaking the very unpaid work trials that Stewart McDonald MP is trying to outlaw.

In the absence of a well-funded umbrella group such as Yes Scotland, local groups are currently muddling along in isolation. Some work hard to ensure gender balance, and others naively profess to be “gender-blind”. But if representation matters, maybe it's time for a whip-round.