The original suffragettes and suffragists campaigned for the vote because they wanted change.
To them, voting was about more than just the privilege of going to the polling booth; it was about seeing a tangible difference in the lives of women.
They wanted equality and fairness, not just on the face of it but in how wives, mothers and female workers were treated by the law.
The suffragettes and suffragists felt not just that they were equally qualified and capable, but that they had something else to add that was valuable.
They had experiences and opinions that were missing from Parliament and the democratic process, and which could inform better laws, which could in turn make society function much better.
This is the centenary of votes for women but, as Neil Findlay pointed out, initially women were able to vote only if they were over 30 and owned property or had a degree.
Therefore, only 40 per cent of women became entitled to vote 100 years ago today: the rest needed to wait 10 years to get the vote.
Ruth Davidson said that we are celebrating
“a staging post to a better system”,
but how many more staging posts will we have to celebrate before we are truly equal?
A number of members talked about what the suffragettes and suffragists suffered.
The most stark account was probably from Joan McAlpine, who described their being force fed, jailed, cast out and assaulted. It is grim, but people were treated that way just because they tried to get the right to vote.
Kezia Dugdale pointed out that women are still suffering today due to inequality, poverty and violence.
When I read the papers, I sometimes wonder whether we are going backward rather than forward.
We lack equality in Parliament and on boards and, with a 14.1 per cent gender pay gap, we lack equality in pay.
There is also gendered pay, in which jobs that are done predominantly by women are paid much less, even though they need the same levels of skills and qualifications as much better-paid jobs that are done predominantly by men.
We need to value the work that women do.
Christina McKelvie talked about the need for men in our cause: we need male feminists who support equality.
Richard Leonard spoke about Keir Hardie’s commitment to votes for women.
Hardie was told that that was the wrong thing to pursue, but he recognised that to build a fair society it was essential to give votes and equality to women.
I am proud of my party’s decision to take positive action to encourage women into politics, but we cannot take any of our achievements for granted because, as we all know, we can slip back quickly.
However, I encourage other parties to join us, and to stand up and make a firm commitment to women’s equal representation in public life—not only to ask her to stand, but to make it possible for her to stand.
The Scottish Labour Party has the highest proportion of women here, at 46 per cent.
In the first parliamentary session in 1999, the Scottish Labour Party had 50:50 representation, and we were absolutely derided for it.
How times change.
I wonder whether, had it not been for those women, we would have made the progress that we have made in Scotland on equal pay, domestic violence and the like.
If those women had not been fighting the cause, would those changes be happening now?
A number of members talked about women in history who have fought for the vote.
Many members quoted people from their own areas, but just as many talked about women who are making a difference now; those who are still fighting the fight—trade unionists and women in other countries who face death in order to express their vote.
When I am on the doorstep, I often say that people, especially women, must use their vote, because people are still dying today in order that people can do so.
There is something very humbling in recognising that I would not, were it not for the struggle of those women 100 years ago, be standing here addressing Parliament today.
I wonder what those women would say if they could see us.
Would they be proud of their achievement, or would they be disappointed that we are still fighting for equality?
Let us together create a truly equal society of which they would be proud.
Let us not wait another 100 years; let us do it today.
This has been an excellent debate with sparkling and well-informed contributions from across Parliament.
Many members referred to the tragedy of the murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox, and the loneliness commission that was set up to tackle the issue that she cared about so passionately.
As many members have mentioned, the commission’s recommendation that there should be a minister responsible for a national strategy to combat loneliness has been accepted by the Prime Minister.
Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, will lead on loneliness and head up the UK Government’s work to tackle a problem that is believed to affect nine million people in the UK.
As Gail Ross said,
“we do not have to be alone to be lonely.”
I have personal experience of loneliness and social isolation.
In my early 20s—yes, I was young once—I volunteered with the Samaritans in my home city of Inverness.
Many of the calls that I took on my day shift or overnight were from desperately sad and lonely people, some of whom also had physical and mental health problems.
According to the joint Co-operative Group and British Red Cross report, “Trapped in a bubble: An investigation into triggers for loneliness in the UK”—I refer members to my membership of the Scottish Co-operative Party—people “mistakenly” perceive loneliness
“as an issue faced either solely or predominately by older people."
On a personal level, I was inspired by my volunteering; I trained as a social worker, which led to a 16-year career as a front-line worker and middle manager, with specialised training on mental health.
Loneliness and social isolation have been well documented in the debate as affecting physical as well as mental health.
As we have heard, they lead to greater risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, alcohol consumption and smoking, lower levels of physical exercise and a substantial increase in the chances of dementia among older people.
On top of that, the chances of suffering from isolation and loneliness are greatly exacerbated by social and economic inequalities.
As a result, tackling this public health challenge head on is absolutely key to building a better Scotland.
In my Highlands and Islands region, the likelihood of feeling cut off from society is not helped by the squeeze on public services.
People who live in isolated rural and super-rural areas already have more limited access to support networks, family and friends, local groups or charities, and the situation is made worse with poor public transport links.
Accessibility and affordability are key factors, but the withdrawal of more and more rural bus services and underinvestment in north Highland rail links only emphasise the region’s remoteness.
That said, like other members, I want to mention some excellent local charities whose objective is to mitigate isolation and loneliness.
For example, Highland Hospice’s helping hands befriending service offers home visits to people with terminal illnesses.
They match each person with their own befriender on the basis of their needs, with the befriender able to offer social and practical help.
The new well connected communities project, which is being trialled for four months in the Western Isles, is being supported by Support in Mind Scotland, the mental health charity, and the national rural mental health forum.
Finally, across the Highlands and Argyll and Bute, Befrienders Highland offers befriending by phone, letter and email and in groups.
As I have said, I think that the debate has been excellent.
The minister kicked off by reminding us of the major impact of loneliness and social isolation on health and wellbeing and the fact that that is not restricted to the elderly, and she commended the report by the Equal Opportunities Committee in the previous parliamentary session.
She also referred—rightly—to the Jo Cox commission on loneliness.
Like others, I welcome the launch of the draft strategy on social isolation and loneliness. In a very good speech,
Annie Wells said that she was encouraged by the national strategy, and she emphasised the importance of social isolation as an issue and its links as a major public health issue.
She also made a valid point about technology replacing face-to-face contact in modern society.
Monica Lennon flagged up the promise on social isolation and loneliness in Labour’s 2016 manifesto and, like others, talked about the Jo Cox commission.
She also cited the figure of nine million for the number of people in the UK who are lonely and pointed out that, in this year of young people, we need more actions that target young people and make the links with good mental health.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, too, made a valid point about our looking forward to Christmas and new year as a high point in our social calendar when, for many who are socially isolated, it is a very negative time. He highlighted very well the links between loneliness and mental health.
He also stressed the golden thread of volunteering and the important role that it plays in Scotland.
Kenny Gibson quite rightly said that tackling loneliness and social isolation is important if we are to have a better Scotland, and Jeremy Balfour got the best laugh in the chamber when he mentioned Murdo Fraser’s constant appearances on Facebook.
I am sure that that is correct—I have no personal evidence of it. Mr Balfour also made a valid comment about social prescribing and a key point about getting on well with one’s neighbours.
Graeme Dey also talked about people in communities having a social connection with neighbours and made the valid point, which I would agree with, that it is crucial that we also have a strategy for rural areas.
Finally, Mark Griffin mentioned Jo Cox’s work in Parliament and the commission’s innovative work. I apologise to members whom I do not have the time to mention.
I welcome this positive and productive debate on building a connected Scotland to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
Social isolation recognises no age, no class and no gender. Let us recognise the passion of Jo Cox’s crusade against loneliness and the importance of her legacy, which lives on in her commission.
All we need is the will to do and the soul to dare.