Parties target women’s vote as Holyrood elections near

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by G.A.Ponsonby

The SNP and Labour have both marked International Women’s Day by setting their sights on Scotland’s female vote.  With the Holyrood elections now less than two months away both parties unveiled their pre-election pitches aimed at capturing the attention of the nation’s women voters.

The SNP were first out of the stalls on Saturday with Scotland’s first all woman political broadcast led by Depute leader and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The broadcast marked the 100th International Women’s Day and the SNP listed the party’s achievements of the last four years.  Labour marked their bid with a launch of a ‘manifesto for women’ that listed Labour’s ‘top five promises to women’.

The SNP highlighted more female police officers, strengthening domestic abuse laws, funds to help parents study, vaccinations against cervical cancer and free prescriptions as evidence of policies the party say have helped many women in Scotland.

The Nationalists also highlighted the recent budget where Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon managed to secure key investment for the NHS against a backdrop of savage Westminster cuts.  The investment, the party claim, will protect the wages of the lower paid employees, many of whom are female.

Commenting on her party’s commitment to the issues that matter to women across Scotland External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop spoke of the progress that had been made throughout the last four years.

“Over the last four years the SNP has taken steps to make Scotland better.  There is still more to do but by working together with women across the private, public and voluntary sector the last four years have seen women’s concerns progressed and essential support protected.

“We have helped to improve Scotland’s health introducing vaccinations for cervical cancer, abolishing prescription charges and increasing screening and services for breast cancer.”

Ms Hyslop highlighted the support for the very many women who own their own small business and spoke of the need to continue funding for education and childcare.

She added: “Our backing for small business has helped women – who are more likely to own and operate small firms – to stay afloat with 19% of our small businesses owned solely or mainly by women, more than in the rest of the UK, and 31% jointly owned by women and men.

“We have increased support for students who are also parents, with £2 million more to help with childcare costs and the re-introduction of grants for part time students, many of whom are women returning to work or seeking to improve their skills.  Whilst 100,000 of our youngest children are benefiting from more nursery education.

There was special mention of the tragic case of aid worker Linda Norgrove, killed in Afghanistan in a failed rescue bid, and a pledge to help women in poorer countries.

“International Women’s Day is not just about what we have done to help women in Scotland but about Scotland’s role in the world.  Over the last four years we have increased the support to Scottish based organisations working overseas helping charities helping women in less developed countries such as Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in India, programmes to help women manage HIV in Malawi and support of £100,000 for the Linda Norgrove Foundation in Iraq to work with women and children in rural Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Iain Gray’s Labour party launched their ‘manifesto for women’ that started off with party Deputy leader Johann Lamont attacking the SNP for “not doing enough” to help women who face “inequality in the workplace and violence”.

The manifesto blamed the forthcoming cuts on the SNP, Tories and the Lib Dems and claimed that Scotland needed a “strong government … that focuses on the things that really matter to women – creating jobs, getting people back to work and tackling inequality.”

The manifesto claimed that “too much time and money has been wasted pushing for separation” and listed five key pledges; improvements to childcare provision, a £7.15 minimum wage, jobs for 10,000 young people, improved cancer diagnosis time and scrap short prison sentences.

Labour also promised a place in education, training, volunteering or work for every 16-18 year old in Scotland and a guarantee of an apprenticeship for every ‘suitably qualified’ youngster.

The Holyrood Labour group were rocked recently after Wendy Alexander announced that she intended to stand down at the next election.  The loss of Labour’s most high profile female back bencher followed the departure of Cathy Jamieson and Margaret Curran who are leaving for Westminster.

The challenge facing the main parties in this election may be how best to balance a positive campaign that puts forward their vision, with the very necessary need to attack their opponents.

In 2007 it was widely accepted that positivity won over negativity.  With many women viewing negative campaigning a ‘turn off’ it therefore remains to be seen just how serious the parties are about appealing to the female voter.