Campaign strategists, PR and media types who believe they were put on earth to wield the Sword of Truth – directing us on how to think, feel and vote – might do well to pay closer attention to one section of the population that has already demonstrated its subversiveness. It is not an heretical view of history to say that Scottish women holed the bow of the separatist ship at the launch of the 2014 referendum.
Alex Salmond's saturnine features figured prominently in media analysis of women's reluctance to vote 'Yes'. But most explanations have been shallow; premised on the insulting notion that women vote for the person, presumably because their brains are too tiny to deal with policies. The thinking goes something along the lines of: 'Consumerist woman…shopping for leader…Alex totally un-fanciable…let's vote for the union.'
Alternative explanations sound suspiciously like 'mansplaining', when a man explains a subject to a woman which she knows far more intimately than the individual proffering his wisdom. This line of reasoning tends toward: 'We men…more daring...take action…women timid…stick-by-me, Jane.' An essential aspect of the 'mansplanation' is that the woman holds the eye of the man explaining the difficult 'thing' to her (often the eye of a man she has loved for many years) and does not betray the mirth she feels by as much as a flicker.
Whatever else, it is not a complicated storyline. The mansplainer basks in chivalrous virtue, having helped the little lady along the path to enlightened reasoning. The quid pro quo, from the mansplainee's perspective, is achieving a row-free evening. In other words, an every day, Scottish, win-win situation. It definitely doesn't mean, however, that the woman is going to vote in line with the mansplainer.
Back to the strategists – the PR and media types who seem to do all the thinking so we don't have to – if the SNP ever hope to identify that splendid moment when the stars are aligned and another referendum cannot fail, the movement must understand women better. This government has displayed a surprising tone deafness to women, given the number of females who occupy Holyrood.
One person who has shed light on the topic is Professor David McCrone. His book, the dauntingly thick 'The New Sociology of Scotland,' details the finding that Scottish women rank their gender as the third most important aspect of their identity. In terms of self-identity, Scottishness comes second. But most essential to Scottish women is their identity as a parent.
If being a parent is the highest value a Scottish mother attributes to her identity, even the most die-hard nationalist will admit their policies are singularly failing to rope in the girls. McCrone's findings ought to induce a shuddering rethink deep in the SNP soul.
If this ranking is accurate, it is unlikely that throwing more cardboard boxes at recently delivered babies will help the SNP cause. The good fairy who sneaks around Holyrood clearly has a miserly streak, having failed to alert MSPs to the fact that, even in the depths of South American favelas, something gorgeously fine has to be found for newborns. Do MSPs not know that women who were happy to get married in an Oxfam cast-off, or do without a wedding altogether, will incur debt to pay up to £1,500 for a Silvercross pram?
Almost everything the SNP government touches or says in relation to children and families fails to resonate with women. The list is a long one: midwifery care is like all the other care professions – so wrapped up in red tape – that nobody exercises professional discretion at the workplace and young mothers are even paying for the services of doulahs and advocates to brave the rigours of hospital birthing alongside them. Applications to independent schools are growing despite the costs rising to astronomical levels. And among disgruntled teachers, Curriculum for Excellence has become a byword for the falling standards of literacy.
Although the SNP did not introduce the current school system – which is neither a curriculum nor excellent – they have categorically failed to implement a 'process'-based pedagogy in the place of a curriculum of subject-based information. Instead, the new methodology has been foisted on a system unready to bear the change.
Meanwhile, the 'Named Person' legislation continues to astonish anyone outside the country. Teenage suicides rise as the government forces through a system which – lacking any emphasis on challenge, competition – is particularly unsuited to boys. The constant threat that any expression of teenage sexuality in school will land pupils in trouble does not help.
The use, in the name of wellbeing, of the Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) questionnaire in schools raises even more questions about the government's lack of respect for children. It is not remotely scientifically valid (as its advocates claim) because human beings are, mercifully, so complex that it is impossible to say that if child A suffers event B, and child C also suffers event B, then both children will have an identical traumatic experience.
The idea that the mothers of a country which gave up on the 11+ examination because it was unfair will happily accept the threat that their child may be awarded a lifetime 'qualification' in victimhood is counterintuitive.
A woman on 'Question Time' recently said that 12-year-olds are present in Scottish secondary schools who are unable to count in twos. Recently in the Scottish Review, another woman movingly noted the self-evident truth that you cannot have a Named Person relationship with a child and still pretend to either serve, or be a friend, to the family. I have seen with my own eyes the test papers evidencing that half of a commencing primary six class (mostly 10-year-olds) could not correctly write the word 'said'.
The spectacle of the first minister confirming in an interview with Andrew Marr that the executive was 'considering' arbitrarily overturning the Scottish parliament's vote on standardised profiling of the developmental learning of five-year-olds took us to a new low. No government should be that desperate (or undemocratic). Profiling five-year-olds is not a test in any meaningful sense, and to bring it to the legislative floor as a matter for debate is beyond every shade of ridiculous.
The philosopher David Hume famously proposed that an 'ought' cannot be derived from an 'is', meaning that knowing something is right tells you absolutely nothing about how to make it happen. It gives me no satisfaction to reiterate that I wrote many years ago in the Scottish Review that Curriculum for Excellence was little more than a pompous brain-fart, like buying a Ferrari when roller skates would have served better. It was not the SNP who crossed the Rubicon and made the first fatal investments in 'Glow', the hardware infrastructure and IT platform that has since proven overpriced and underused, and carries enormous ongoing software licensing fees.
The principles of a Scottish school system fit for the 21st century – its contextualisation in IT and based more on learning by direct experience – are desirable and necessary developments. Over time.
But the Scottish government was warned and had all the hard evidence it needed, in the form of the McKinsey consultancy reports, that a process-based curriculum demands a certain standard of literacy as a prerequisite – a standard that Scotland did not and does not have.
To compound the problem, the SNP government has thrown every single political trope – healthy eating, mental health, environmental issues, human rights and the rest – into the pot and expects the teaching profession to teach them as a curriculum of information. The result is indoctrination and political correctness – deeply unsettling, particularly to mothers.
It is the SNP's duty to come to an understanding, not with Cosla, nor with the teachers' unions, nor even with teachers, but with parents. If the parents of Scotland consent on an informed basis to a school system which depends on experiential process as opposed to subject-based knowledge, that would at least be a democratic choice. But to permit a Pied Piper government to lead the nation's children over the hill to heaven knows where, undermines not only the preferred identity of Scottish women but also the strength of the family as the basic viable unit of society.