Sol­i­dar­ity show that de­serves your vote

As the fight for equal rights con­tin­ues, Holyroodis home toa bold dis­play on theS­cot­tish suf­fragettes. By Karin Good­win

The Herald - - Features -

THE black-and-white photo may be faded, but there is no mis­tak­ing the staunchly de­fi­ant tilt of Anna Munro’s head, as she poses in her sim­ple dress and wide-brimmed hat.As­mile plays round her lips and her eyes twin­kle as she leans one hand for sup­port against a wooden gatepost, the oth­erges­tur­ing for­wards, to­wards the prom­ise of bet­ter days.

“Votes for­Women”, de­mands the bold let­ter­ing of the Women’s Free­dom League ban­ner be­hind her. And then, with a flour­ish un­der­neath: “Scot­tish Cam­paign”.

Some 100 years later, the mer­est men­tion of the suf­frage move­ment re­calls a flood of iconic images, from the im­pas­sioned speeches ofEm­me­line Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s So­cial and Po­lit­i­calUnion, call­ing for “deeds not words”, to the death of Emily Dav­i­son, tram­pled by King Ge­orgeV’s horse at the Ep­som Derby. It con­jures up the back­drop of women chained to the rail­ings of 10 Down­ing Street, protest­ing at West­min­ster or on the march in Trafal­gar Square. But, as a new ex­hi­bi­tion – If I Can’t Vote, I Don’t Count – open­ing to­mor­row at the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment re­minds us, this is just part of the story.

Through a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of images, arte­facts and rare ar­chive ma­te­rial, it tells the lit­tle-known sto­ries of Scot­tish cam­paign­ers such as Munro who, along with fel­low suf­frag­ist Agnes “Nan­nie” Brown, walked from Ed­in­burgh to Lon­don to raise aware­ness of their cause. From Ler­wick to Leuchars and Dundee to Dum­fries, tens of thou­sands of Scots worked tire­lessly to get po­lit­i­cal no­tice.

For those born sev­eral gen­er­a­tions af­ter the move­ment achieved its prin­ci­pal goal, it’s all too easy to for­get it took a fiercely de­ter­mined cam­paign, last­ing more than 50 years, be­fore Her­bert Asquith’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment ca­pit­u­lated, al­low­ing women over 30 the vote in 1918. Not un­til 1928 were women given equal suf­frage rights to men.

The bat­tle had be­gun in earnest when, in 1866, in­de­pen­dent MPJohn Stu­art Mill pre­sented a pe­ti­tion to the House of Com­mons in sup­port of the fe­male vote. Its de­feat was a blow to many, lead­ing to the first suf­frage so­ci­eties form­ing in Ed­in­burgh, Lon­don andManch­ester.

Un­like the mil­i­tants – known as suf­fragettes – early suf­frag­ists did not be­lieve in law-break­ing or vi­o­lence, but in the power of peace­ful protest. It did not mean they were any less com­mit­ted. Once the cam­paign’s fire tookhold in Scot­land, it lit like torch pa­per – women came for­ward in droves to make a stand, of­ten sup­ported by theirhus­bands, male coun­cil­lors, church min­is­ters and trade union­ists. Be­tween 1867 and 1876, over two mil­lion Scot­tish women had signed pe­ti­tions call­ing to be given equal rights to those en­joyed by their male con­tem­po­raries.

Ac­cord­ing to Lynn Abrams, pro­fes­so­rof gen­der­his­tory at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity, Scot­tish women’s ex­ist­ing ac­tivism made it a nat­u­ral home for the suf­frage­move­ment. “In nine­teenth-cen­tury Scot­land there was a lively range of or­gan­i­sa­tions that women were in­volved in, cov­er­ing ar­eas such as hous­ing, so­cial wel­fare, ed­u­ca­tion and the tem­per­ance move­ment,” she ex­plains.

“They re­alised that no-one lis­tened when they were cam­paign­ing on phil­an­thropic is­sues, that they had no power to change things. If they wanted to get se­ri­ous they needed to have a vote and they set out to get it. The suf­frage move­ment did not come out of the blue. It was rooted in very real is­sues.”

Huge marches were held in cities across Scot­land, at­tract­ing tens of thou­sands of women from all so­cial classes. But progress was slow, and frus­tra­tions were grow­ing. In Eng­land, Manch­ester-born Em­me­line Pankhurst, to­geth­er­with her­daugh­ter, Christa­bel, formed the­Women’s So­cial and Po­lit­i­cal Union, and this time, di­rect ac­tion was on the cards.

In 1912, the first in­ci­dence of suf­frage vi­o­lence in Scot­land oc­curred,with win­dows smashed on Glas­gow’s Sauchiehall Street. Pub­lic build­ings be­came tar­gets, along with tourist at­trac­tions such as Ross­lyn Chapel, Ed­in­burgh’s Royal Ob­ser­va­tory and Robert Burns’s cot­tage.

Plenty of Scots women were ready for the chal­lenge. They de­scended on lead­ing politi­cians, such as the Prime Min­is­ter and Win­ston Churchill, both of whom held Scot­tish seats, shout­ing ver­bal abuse. In one case, “two well-dressed ladies” rushed at Asquith at Mo­ray Golf Club, tug­ging at his clothes and knock­ing off his hat. Ethel Moor­head, from Dundee, threw an egg at Churchill, smashed a glass case at the Wal­lace Mon­u­ment and was ar­rested for at­tempted ar­son, while Fanny Parker, a niece of LordKitch­ener call­ing her­self Janet Arthur, burnt down the new stand at Ayr Race­course. Parker was also be­hind a suf­fragette plot to blowup Burns’s Cot­tage. Ara­bella Scott’s at­tempt to burn down Kelso Race­course’s stands was re­warded by five weeks at Perth prison, how­ever Lil­ias Michelle avoided cap­ture when she broke into Bal­moral Golf Course, re­plac­ing the club flags with those in the suf­fragette colours of white, green and pur­ple, and scrawl­ing “votes for women” on a nearby foun­tain.

Maude Ed­wards slashed a por­trait of the king at the Roy­alA­cademy in Ed­in­burgh, and on a visit to Dundee, Em­me­line Pankhurst her­self joined a rooftop protest, throw­ing slates down at Churchill, the lo­cal MP.

“When women got mil­i­tant, they cer­tainly didn’t mess about,” says Gail Cameron, the cu­ra­tor of the Lon­don-based Women’s Li­brary, which also holds many Scot­tish arte­facts. “Th­ese were acts that would have been shock­ing to­day.”

Around 25 Scot­tishwomen served time in prison, five of whom were force-fed fol­low­ing hunger strike. “There are some heart-break­ing ac­counts of the women who went to prison,” adds Cameron.

Dr Nor­manWat­son, a Dun­dee­based re­searcher of the Scot­tish suf­frage move­ment for more than 20 years, has been cam­paign­ing since 2004 for par­dons for the con­victed suf­fragettes, whom he claims acted po­lit­i­cally rather than crim­i­nally.

“Th­ese women were turn­ing their backs on their fam­i­lies by their ac­tions,” he says. “Peo­ple who were once friends would walkon the other side of the road, their hus­bands would be at­tacked and theirchil­dren spurned.Their­be­haviour­was sim­ply not seen as ap­pro­pri­ate. When they went to pub­lic meet­ings to ask for votes for­women, they were ejected with ex­treme vi­o­lence – they were thrown down steps, tram­pled and hit by po­lice­men. It must have taken a huge amount of courage.”

Though his calls for par­dons to be is­sued have so far been re­jected from both the Scot­tish Ex­ec­u­tive and UK gov­ern­ment, there has been some suc­cess. Tonight the first sculp­ture mark­ing the ef­forts of the Scot­tish suf­fragettes will be un­veiled at the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

It is fit­ting that their im­pact on the build­ing, where 50 of 129 MSPs are fe­male, will no longer go un­marked. But with vot­ing at an all-time low, the ex­hi­bi­tion is in­cred­i­bly rel­e­vant, says Scot­tish Green co-con­venorShiona Baird, one of sev­eral MSPs whose com­ments fea­ture in the ex­hi­bi­tion. “I was a stu­dent in the 1960s at the time of the rise of the wo­man’s-lib move­ment and fem­i­nism,” she says. “In the 1970s we got the equal pay act and we re­ally did thinkwe’d got equal­ity, but here we are, decades later, and we still don’t have equal pay. In cer­tain pro­fes­sions there is still a feel­ing that women have to try harder than men to at­tain the same pay. There is still an aw­ful lot to do.”

But per­haps fu­ture progress starts by pay­ing homage to the ac­tions of Munro and her fel­low cam­paign­ers, and re­mem­ber­ing just how­far­women have al­ready come. If I Can’t Vote, I Don’t Count is on dis­play in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment’s main hall from to­mor­row un­til March 9.

Pic­ture: Her­ald Ar­chive

FIGHT­ING SPIRIT: The ar­rest­ing sight of Anna Munro at­tempt­ing to rally the troops in 1912.

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