OF all the events I attended during the first referendum on Scottish independence the one that moved me most occurred in a back room of the Pearce Institute on Govan Road in Glasgow. It was held by an organisation called Tea in the Pot which was established as a drop-in centre and support service for women who have experienced a depressing array of social and personal challenges in their lives. The 20 or so working-class women of all ages I encountered that day in 2014 had gathered to discuss the referendum and those issues most pertinent to their own circumstances.

The discussion was a lively one and there was an air of exhilaration in the room. These women, like many others who found their voices during the referendum campaign, had never previously felt engaged in the political processes of our nation.

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They were enjoying themselves and several, having found their voices, began to realise that these were as rich, vibrant and eloquent as the professionals and the eternal activists – mainly affluent white men – who had been accustomed to making politics their exclusive preserve.

These women and tens of thousands like them hold the key to the next independence referendum and this time they will be more informed and more empowered than they were before 2014.

This was hallowed ground and you felt privileged to be present: it was like witnessing the seed of a revolution being planted. You knew also that the genie wouldn’t be going back in the bottle.

In 2015 the Scottish Referendum Study, run by academics at the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Essex, analysed voting patterns in the campaign. Amongst the most startling were that a clear majority of women in Scotland (57%) had voted to reject independence. Thus if the Yes campaign is to prevail next time around the battle for female hearts and minds will be crucial and it won’t be won purely by appealing to concerns over Brexit, universal credit or the economy. It’s a lot more complicated than that and may hinge on issues of trust and confidence about what an independent Scotland can offer women.

Many of these Govan women were already juggling meagre finances and trying to keep a family together in the face of a familiar array of obstacles including abusive partners, alcoholism and the influence of gangs on their children. They can always do without the patronising attitudes of privileged, professional males who would simply fall apart if they were ever to encounter any of the challenges some of these women faced every day of their lives.

An unpleasant whiff of these condescending attitudes was evident in some of the responses on social media to a very well-written article in the Sunday Herald last weekend by Rhiannon Spear, the SNP councillor for Glasgow Pollok. Spear described how she had been widely criticised and worse for daring to ask why there were no women included at a planned event to protest the BBC’s alleged anti-independence bias.

The National:

I got the distinct impression that if Spear had been invited to participate in any discussion of this she would have told the organisers to behave themselves; grow up and ditch this entirely fatuous and counter-productive protest, but that’s another issue for another column.

Instead she confined herself to making a few pertinent and polite points about gender issues and all-male panels. The reaction was a depressingly familiar one. She wrote: “In response, I was called sexist and a fraud, sworn at, accused of being a BBC plant to disrupt the campaign, and labelled anti-independence by an online cohort made up overwhelmingly of white, older men. Apparently, being an elected representative of the SNP and dedicated campaigner for Scottish independence doesn’t meet the bar set to be a Yes voter.”

It’s scarcely believable that, four years after the first referendum campaign and the activism of thousands of previously excluded women, any Yes event still goes ahead without key female representation.

Nationalists, me included, have criticised the Labour Party for failing to learn the lessons of the recent past as they try to recover any measure of relevance in Scottish politics. Those in the Yes movement who still insist on organising events and discussions with all-male panels must have been living on a different planet these last five years.

Spear was also accused by some of disloyalty and instructed in the most condescending of tones to cease and desist from this sort of conduct as it was unnecessarily “bringing gender politics into the Yes movement”. What a shower of dickheads, and I use the term advisedly.

If gender politics aren’t already a factor in the Yes movement then they bloody well ought to be.

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Spear conveyed this more eloquently than I ever could and with more authority. “Learning from 2014, we know women were more likely to vote No than men,” she wrote. “And in the current political climate, hearing from women is a necessity.

“Women are disproportionately affected by austerity. We live in a systemically sexist society that values men over women. That fact has been exacerbated further by the Tories’ austerity agenda, with women bearing 86 per cent of the austerity burden.”

Let’s talk frankly here. I haven’t a scooby who will be chosen as chief executive of the official Yes campaign when the starting gun is fired but my fervent hope is that it’s a woman. And I hope one of her first internal memos is to the effect that no Yes discussion or panel event will be accorded official endorsement unless there is at least one woman included on it. (Bloody hell; I’m doing it myself: a white, middle-aged bloke already trying to tell a female how she should be doing her job and she hasn’t even started yet. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves.) That right there is why there should be an increased female presence – front and centre – of everything to do with Yes in the second referendum.

The National:

Some elements of that August afternoon in 2014 at the Pearce Institute in Govan lifted the event above the ordinary. One of these was the realisation that you were witnessing something special and sovereign. Another was the nature of the discussion itself.

There were some profound and wide-ranging differences of opinion among these women but the meeting was conducted with a dignity and sense of mutual respect largely absent when males get together to discuss politics. Everyone who took to the floor was heard without fear of being shouted down or having her views dismissed or derided.

If this atmosphere could be captured and then shared at every future Yes event then the referendum is already in the bag.