WHEN word got out late last year that a “Unionist cabal” of newspaper letter-writers were co-ordinating their efforts to spread anti-indy sentiment, there was plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth. “Conspiracy!” called some. “Outrage!” howled others.

Many marvelled at the amount of work these keyboard warriors were putting in – not just churning out letters but also creating spreadsheets to keep track of how many had been published – while mocking their cack-handed attempts to stay under the radar.

But was there any need for such a cloak-and-dagger approach to begin with? Was it really necessary for these scribblers to formally co-ordinate their efforts, or are most newspapers only too delighted to print anti-SNP or anti-independence missives?

Amidst all of the sound and fury, one important point seemed to be overlooked: letters editors can only publish letters they receive. If Unionist-leaning papers publish more letters from Unionists, it might just be the case that independence supporters aren’t writing to them in anything like the same numbers, or indeed have been boycotting them altogether for years.

Thus begins a vicious cycle, where it is assumed different views won’t be welcome, so no-one bothers to write in expressing them, and then lo and behold those views never make it into print.

Perhaps some independence supporters quietly responded to the stooshie by setting up their own secret circles – or perhaps these already existed, with more effective codes of silence in place. But if they do, I have a suspicion they are dominated by men.

The National has many loyal and highly articulate male letter-writers, whose informative, persuasive and witty words appear in our pages on a weekly basis if not more frequently. But when it comes to gender balance in The National Conversation, we have a long way to go. Why might this be?

Could it be that women just don’t have much to say for themselves, or simply can’t be bothered to get in touch? Surely not. When you get a group of indy-supporting women together – whether for a Women for Independence “womanifesto” workshop, a Scottish Women’s Convention roadshow event or a local group’s monthly meeting – they certainly don’t sit in silence. Women are busy working behind the scenes in Yes groups and SNP branches, so why don’t we hear from them more?

When women do write to The National, their letters tend to be thoughtful and considered, and every bit as well-written as those we receive from our valued male contributors. They often reference personal experience, such as Donna Curless’s recent account of her journey to Yes, Jean Nisbet describing obstacles to accessing bank services, or Dr Mary Brown’s response to Michael Fry this week, in which she blasted the senior managers she’d encountered during her career as “ruthless, egocentric and in many cases downright stupid.”

What’s notable is that women’s letters are more often prefaced with wee notes suggesting they might not be any use, or might be too long, or might contain mistakes. Women writers also follow up with thank-you notes more frequently than men. On the whole, male correspondents make no advance apologies for their letters, or suggest they might not be worthy of publication. They tend to assume – and very often they’re correct – that their perspectives will be of interest to fellow readers. Generally they simply fire them off, with no preamble required. And if some of these letters don’t make it into print – because others have made similar points, or a particular debate has been drawn to a close, or a new voice has been given priority – they don’t smart at the rejection, or if they do, they certainly don’t stop writing.

Another possible explanation for the gender imbalance is that letters editors consciously or otherwise favour male correspondents and ignore female ones, but a survey of January’s National mailbag illustrates that no amount of positive discrimination could produce a 50:50 split. Women and girls make up 51 per cent of Scotland’s population but accounted for only 25 per cent of our letter-writers so far this year. The gender imbalance in our pages is even more pronounced than that, because a core group of men write to us very frequently, on a wide range of topics.

To clarify, we certainly aren’t complaining about that, and we don’t want them to stop. But we know there are also hundreds of thousands of passionate, intelligent, opinionated Yes-supporting women out there too, and it would be great to hear from more of them, more often.

We want to know how our women readers feel about domestic abuse legislation, equal pay battles and the Universal Credit roll-out. Equally, we want to know how they feel about income tax reform, Brexit deals and currency options for an independent Scotland.

Much is made of the diversity of the Yes movement, and the fact that the 2014 referendum inspired people from all walks of life to become politically engaged for the first time. But plenty of Scottish women remain firmly in the “don’t know” category, and are likely to remain there unless they can be persuaded that independence offers solutions to the problems they care about the most, whether these are traditional “women’s issues” or more fundamental questions about economy prosperity, social justice and finding a way to do politics differently.

Over to you, ladies.

To send a letter to The National, email letters@thenational.scot