Wisrutta Atthakor reports back from the Gude Cause march through Edinburgh, 100 years to the day since Scottish suffragettes took to the city’s streets
On Saturday 10 October, thousands of women, children and men took to the streets of Edinburgh to re-enact the women’s suffrage movement procession that took place along Princes Street a century ago to the day.
The original demonstration took place on Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main commercial thoroughfare, which looks onto Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle beyond. However, due to ongoing tram-works in the city’s centre, the 21st century recreation of the iconic historical movement was not able to retrace the original route, which was a real shame, but unfortunately an unavoidable one. Instead, the march, starting at Bruntsfield Links, wove through the Old Town past the City Chambers on the Royal Mile to terminate atop Calton Hill, where a rally of speeches, music and singing took place.
The procession was divided into three major eras: past, present and future, with the past leading the march, complete with people in full period dress, to represent the three colours of women’s suffrage: violet, white and green. The past was clearly distinguishable with the lovely period costumes and banners. The present and future, however, seemed to blend together somewhat, but it’s perhaps apt in many ways.
Most of the participants gathered at Bruntsfield Links, but even as the procession took to the streets people joined in at different points all along the route. Numerous banners from various groups, large and small, could be seen throughout, including Amnesty International, Scottish Women’s Aid and the Women’s Engineering Society, to name but a few. Political party banners that were clearly visible included the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour Party and Scottish Green Party. However, there was a notable absence of any banner representing the Liberal Democrat or the Conservative parties, although the Liberal Democrat’s website does report participation; I could not find any evidence of participation by the Conservatives (please correct me if I am wrong).
Although the event has been termed a re-enactment on numerous occasions, its purpose goes beyond a mere recreation of an important historical event. It not only commemorates the strife and struggles of women in the past who fought for the right to vote and for equality, but goes further to illustrate the still prevailing inequality between women and men. In fact, as history itself has shown us, only women over the age of 30 were first allowed to vote in 1918 and it was another 10 years after before women were granted the vote on equal terms as men, at the age of 21.
Eight decades have passed since women received equal voting rights, but women still have not achieved true equality. Plenty of evidence of this inequality can be seen in pay gaps, unequal childcare responsibilities and representation in government and most traditionally male-dominated industries, not to mention objectification, rape and violence. So the Gude Cause was, in fact, a significant historical event in itself and is part of women’s ongoing struggles for real gender equality.
In addition to paying tribute to suffragettes of bygone days and showing the continuing need for women’s movements and campaigns, Gude Cause also celebrated women’s successes and achievements, which were depicted throughout the event, from the organisers themselves, to mounted policewomen and piper Louise Marshall Millington, who led the march, followed closely by organiser Fiona Skillen and MSP Fiona Hyslop.
Once the procession reached its destination at the top of Calton Hill, MSP Fiona Hyslop gave a moving and inspiring speech honouring the suffragettes and the women’s suffrage movements, telling of the impact that they have had on Scottish democracy and society, and the significance of the location of the offices of the Scottish government, which are on the very spot that once housed Calton Jail, within which Ethel Moorhead was imprisoned and was the first suffragette to be force-fed in a Scottish prison.
After Fiona Hyslop delivered her speech, Falkirk MSP Cathy Peattie sang beautifully the song Bread and Roses, joined in by those who knew the words, and which echoed over the top of Calton Hill. The memorable day came to a close with group singing and people slowly dispersing and going in their own directions, with a sense that although much has been achieved, so much more still needs to be done towards attaining true gender equality.