The message can be seen for miles. Photo: Independence Climbers
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Climbing for independence: meet the woman who scaled a cliff to support the Yes Campaign

Lindsay Jarrett climbed the cliffs beneath Edinburgh Castle in the dark to place a foil YES sign somewhere everyone would see it.

On the morning of Saturday 13 September a bold white YES appeared on the cliffs leading up to Edinburgh Castle. It had been placed there overnight and at first people didn’t know where it came from. All they knew was that whoever put it there must have scaled the steep cliffs in the darkness, a daring and fearsome act of dedication to the Yes campaign. The deed became even more extraordinary after the identity of the climber was revealed.

Lindsay Jarrett is a 43-year-old mother of five. She used to work as a police inspector in the Highlands of Scotland, but she is now retired. She has an incurable condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, which has lead to her needing a double lung transplant. Several of her children also have this horrible disease.

On 12 September Lindsay was in Edinburgh to see a transplant consultant. He told her he sees patients with twice her lung capacity who struggle to even stand.  That night Lindsay, a disabled athlete, would place a tank containing four litres of oxygen on continuous flow in her rucksack, alongside the foil YES sign and ties to hold it in place.

She describes the thrill and pain she felt as she climbed: “Trains rumbled below me and I kept in tight to the rock face. As I got higher up I was able to clip my harness onto the mesh wiring to take rests. I took lots of rests! My main problem apart from an inability to breathe is that my heart rate rises to a ridiculous level, so I need to stop and let it settle before I go again.”

She describes “panicked moments”, when she could not draw enough oxygen into her lungs and “the pain of my heart going at 200 beats a minute”. However, she says it was worth it and she “would do it all again for a free Scotland”.

I asked Lindsay what prompted her to take on such a drastic task, after making contact through the Independence Climber Facebook page.

She describes the action as a “direct message to Gordon Brown”, a politician she feels horribly deceived by. “He led us to believe that cross border organ and blood donation would not be available as it is now, if Scotland became independent. He led us to believe that my life and that of others would be at risk. Some of my family members sent off postal votes as a No in order to protect me. Then NHS Blood and Transplant put out an official statement declaring that the system would remain exactly as it is regardless of the referendum outcome. I want to send a clear message to Gordon Brown on behalf of myself, my family and anyone else vulnerable or disabled.”

She continues. “To pick on the most disabled and vulnerable members of society you have to be the lowest of the low.”

I asked Gordon and Sarah Brown’s office for their response to this, and so far have not received one, although I would be keen to hear what Brown has to say on the matter.

Independence Climbers are a group of about twenty people in the Highlands of Scotland, who travel round, clandestinely scaling cliff faces, steep buildings and monuments to put up YES signs. They’re not directly affiliated to the Yes campaign, but they have a common cause, a passion for an independent Scotland, alongside a love of the outdoors. There are people who make signs, people who work on logistics, those who provide transport and some who ensure there is food and drink and place to sleep for the night.

As their activities are secret, often done under cover of darkness, Lindsay is unable to tell me about the work of the rest of the group. But their Facebook page shows a Green YES placed on trees in Castlemilk, just outside of Glasgow. Another picture shows a large YES on uninhabited volcanic island, Ailsa Craig. A large YES reminiscent of the ones used by the group has also appeared in the Pentland Hills, within clear view of drivers travelling along the Edinburgh City Bypass. Most of the group are also climbers, but it was of great symbolic importance to Lindsay that she should be the one to place the YES sign on the cliffs below Edinburgh Castle.

“I wanted to send a clear message to Gordon Brown: ‘You do not scare me’. Knowledge dispels fear. We are made of stern stuff in Scotland and will not take kindly to it. We will protect those in need, not frighten them into doing as we please.”

When I speak to Lindsay, she is en route to Glasgow, with her colleague Niall who shares her passion and looks after the press for the group. Tonight Lindsay will speak in George Square. Tomorrow she will vote, and then go home and spend time with her children. She anticipates a Yes majority.

Photo: ASA
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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA