To make equality happen, politics needs to lead by example

This blog is from Michelle Campbell, SNP councillor for Erskine & InchinnanMichelle-Campbell-3-1024x683

In May 2017, I proudly became a councillor in my first ever election as a candidate. It was such a surreal experience being the face of a campaign, but also one of the most vulnerable moments I have felt. I would compare the difference between being an activist vs being the candidate to being a backing singer; essential but very different from being front and centre!
But for me I have always had to accept standing out. As a women in a male dominated arena and as a woman of colour. Being elected, especially in the currently climate feels like it means having to have a thick skin, as you will always have people who won’t like you or your representation purely due to political affiliation; that I have come to accept. But what is frustrating and difficult, is people not accepting me as an equal because I am a women and/or because I am a women of colour.
When you are sitting as women in a female dominant administration of a council, in which there is not true gender balance across all elected members and as the only person of colour, how can we say this is fair representation of our local communities?
Throughout my career, I have been subjected to numerous overt and covert examples of sexism and racism, I have had to share meetings with individuals who have been affiliated with far right groups. Racism is very much alive even though often (although not always…) it is carefully expressed. It may be more subtle, but it is still racism. It is simple; if I am judged for the way I look and I am made to feel uncomfortable for being from a mixed race background in context to the circumstance – that is racism.
People of BAME backgrounds just want to have the same forums and opportunities to flourish like anyone else. The systemic and societal racism my grandparents, my mother and myself have continued to experience needs to stop and our politics should be leading by example in this area. Beyond simply cries of outrage on social media status, we need more solidarity to call it out and take action in every arena of life. We need to change the narrative to change perceptions. In the same way, gender typical roles need to be challenged across all cultures to allow women to have the freedom to choose their own path without narrow stereotypes and sexism being an everyday experience.
Having representation with such a lack of diversity is inequality being further cemented into our democratic decision making and the consequences for us all and our battle for fair and meaningful equality continues to take one step forward and two steps back. To have a flourishing democracy we need to have full, barrier-free participation, access for all regardless of sex, race, religion, sexuality, disability and class. Let’s make it a reality.

It’s time for fair family leave policy for our councillors – Kelly Parry

img_3656-1Two years ago, almost to the day I sat in the Council Chambers in Midlothian moving a motion on maternity leave for Councillors. I was 6 months pregnant by then, and at that point had literally no idea how I was going to have time to give birth (!).

My motion passed and Midlothian became the first Council to in principle approve policy to give Councillors maternity and paternity leave, I am so proud of that.

But this isn’t about just a day off to give birth – though it’s a helpful part of it. It is about setting a culture change, and changing the expectations of women in politics.

The women Councillors that navigated this before me managed, but they did so with babes in arms in Council chambers, in voting lobbies, trying to find spaces and places to change and feed their babies.

I have heard countless experiences of women Councilors feeling pressured not to take time off, to attend votes, missed ante natal appointments to attend meetings or penalised financially and or demoted for taking leave at all. What an absolute outrage – I lost count of the horror and disbelief from people that couldn’t comprehend the fact that I could take no maternity leave.

I was lucky in a sense, that the post 2017 election brought with it a different demographic of Councillor. More women, more parents, more carers and it radically changed things. It gave me an opportunity to be a wee bit bolder, push the boundaries and capture the need for change.

In reality, my journey post-birth wasn’t six months off at home at tots groups. I still attended most main Council Committees but when I did, I breastfed freely, I had a changing facility in an office where I could shut the blinds and have privacy to express milk and feed Isla, if I wanted to. I was able to move around, video call into meetings for the first time in Midlothian. I was given the same rights to basic considerations like health and safety assessments, and protections for pregnant employees. Ultimately that is the choice that having a policy in place gives you. That’s no different to maternity leave for other employees – women may choose to go back to work earlier, but the choice was never there before.

There was also smaller changes that happened naturally that have really shifted the culture in Midlothian. I am lucky that the cross party support was overwhelming in Midlothian, and everyone has embraced Isla in and out of the Council Chamber. Though to be fair she sometimes behaves better than the Councillors, and has genius political comic timing as it happens! But that environment simply would not exist without the political will, and having a solid commitment to change. I genuinely believe that if every council in Scotland was to adopt a similar policy, and particularly using the recently published family leave guidance from COSLA, that this would remove not only some of the physical barriers, but it sends a message to women, parents, prospective parents and carers, that politics is a more welcome place for them.

This isn’t the holy grail of the structural change we need to increase women in local politics of course. We need political leadership to drive this through and that’s already happening in many areas already, and we’ve seen this also being led by men – Adam McVey in Edinburgh Council and John Alexander have been amazing advocates for change and have already put in place processes for making changes in their councils. West Dunbartonshire and South Lanarkshire also have policies and procedures in place, and I know many others are looking at this new guidance with sincere consideration.

The work put into the progress so far should be applauded, and particularly the work done by the COSLA Special Interest Group and others – it has been a journey and collaboration by many, but I hope it is only the start.

I am optimistic that changes like these can increase women’s participation at the next Local Elections, that we see more women elected than ever, and that those women pursue even further radical changes that makes politics even more accessible and reflective of our communities.

Councillor Kelly Parry, mum of two and Councillor for Midlothian West





What the parties say

Earlier this month we wrote to all the major parties represented in the Scottish Parliament and asked them what they are doing to increase the number of women candidates in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, as selections are currently taking place.

We have received responses from 4 out of 5 of the parties and here is a summary of what they plan (full responses are written below):


  • All-women shortlists in a constituency where the incumbent SNP MSP is standing down.
  • The ability to add additional candidates who are BAME, women or disabled to a constituency where two or more valid nominations are received.
  • Zipping mechanism to a regional list (alternating men/women)

Scottish Conservatives:

  • Engagement activities and networking through Women2Win
  • No voluntary balancing measures

Scottish Greens:

  • Zipping in regional lists
  • 50% of all winnable seats will be a woman candidate (through all women shortlists)

Scottish Liberal Democrats:

  • Candidates for the Scottish Parliament Election of 2021 for five of the ten most winnable seats (whether constituencies or top regional places) will be women (though all women shortlists).  A motion will be presented to the October 2016 Conference specifying which constituencies or regional lists would be affected by this change, taking into account the results of the May 2016 election.

Scottish Labour:

  • Zipping regional lists to achieve 50:50
  • Outreach and training activities for women, BAME and disabled candidates
  • 50% of winnable seats will have all women shortlists


Full response from the SNP:

Thank you for the email of 6 July and my apologies for the delay in responding as it seems to have been misdirected within our system.

You’ll be aware that the SNP had some success in increasing gender balance in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, and the 2017 local government elections, by introducing all-female shortlists, and indeed in 2017, ensuring a balance in wards where more than one SNP candidate was running.

The National Executive Committee want to continue that improvement in 2021, and the following resolution has been put to our Annual Conference in October (since the decision on specific mechanisms rests with Conference):


Conference agrees to open the candidate selection process for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections as soon as practicable with a view to having all constituency candidates in place in Spring 2020.

Conference reaffirms the requirement in the Constitution for an equality strategy which must aim for 50/50 gender-balanced representation and an increase in the number of candidates drawn from BAME and other under-represented groups.

Conference approves under Paragraph 7.4 of the Constitution the use, as the NEC considers appropriate, of the following specific mechanisms to meet the Party’s constitutional requirements at the 2021 elections:

  • All-women shortlists in a constituency where the incumbent SNP MSP is standing down. 
  • The ability to add additional candidates who are BAME, women or disabled to a constituency where two or more valid nominations are received.
  • The ability to apply a zipping mechanism to a regional list.

As mentioned in that resolution, our Constitution, adopted last October, makes clear that we are working towards 50/50 gender balance. Within that, we absolutely recognise the need to increase the number of women candidates who are BAME, disabled, or from other underrepresented groups. The following resolution will also be going to Conference in October in that respect:


Conference recognises the immense contribution made to Scotland by the many diverse communities who have chosen to make this nation their home. Conference believes that we are at our best as a country when that broad diversity of voices and perspectives is reflected at all levels of Government.

Conference recognises the improvement in the representation of women that has resulted from adopting gender balance mechanisms in our selection process but notes with concern that BAME and disabled people continue to be underrepresented in our national parliament. Conference believes it is unacceptable that in the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament there have been only four BAME representatives.

Conference believes we must do more to champion representation of all our communities. Conference notes with interest the use of reserved political positions which involves setting aside seats for minority communities who struggle to overcome barriers to political participation and calls on the National Executive Committee to investigate whether selection processes can be modified to improve representation with a specific focus on the use of reserved political positions on regional lists for the next Holyrood Election.

In addition to mechanisms around the selection process, we’ve long recognised that input is just as important as output. For a number of years the percentage of female candidates being elected closely correlated with the percentage of candidate applications coming from females. Through direct encouragement and networks, we have slowly managed to increase that, and undoubtedly the introduction of all-female shortlists has served as an incentive to come forward.

Through our Women’s Forum, our Disabled Members Group, BAME Network, Scots Asians for Independence, and others, we hope to encourage a broad spectrum of individuals to come forward, offering advice and support wherever we can.

I hope that is of some help, and of course, we welcome any thoughts that your campaign might have.


Full response from the Scottish Greens’s Women’s Network:

Thank you for asking this question and for all the work you do in this important area. Although the Scottish Greens were delighted to triple our number of MSPs in the last Holyrood elections, we were disappointed that despite 50% of our lead candidates being women, we ended up with a very un-gender-balanced parliamentary team. Although there were some people saying “That’s just how the chips fall”, we decided as a party that it simply wasn’t good enough. We know we can do better.

As a party, we have conducted a lengthy ‘lessons learned’ process, have changed our candidate selection procedures and have got new pro-active plans to support women candidates.

For candidate selection we previously used ‘zipped lists’ with 50% of our lists being lead by women. We have now tweaked the zipping process so that women cannot be ‘zipped down’ a list i.e. if the voting process, as it did for our European Election list, results in 3 women at the top of the list, we keep this result.

To build on our long-standing constitutional requirement that at least 50% of candidates in winnable seats should be women, and at least 40% overall, we have removed a previous requirement that 40% of candidates be men. Together with the change to the zipping process above, this means that there is no maximum ceiling on the number of women candidates who can be selected.

We have also made amendments to our selection rules which will ensure that every winnable candidate, aside from incumbent MSPs, will be a woman. This will mean that when we select our Scottish Parliament candidates in the months ahead, at least 10 of the 15 most winnable places will be filled by women.

Since the 2016 elections we have continued to strictly enforce our gender balancing requirements at all elections, and supported our party branches to identify and encourage women to stand as candidates. In the 2017 local elections, 45% of candidates were women, including 51% of target candidates, resulting in 47% of our elected Councillors being women. These were by far the highest proportions of women candidates and Councillors of any party.

Additionally, two-thirds of our candidates in the 2017 Westminster elections were women, and since 2017, 71% of our by-election candidates have been women – including the last 11 by-elections in a row. In several of these contests, the only woman on the ballot paper has been a Green.

The Scottish Green Party’s Women’s Network has the ambitious plan to have “more women standing on lists than we’ve ever had before”. This means we need 40+ women to win places on our Holyrood lists. To encourage women to stand we will be launching an internal campaign which will include information sessions with people who’ve stood before, ‘You’d be a great MSP’ sharing graphics and social media interactions with women who have already declared that they are standing. We want to normalise standing for elected roles, so that it doesn’t feel like you are ‘putting yourself forward’. The message is: “Look, we’re all ordinary women and we’re standing, please join us.”

And finally, we intend to do better at practical and emotional support for the women who do stand, which includes having an active women’s network and campaign teams in place early. We will be fundraising for a bursaries program to support our lead women candidates in regions where we don’t have sitting MSPs. The lead candidates can use this bursary to fund childcare, travel, time off work or training, whatever suits her best to support her campaigning. Other priority actions include producing equalities packs for branches, and establishing a mentor scheme. We have also strengthened our welfare and conduct policies to specifically support women candidates before, during and after the selection and election processes.

It is a very exciting time to be a Scottish Green. The Climate Emergency is now a mainstream concern and we’re the only party that has a positive vision for dealing with this and an inclusive, gender balanced, vision for the future. 


Full response from Scottish Conservatives:

We are working together to ensure the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party represents women at all levels of politics through organisations like Women2Win Scotland, and Scottish Conservative Women.

 Women2Win Scotland aims to promote the brightest and best women in the party through candidate training, networking and financial support. We believe that it is important that the gender balance of our candidates is relfective of modern Britain, and that’s why Women2Win holds regular events all around Scotland and is engaging with an increasing number of candidates as they go through selection. We are not only energising existing members of the Scottish Conservatives, but also attracting new talent.

 Scottish Conservative Women is the grassroots network that provides support and focus for women in the Conservative Party and ensures that the women’s perspective is always taken into account. SCW are reaching out to women in all parts of the community, campaigning on issues of particular concern to women both nationally and internationally and encouraging women to be politically active and to get elected at all levels.


Full response from the Scottish Liberal Democrats:

Our policies for selecting and promoting women candidates are based on the motion below passed at our Spring Conference in 2016.

Implementing that agreed programme led to a gender balanced Scot Lib Dems Westminster parliamentary party in 2017 (and came within two votes of being majority women) and a 100% female European Parliamentary Party in 2019.

The motion was as follows:

  1. the top candidate on our list in Scotland for the European Parliament Elections scheduled for June 2019 will be a woman and the second placed candidate will be a man.  The remaining places on the list will be filled without reference to the gender of the candidates. When the votes of the members are counted to determine the order in which the candidates are to be placed (in the process set out in Clause H7(b)(iii) of the Constitution), EITHER the last remaining woman will be placed first on the list and her votes redistributed among the remaining men (if more than one) to determine subsequent places; OR the last remaining man will be placed second on the list and his votes redistributed among the remaining women (if more than one) to determine the first and any other subsequent places. The same arrangements will be applied to select the man for second place.
  2. candidates for the General Election of 2020 in the five most winnable seats by percentage majority to be overcome to win the seat that do not have an incumbent Liberal Democrat MP at the time of selection should each be selected from a shortlist comprising only women members.  All the remaining 53 seats not currently held will be open contests.
  3. our candidates for the Scottish Parliament Election of 2021 for five of the ten most winnable seats (whether constituencies or top regional places) will be women.  A motion will be presented to the October 2016 Conference specifying which constituencies or regional lists would be affected by this change, taking into account the results of the May 2016 election.
  4. the Scottish Party Leader will have a responsibility to oversee the drive to select and secure more women and candidates from underrepresented groups are elected to Parliament.  The Leader will report twice a year to Conference on progress made.
  5. the Scottish Party Leader will appoint a group of party spokespeople from our councillors and candidates to speak for the party as well as parliamentarians .  At least half of that group will be women and it will include members who are from ethnic minorities and other underrepresented backgrounds.
  6. all members of the Scottish Executive will have a responsibility to support the drive to secure more women and candidates from underrepresented groups are elected to Parliament.  They will also encourage and support more women and candidates from underrepresented groups to be elected to Councils and Internal Committees in the Party.  The Executive will agree a plan to advance this objective and the effectiveness of the plan will be the subject of a debate at the Committee once a year.
  7. the job descriptions of party staff will be amended to include specific responsibilities for promoting diversity of candidate selection.  This will include monitoring, communications and campaigning.
  8. in parallel with their obligation to provide an annual PPRA return to Party Headquarters all local parties will be required to report annually on: the number of local party officeholders  who are women and from other underrepresented groups, the percentage of approved candidates locally who are women and from other underrepresented groups and the percentage of new members who attend local party meetings and join the local party committee.  This information will be reported by party staff to the Executive and by the Executive to Conference on an annual basis.
  9. a new model job description and specification for candidates will be agreed by the Party Executive Committee based on the model in England with input from the Campaigns and Candidates Committee, Women Liberal Democrats and other interested party organisations.  This will build on the Memorandum of Understanding agreed by the Scottish Executive in 2013.
  10. there will be a new Diversity Campaign Fund for use in supporting the winnable candidates from underrepresented groups for personal or campaign expenses. This fund will be used to reduce the practical barriers that stop people from underrepresented groups from standing for election, for example transport for people with mobility issues and BSL interpreters, as well as campaign expenditure.   It will be worth at least £10,000 per year in 2016 and index linked thereafter. The Fund will be managed by the Campaigns and Candidates Committee as delegated by the Executive Committee.
  11. a team of campaign mentors will be established by the Campaigns Department and Campaigns and Candidates Committee to support winnable candidates from underrepresented groups..
  12. between autumn 2016 late 2017 there will be a programme of information and training events to provide support and information for aspiring candidates.  Local parties, parliamentarians, councillors and members of party committees will be asked to encourage those members who have not previously sought approval to attend these events.  The numbers of members who attend these events and the local parties from which they arise will be reported to the Executive and annually to Conference. The team and training will be managed by the Campaign and Candidates Convener with the support of party campaign staff in Scotland.
  13. communications to members will include positive promotion to women and people from diverse backgrounds.  The work of candidates and spokespersons who are not yet elected parliamentarians will be promoted widely to members.
  14. in interpreting this motion any approved candidate who does not identify as male or as female shall be able to access the same arrangements as are proposed for women.


Full response from the Scottish Labour Party:

Scottish Labour is determined to build on our proven record of taking bold steps to increase women’s representation in Holyrood: From our commitment to gender balance in the 1999 election, to being the only major party in 2016 to have over 50% women candidates on both the list and constituency ballots, we have demonstrated our values through action.

Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard, has been leading on this since his election, when he committed to: unapologetic support for all women shortlists; all future elections to have 50% women candidates; a women’s representative on the party’s Scottish Executive Committee; and a root-and-branch review of sexism in the party with real and proactive reporting mechanisms to support women experiencing discrimination.

After selecting 16 women in our 20 most winnable Westminster seats for the next General Election using all women shortlists (AWS), we are already on track to have at least 50:50 candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. Selections are underway in the 34 most winnable Scottish Parliament seats for Labour and following a party-wide consultation with our members, 17 of these seats are AWS and the others are open to both women and men applicants. We have a commitment to ensuring women are not just candidates, but candidates in the seats where they stand the best chance of becoming MSPs. Our first confirmed candidate for 2021 is Jackie Baillie, MSP, one of the first women elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Today (01 August 2019) our first non-sitting candidate to be selected for the upcoming election in Glasgow Shettleston will be a woman. In open candidate selections, we require an equal number of men and women candidates, and ensure our affiliated organisations (trade unions and socialist societies) have the opportunity to provide supporting nominations for both men and women, as well as culturally diverse candidates, where they have self-nominated.

While our final procedures for selecting candidates for the Scottish Parliamentary regional lists have yet to be agreed, we will ensure at least 50:50 representation. We achieved this in 2016 by zipping the lists by gender, ensuring there were ultimately more women, than male candidates.

In addition to having AWS, we recognise the need to develop and encourage women to stand. Towards this aim, we have introduced a number of initiatives to encourage candidates from marginalised communities, specifically our culturally diverse, disabled and LGBT+ members, and equip them with the skills and confidence to stand for election. At our conference this year, we launched a Candidate Diversity Programme and one of the first groups we are working with to break down barriers to candidacy is Muslim women. Our candidates in 2021 should reflect the society they want to represent and this needs an intersectional approach. Over the last few years, we have run the Gordon Aikman Leadership Programme, and every year, at least 50% of participants have been women. From this programme alone, two women participants are already in elected office and five have applied for ongoing selections for 2021.

This year’s candidate diversity and development programmes have a particular focus on encouraging participants from culturally diverse, disabled, and LGBT+ communities, while we have worked with our trade unions to ensure continued working class representation. This partnership working with our unions, and organisations like LGBT Labour Scotland and BAME Labour Scotland, ensure our guiding principal on activating members in these communities, is that we do not wait for them to come to us, we go to them.

In 2018, we established an elected Scottish Labour Women’s Committee and policy-making Women’s Conference to help women organise and influence the direction of our party. We also have 2 positions on our governing Executive Committee, directly representing women members, to help us break down barriers that exist in our policies and procedures. The Women’s Committee and Executive representatives have rolled out an inclusion toolkit to all of our local parties to highlight the barriers women face even engaging at meeting level, and have trained over 50 Women’s Officers across the country in how to engage and develop women in the party.

These constitutional and procedural actions, as well as our determination to break down barriers for women, and change the candidate developmental processes of our Party to be more inclusive and reflective of our diversity, will help ensure that we are taking positive action on women’s political equality as we move towards the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election campaign.


What are parties doing for 2021?

Internal political party discussions are heating up as selections take place for Scottish Parliament candidates, but the talk isn’t about women’s representation.

In the 2016 election, the SNP, Scottish Labour and the Greens either met the 50% women candidates target or came very close. As candidates are being selected, we think it is worth reminding all parties that now is the time to take real action to deliver candidates who looks like the society they are seeking to represent. There are many efforts parties can take, and whilst we would prefer for there to be legislated candidate quotas to ensure *all* parties take action, we do not need to wait for that to happen to see change. Parties can, right now, take voluntary and progressive action to make fair representation a reality on the ballot paper.

We have written to all main parties to ask them what action they are taking, if any (below is the email we have sent). We will post up responses at the end of July, in the hope there is positive news from all of Scotland’s main political parties. 

FAO: Party Chairs, Chief Executives or Senior staff (please note we have only emailed party contact details which are available online) 

We are the national campaign for women’s fair representation across Scotland’s national and local politics. We are delighted to have the support of four out of five of the major parties in Scotland and a majority of the current MSPs, but we also know that alongside supportive words on women’s political equality we neen action. As parties select their candidates for 2021, now is the time for that action to be taken.

Whilst we are campaigning for legislated candidate quotas in Scotland, parties do have the option to pursue interventions right now, such as all women shortlists and specific outreach activities targeting under-represented groups to be candidates in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

We are gathering information to find out what interventions parties are committing to, to increase the number of women candidates, in particular women from BME backgrounds, disabled women and working class women. We would appreciate it, if you could respond to this email, telling us what actions your party is taking? Please note, we will be publishing all responses on our website.

We look forward to hearing from you,


Tackling Sexual Harassment in Politics

This blog is from Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Greens Lothian MSP and a representative on the Women 50:50 steering group:


In June last year a report, produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Standard’s Committee, into sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament, called for urgent action.  The report made several recommendations including mandatory training to encourage “positive culture change “ for all those responsible for staff at the Parliament, including MSPs.  There’s clearly some way to go until we have achieved that change but it’s clear that we can’t begin to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace without properly targeted action. Undoubtedly such action is required in every area of life in Scotland.  The Scottish Parliament’s survey on Sexual Harassment and Sexist Behaviour results showed that 30% of women had experienced harassing behaviour.  The Scottish Parliament has a central and crucial role to play here and should lead by example in addressing this cause and consequence of gender inequality.

The Presiding Officer of the Parliament, the Chief Executive and Party Leaders formalised their zero tolerance to sexual harassment and sexist behaviour in the Parliament in a statement and agreed measures to support culture and behaviour change through information and education.   ‘Culture of Respect’ training was organised and last autumn I enrolled for one of these workshops, a half-day session open to all MSPs, MSP staff, Scottish Parliament staff and contractors.  This training has now ended, though the slides and other materials remain available and further sessions are planned.

The aim of the session was to ensure a greater understanding of the law and definitions of what sexual harassment and sexist behaviour are, and to provide the skills and confidence to tackle it where it occurs.

On the afternoon I attended (by booking in advance online) there were about a dozen people on the course, all women apart from one man in this particular instance.  In the three hours or so the training lasted, we took part in discussion led by a professional and engaging external facilitator.  An early slide emphasised that all in the room are equal, no matter our day job, that we should give space for others to speak up, to be prepared to change how we might communicate, and to respect confidentiality.  I will respect that confidentiality here! We then broke up into smaller groups to consider our response to various scenarios. IMG_5193.jpg

We explored helpful techniques to encourage a change of behaviour when ‘banter’ we’re unhappy with is used.  In my opinion, however, more training explaining what is unacceptable and why it’s unacceptable is clearly required.   Homophobic and sexist comments are not banter and shouldn’t be described as such.  They are never acceptable, regardless of the spirit in which they were made.

The session was helpful in reinforcing the need to treat one another with respect and courtesy.  It was thought provoking.  Training is important, it’s essential.  But training alone won’t bring about the change we need.  There’s an understandable tendency to focus on what not to do.  We need to do more to prevent sexist behaviour and sexual harassment in the first instance.  Two well-evidenced ways to do so are by teaching bystanders to intervene and by promoting more women.  Research has continually shown that companies with more women in management have less sexual harassment.

It’s hugely concerning that research from expert organisations including Close the Gap tells us that under-reporting is a significant problem.  The Parliament’s own survey reported that 40% of those who experienced sexual harassment did not speak up about it.  We received training on how to challenge and seek to change sexist behaviour and sexual harassment.  I found this helpful, but would definitely benefit from future training opportunities to reinforce what I have learned.

The Scottish Parliament has set up a Joint Working Group on Sexual Harassment.  Posters and cards advising of a new Independent Support Service for confidential advice and support are on display across the Parliament estate.  These alone won’t change the culture and it’s devastating that in 2019 such a service is required, but by shining a light on this behaviour we can begin to bring about an end to sexism and sexual harassment.

“Balance” needs political action

Talat Yaqoob is the Co-Founder and Chair of Women 50:50ty-002.jpg

It’s International Women’s Day 2019, and naturally we have lots of chatter going on about representation, but at Women 50:50 we’re here 365 days a year 24/7 working on fair representation (you’re welcome).

Apparently this year’s theme is “Balance for Better”; on the IWD website it states: Let’s build a gender-balanced world. Everyone has a part to play – all the time, everywhere. From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Balance drives a better working world. Let’s all help create a #BalanceforBetter.

Sure. Balance is indeed better, but it is more than that, balance is a necessity, and to reach balance, we need social justice. When we are talking about women’s equality in politics, balance is about making better decisions, about creating an inclusive politics and a more robust, representative democracy.

There is no decision taken in our councils or in our parliament, that doesn’t influence women’s lives, whether it is policy making on the economy, on transport, on health, on education or the environment. All of this has a profound impact on women’s lives and therefore women should have a fair share of the decision making stake. Decisions made with women are likely to work better for women – lived experience matters. But when Women 50:50 talks about women, we do not mean they are a homogenous group; we want to see women of colour, immigrant woman, disabled women, carers, LGBT women, working class women in decision making positions – only then can we claim any form of “balance”.

Here’s some stats you should know:

  1. 36% of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament are women
  2. This is a decrease from the highest make up in 2003 of almost 40%
  3. No women of colour have ever been elected to the Scottish Parliament
  4. Only 29% of councillors are women
  5. The Scottish Parliament ranks 16th on women’s representation across the Commonwealth
  6. The highest representation of women councillors is in Midlothian Council with 38.9%, the lowest is Na h-Eileanan Siar with zero women councillors

So what are we going to do about it?

We need quotas. Yes, they may not suit everyone’s rather delicate meritocracy mistaken appetites, but when you have such a systematic under-representation of women it is clear that we are not operating on meritocracy. The system needs to be re-set and to do that, we need bold intervention. Political parties have had the ability to implement measures such as all women shortlists to increase the number of women candidates for over 20 years. Labour, the SNP and the Greens have used these measures and with some success, but the reality is voluntary measures only get us so far, as Dr. Meryl Kenny and Prof. Fiona Mackay point out – we reach a plateau nowhere near 50%, to get us over the edge into the balance we want, we need legislated candidate quotas so every party has to do their part to reach out, find and support women candidates.

But the story doesn’t end with legislated candidate quotas. We need political cultures to change, we need respectful and sexism-free media commentary, we need to tackle online abuse, we need caring responsibilities to be taken seriously and resourced adequately, we need reporting mechanisms for sexism and harassment that women have faith in and we need women in genuinely winnable seats. Yes, this is a list of demands, but not one of these demands is extraordinary in any way, every single one is a basic need which should already be a reality.

Balance for better may be today’s theme, but it can’t be forgotten tomorrow – our campaign will be keeping the pressure up to make fair representation for women a legislated reality in Scotland.

Why an Intersectional Approach Matters

This blog is by Ashley Graczyk, an independent councillor for the Sighthill-Gorgie ward in Edinburgh. Ashley

Growing up, I didn’t see many people in positions of power who looked or sounded like me. As a deaf, mixed heritage woman, this remains the case in 2018. While progress has been made on gender equality in the public sphere by groups such as Women 50:50 and others, we need to take complementary action to ensure that the women (and men) who represent us in office represent the full diversity of our society. We do not currently have any female disabled representatives in the Scottish Parliament and, as my colleague Talat has highlighted, there has never been a woman of colour member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP).

Intersectional Feminism is something I am immensely passionate about, as it recognises the ways in which multiple factors and identities such as race, class, disability can combine to create social inequality and oppression. The reality is that the interaction, or ‘intersection’ of identities often intensifies inequalities already experienced by each of these groups in isolation. We therefore need to look seriously at the support needed to remove barriers to elected office for disabled and/or BAME women.

The Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland) is an important tool in supporting disabled candidates. In the 2017 Scottish Local Authority elections, 39 disabled (19 female) candidates were supported by the Fund’s pilot scheme. Of these candidates, 15 (7 female) were elected, representing 4 different political parties in 12 different councils. While the Fund, facilitated by Inclusion Scotland, was successful, more needs to be done to make ensure our public institutions are representative of Scottish society which has one in five disabled people in our total population.

By contrast, the snap General Election in June 2017 created an unlevel playing field, and a clear disadvantage for disabled candidates. This is because the UK Government refused to make resources available to disabled candidates through the Access to Elected Office Fund (UK). The Access to Elected Office Fund UK is reserved; had it been devolved it is likely the Scottish candidates would have received funding from the Scottish Government.

I know disabled people throughout the UK, including Scottish candidates, who would have loved to stand as an MP, but were unable to do so as they could not afford the support needed. Some of the political parties did not have the sustainable budget nor had the time to fundraise for a snap election. Those that did manage, had to pay extra on top of the campaign itself.

As an intersectional feminist, I refuse to give up on our right to participate in work, politics and in society on an equal level playing field. The current UK Government that wants to remove or alter enabling policies and funding, capping our ambitions as disabled women. We need to change this structural discrimination for the sake of the next generation.

Part of my determination and inspiration comes from the awareness of the responsibility we have as elected representatives to support young women from all backgrounds and of all abilities today. We are fortunate to have a number of organisations here in Scotland working together for improved equality and more effective representation. The work of Inclusion Scotland, More United, Women 50:50, Parliament Project and many more is vital in overcoming barriers and supporting inclusion at all levels.

All elected bodies, at national, devolved, and local levels, must take the lead in making the practical changes needed to help disabled people, including women and BAME candidates, participate fully in political and public life.

We need more women, and more women who look like all of us, in elected office.

We cannot remove these barriers by ourselves. We need allies and supporters, we need those in power to hear women’s voices and work with us to push for political empowerment and to create substantive opportunities. That way, women – be they disabled, BAME, LGBT, or however they self- identify – will always receive the support needed to become the inspiring representatives of the people that I am sure many will turn out to be.


We Still Don’t Value Women in Public Life

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrats MSP for Edinburgh Western.


We’re getting a statue of the Great Auk in Edinburgh. Well that’s a relief. For those of you who don’t know, a Great Auk is a flightless bird which was hunted to extinction in the mid-19th century. Our dearly departed, feathered friend will join the many other animals that are memorialised in our nation’s capital: the giraffes of Leith Street, Wojtek, the Polish, gun-carriage-drawing bear on Princess Street and several others.

Why is this relevant to a 50/50 blog? Well, because all told, statues of animals outnumber statues of women in the city by about 5:1. Walking down the Royal Mile, you couldn’t swing a dead Great Auk around your head for fear of hitting the stone effigy of a bloke who was big during the enlightenment – but there is no sign of the women who built so much of this city and its legacy.

A number of city MSPs and I from all parties have recently taken up the campaign to see Elsie Inglis commemorated on the Royal Mile. Elsie was a leading Suffragist in the late 19th century and was close friends with Millicent Fawcett. As a doctor, she established the Women’s Hospitals Movement which took mobile field hospitals to the bloodiest battlefields of World War 1. She was one of the only women ever to receive a state funeral and there are statues to her in Serbia and in France. Her only recognition in the capital is a small plaque in St Giles Cathedral.

The commemoration of important and trail-blazing women matters. It matters because if we don’t do it then the subliminal impact of public art is to cement the patriarchal view that only men can ever achieve greatness. I want to be able to walk up the Royal Mile with my daughter, Darcy, from the palace to castle, and ignite her ambition by pointing out famous female lawyers, politicians and authors and walk her through the steps she’ll need to take if she wants to be like them. The same is true for TV; modern political dramas, whether it be House of Cards or Designated survivor, idealise the rise of men and show the lead character using his male resources to grasp the reins of power. I don’t know about you, but I would like to see a TV adaptation of the life and career of Mary Esslemont, Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams.

It may seem ephemeral but it all adds up. I know so many women who are strong, talented leaders yet still doubt their potential because the world around them is crowded with pictures and sculptures of successful men. I’m glad that we live in more enlightened times where young girls are no longer so readily funnelled towards caring professions and home-making while young boys are groomed for power, but that’s only half the battle. We need to level the playing field in every single aspect of life, whether that’s shared parental leave so an employer can’t infer that a qualified female candidate is a maternity flight risk, or all women shortlists for candidate selections within our political parties.

But all of these steps won’t make the difference we hope if the environment in which we conduct our lives is filled to the gunnels with stone carvings and film adaptations of great men. Our daughters need to be constantly reminded of what they can become to enable them to follow in the footsteps of mighty women who have gone before them.

My Journey to politics – Soryia Siddique

Dr Soryia Siddique was elected to Glasgow City Council in 2012 and re-elected in 2015. With a PhD in cancer research, Soryia is passionate about science, education and equality.Untitled

This year has seen several international women’s organisations launch campaigns to fight for women’s rights, equality and justice. The #MeToo, #TimesUp and #TimeisNow campaigns are just a few in a vast number of organisations doing incredible work.

My journey for equality has been multifaceted. I was born and brought up in Anderston, Glasgow, and was the first female in my family go to university. My dad was a champion of equality and education and encouraged my sister and I to attend university probably more than my brothers. Despite my modern studies teacher’s advice, I didn’t choose to study politics. I have no regrets – I love science and went on to achieve a PhD in drug delivery systems for cancer.
Standing for election was never part of my plan. When people ask me how I got into politics, I don’t fit the stereotype. As a child, my parents were active in the local community and strived to make a difference. I have fond memories of travelling on the bus to London, attending demonstrations, helping elderly neighbours and volunteering at community events. So I guess it was part of my everyday life.

As a female scientist in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, where women earn a fifth less than their male colleagues in the UK and the gender pay gap increases with age and experience, I had already faced inequality. When I stood for election, I felt a mixture of wanting to change the world and naivety about what to expect.

The reality is that women in politics face barriers and abuse not just because they are speaking up but also because they are women. Muslim women in politics face even more discrimination, particularly if they choose to wear hijab. Standing for election, I fought expectations and perceptions from within the Asian, Muslim and indigenous community. Some wanted to fit me in a box, to be married, not have an opinion, wash dishes and walk a few steps behind my husband. Others said I wasn’t westernised enough.

I ended up topping the ballot in one of the most politicised wards in Scotland. Madeline Albright said: “there is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women”. I don’t intend to stop any time soon and I am more determined than ever to champion the women around me and tackle the low representations of women in our councils.


Everyday Sexism, Pregnancy and being a Councillor.

Kelly Parry is a Councillor for Midlothian West and leader of the SNP Group. She is also the COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing covering Violence Against Women, Housing and Community Safety.

Over the last six months, I have not been surprised to see women in local government take to social media to share their #metoo stories. I was one of them.

Since being elected in 2015, I have witnessed sexism, misogyny and abuses of power far too often. It is easier to be outraged at the bigger incidents which are more obvious and tangible, but it is the subtler occurrences that wear the thinnest. Unfortunately, it is on these occasions that it can feel more difficult to speak out. My own experiences range from simply feeling patronised, being given a lingering pat on my leg to having reached the point, on more than one occasion, of feeling so vulnerable that I initiated police involvement.

As soon as I was elected, it was clear that there was work to be done to make local councils a female friendly environment. As it stood, for example, no council in Scotland offered formal support or provision for pregnant councillors. The previous lack of female councillors meant that this issue had not been adequately addressed. From the conversations that I had with others, this had led many women elected to local government to either postpone pregnancy or return to their duties much earlier than they would have wished.

While pregnant myself last year, I brought a motion to Midlothian Council proposing the introduction of official maternity and paternity leave provisions for its councillors. Though I was delighted to receive the unanimous support of the council in favour of my motion, some of the attitudes expressed to me during this time – for simply having the ‘audacity’ to be pregnant while being an elected councillor – were extraordinary and, at times, depressing.  I received questions about how I will manage to balance work with having a young child – a question that I suspect has never been asked of my male colleagues when becoming fathers – and ‘joke’ suggestions that I should return to work the day after giving birth or even be demoted. One particularly upsetting comment was “You might need to take longer off if there is something wrong with the baby”.

Of course, none of these attitudes are criminal and they don’t necessarily ‘break the rules’, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. It wouldn’t be acceptable in any other workplace, so why should it be in local government?

I, for one, fully intend to keep working hard to make sure that the next generation of women councillors find a less patriarchal system and a more accessible environment. It is the responsibility of us all – from councils to political parties and amazing organisations like Women 50:50 – to encourage women to stand for election and promote better representation in both parliament and local councils. And we need supportive, modern day policies which will accommodate them when they get here.