Month: July 2015

Why the status quo isn’t good enough for the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Siobhan Mathers is a former target seat candidate and former Vice Convenor of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

I’m a Scottish Liberal Democrat (we definitely still exist and with significantly more members than before the election!). Liberal Democrats care about women. We care about equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes. We have carefully crafted policy, debated passionately at Conference, aimed at improving the lives of female voters.

And yet…here we are in 2015 with a depleted Westminster parliamentary party comprising precisely 0% women out of 8 MPs. And a tally of 1/5 in Holyrood which may well be reduced to 0 in 2016. A woman tops the list in only 1 of the 8 Holyrood list regions and our 1 sitting female MSP was knocked to number 2 on the list in her selection.

So how have we got here? Don’t we mean it when we say we believe in equality? Are all feminists in the Lib Dems misguided fools stuck in a party of regressive misogynists? That, I’m afraid, is too simplistic.

The Lib Dems place more power in the hands of members than other parties. Policy and democratic processes are decided at Conference rather than by the leadership. And local members have inviolable rights to select candidates. The prevailing orthodoxy is that rank and file Lib Dems see positive discrimination as illiberal and won’t stand for it.

The party has historically shunned quotas, zipping and All Women Shortlists. While Labour pressed ahead with measures producing 40% female MSPs at the inception of Holyrood, the Scottish Liberal Democrats opted not to do so, resulting in 1 woman out of 17 – 6%. 16 years later, the situation hasn’t improved.

The party has followed the gradual strategy of training, mentoring and encouraging culture change. All target seats must now have at least one woman on the shortlist. This, however, has not led to improved proportions of women elected.

But things are changing. There’s nothing like a wipe out to focus minds. Many activists are revising their views and considering that some form of temporary positive discrimination may be necessary to effect change.

I firmly believe that fully harnessing the potential of women is important for the #LibDemFightback. Revising how we treat women and value them, including effective measures to help them get selected, and elected, has to be part of that. Gender balance is an important part of how voters see us.

So now we’re at ground zero how will the rebuild happen? Tim Farron, during his leadership campaign, committed to a gender balanced top team of spokespeople and 50% female target seat candidates.  He has already delivered on his first commitment which bodes well.

In Scotland, Willie Rennie has signed up to the Women 50:50 campaign. This means he supports legislation requiring 50% of Scottish Lib Dem parliamentary and Council candidates to be women. We’re a long way from that now but I look forward to Willie leading the way towards it.

The party is full of ideas, and counter ideas, about the best way to get more women elected. The path forward is not yet clear but there is an appetite for change.

Why I am a Supporter

Kate Dearden is a supporter of Women 5050 and a Scottish Labour Party activist.

‘Women should get there on merit, not just because they are a woman’.

I’m fed up of hearing that sentence. I’m fed up with the insult that only a handful of women are in Parliament because no other women are good enough. I’m fed up that women representing 29% of Parliament and 35% in the Scottish Parliament is seen as a triumph. I’m also slightly fed up of societal oppression and institutionalised inequality.

However that sentence is what I, and many other advocates for equal representation, repeatedly get told.

What they fail to recognise is that out of a population of 64 million, there are hundreds of talented, intelligent and capable women. I’m surrounded by dozens every day.

The questions I find myself asking is: what is holding these women back? Why are there so few women in leadership positions? Why are there so few women representing us in Parliament, on our councils or on our public boards?

From history and politics classes at school, where your opinions seem secondary of that to the majority of your peers. To watching Daily Politics or PMQs, to the sexism and misogyny exhibited on social media, in our newspapers and on our streets. It doesn’t take long to realise the way we do politics is dominated by men.

People then question why women are not asking the questions or shaping the conversation – they obviously don’t have opinions!!

It’s no surprise that women can often come to the conclusion that politics isn’t for them – they’re not straight, middle class, white men, after all.

This inequality has formed barriers, and unfortunately, these barriers are breaking too slowly.

You find yourself having a debate with someone explaining why women short-lists and quotas are so important, and you become bewildered when you find yourself justifying the need for them; but you realise you’re back at stage one.

Back at stage one in the fight for women’s equality.

I’m a proud member of the Labour Party.  I’m proud of the fact that we take women’s representation seriously. Labour was the first, and the only, political party to implement women’s shortlists in 1997– proven as the only effective way of getting women into Parliament. This is why I support and urge everyone to get on board with the 5050 campaign. Women who make up 50% of our population should have 50% of representation on our decision making platforms.

Why the NUS Scotland Women’s Campaign Supports 5050

Emily Beever is NUS Scotland women’s officer and supporter of Women 5050:emilyB

Students have long been at the forefront of tackling inequalities that exist within our society. From the students who fought for equal marriage in Scotland, those that are working to tackle lad culture in our society and the students who fought against cuts to the disabled students’ allowance across the UK. Too often in our society, barriers to achieving equality aren’t called out, and discrimination has become ingrained in our society and goes unnoticed or ignored.

We believe that better decisions are made when those making them are more diverse. A more diverse group brings with it more experience, different perspectives and lived experiences. I’m proud that NUS Scotland has four vibrant liberation campaigns – to represent the needs of disabled students, LGBT+ students, black students and women students – and it’s a privilege for me to head up NUS Scotland Women’s campaign which exists to represent, defend and extend the rights of women students across Scotland.

Despite our track record on winning on equality issues and our work to increase representation, the student movement still has a long way to go in achieving fair representation. NUS research in 2011/12 showed that men were more likely to hold the position of president within a students’ union, with 56% of presidents being men. Women in leadership has since become a priority development area within the student movement and we’re starting to see the results already. Last year NUS Scotland passed policy to introduce quotas for women to our student executive committee. This year, we now have more women on our executive committee than we’ve seen for many years, and have the first woman NUS Scotland president in 10 years. We won’t be waiting a decade for that to happen again!

Quotas are a controversial issue, and not everyone is a fan of them, often citing merit as the way people should come to achieve their positions. If the merit system really did work now, would we really have only 17 black women professors in the UK? Or only 29% of women MPs? Or be aiming for 25% of women on company boards? (I emphasise the ‘aiming’ here – most boards are nowhere near achieving this figure, which has been cited as ‘ambitious’). I think as a temporary measure to break the patriarchal structures that keep all kinds of people out, not just women, they work. That’s why we’re particularly disappointed that MPs didn’t pass the gender quota amendment in the Scotland Bill, and we will certainly continue fighting for this.

Women are already leaders on our campuses and in our communities. It isn’t much of a stretch to demand that these women, and many more, are shaping the political agenda.

Intersectionality is the way to an inclusive Scotland

This blog is written by Anna Crow, a non-binary intersectional feminist, Scottish Green Party and Global Justice Now activist and emergency medicine doctorAnn Crow

I am not someone who has always been interested in and involved with politics or someone who has always identified as a feminist.  My engagement with feminism and politics just happened over the past 5 years or so and it continues to be a gradual process of becoming more informed and aware regarding a wide range of issues, frequently getting angry about inequalities, and feeling a strong draw to get involved with others in the fight for positive change.

To me, feminism and politics are intrinsically linked.  I was encouraged to hear about the Women 50:50 campaign when it launched last year because gender inequality in politics, particularly the stark underrepresentation of women, is still a massive problem.  It is so much of a problem that a good friend of mine felt compelled to spoil her ballot for this year’s general election by writing “where are the women?” when faced with an all-male candidate list in her local constituency.

Identifying inequalities like this, acknowledging them to be a problem and taking pro-active measures to counteract them is vital.  But in a world where there is so much inequality and where different types of inequality frequently intersect, in the fight for positive change we cannot only seek to tackle one specific type of inequality while disregarding others.  Addressing the relative lack of female representation in elected roles is a significant and positive step but there is a need for more diverse campaigning also to strive for the inclusivity we all deserve in Scotland and beyond.

There are many other ways in which there is inequality in terms of political representation.  Lack of representation of ethnic minority groups or those from a less privileged socioeconomic background for example, or lack of representation of disabled people.  Queer representation in politics is improving – in the past year there was the highest ever number of openly transgender Westminster candidates and the election of the highest ever number of MPs who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual – but there is still a long way to go.

In recent months I came to realise that I identify as non-binary, meaning that I do not identify as either female or male.  Many measures that work to promote gender equality still do not acknowledge the existence of people like me, because they are based on a binary understanding of gender.  Gender identity is more complex than this and tackling inequality is generally a complex thing to do, because there are so many types of inequality which are often interlinked.  There is an important role for specifically targeted campaigns to play but an intersectional view on this is vital.

I welcome campaigns such as Women 50:50 and the One in Five campaign, which is working to increase political participation among disabled people in Scotland, because they are raising awareness and tackling significant areas of inequality.  All of us who face inequality need to recognise there are others who face different types of inequality.  We need to support each other and work together in order to achieve genuine, sustainable and positive change.  I am proud to lend my support to Women 50:50 as a necessary part of the continued and diverse campaigning process needed to work towards the inclusive Scotland we all deserve.

Press Release – The Campaign For A Fairer Parliament Carries On


Women 5050 disappointed in Westminster decision to reject devolution of political quotas

Last night MPs debated 2 amendments to the Scotland Bill which would have devolved the ability to introduce “gender balancing” or quotas to the Scottish Parliament. Both amendments fell.

Amendment 123, submitted by Ian Murray MP would have allowed the Scottish Parliament to fully debate the issue of the under-representation of women and devolved the power to implement legislative candidate quotas. Amendment 162 submitted by Angus Robertson MP would have allowed for quotas on public boards.

Talat Yaqoob, Chair of Women 5050 said:

“We’re disappointed that these amendments has been voted down. The inclusion of just a few sentences in the Scotland Bill could have changed Scotland’s political landscape for the better and could have been the first step to a more inclusive and representative Scottish Parliament. Tackling the inequality and discrimination women face is the job of our parliaments. Introducing quotas are a fair and effective way for us to address the political imbalance in our politics. Women in Scotland deserve better than a glass ceiling on their leadership ambitions.

These amendments may have fallen, but the campaign for fair representation has never been stronger, especially with four out of five party leaders in the Scottish Parliament, including the First Minister, backing the campaign.

We will continue to pursue every avenue to make a fairer parliament and fairer public life a reality for women in Scotland and we will succeed.”


Will MP’s hear our calls?

The campaign for fair representation is not new, the Women 5050 campaign stands on the shoulders of phenomenal women who have been fighting for a 50/50 parliament since the very idea of a devolved Scottish Parliament.

16 years after these calls, and we are still far away from equal representation. In fact, the number of women in the Scottish Parliament has fallen from the dizzy heights of 40% to 35%. When women make up the majority of the population, can we really be ok with them still being underrepresented?

Women 5050 was launched in September 2014, by prominent political names; Kezia Dugdale MSP and Alison Johnston MSP. It has since gained the support of over a third of the members of parliament, including the backing of First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The time is now for women to claim their equal place in Scotland’s public life.

The reality is, there are women with the talent and the ambition to be political leaders right now, but are faced with barriers in their way; barriers in the attitudes we, as a society have for women’s leadership, and barriers in how we do our politics. The Women 5050 campaign is lobbying for candidate quotas in the Scottish Parliament and local council elections. This would mean political parties have to work harder to eradicate gender inequality and support women to be 50% of their list of candidates on the ballot paper. The steps to equality quality really can be that easy.

Quotas in politics are not new. In fact, over 50 of the national parliaments across the world, including eight EU member states, operate some form of quota system to overcome the institutionalised inequality women face. Sweden has had quotas in their politics since the 1970’s. We are falling behind.

The campaign for fair representation may come a step closer to winning with a recent amendment to the Scotland Bill. Ian Murray MP for Edinburgh South has submitted an amendment for “gender balance” in the Scottish Parliament. This would mean the debate on quotas and how they are implemented would become a fully devolved issue and would give Scotland the ability to yet again, lead the way.

We have a woman First Minister and a 5050 cabinet, let’s cement these accomplishments by making the benches across the chamber reflect the society they are meant to represent.

The issue of tackling political injustice for women does not lie with one party, it is above partisan politics. In the same way Women 5050 is proud to be cross party, I hope we see cross party agreement on this amendment and rightfully devolve the debate to Scotland.

This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday 2nd of July 2015

Press Release: Today’s Debate Could Change Scotland’s Politics For Women

Today’s debate could change Scotland’s politics for women

On Monday, MPs will be debating whether equality for women in the Scottish Parliament can become a reality.

The amendment to the Scotland Bill, submitted by Ian Murray MP, would devolve the ability to implement “gender balance” measures into the Scottish Parliament and in public bodies. This is the first ask of the Women 5050 campaign and would bring Scotland a significant step closer to a 50/50 parliament.

A spokeswoman from Women 5050 said:

“The ability to introduce quotas should have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament from day one. Today, we have the unusual set up of one parliament deciding the fate of whether women can have equal footing in another parliament. MPs have the chance to devolve this issue to Scotland, so we can debate it fully and legislate for fair representation. Women’s representation in Scotland has decreased since the set up of the Scottish Parliament, and is currently at 35%, it’s simply not good enough. Women 5050 has the backing of four out of five of the party leaders in Scotland including the First Minister, there is clear political will for this to be devolved to Scotland and that must be listened to.”

The full amendment is as follows:

Clause 32, page 34, line 13,

at end insert, “including a requirement for gender balance among the members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities.”

Member’s explanatory statement The Amendment would ensure continued progression towards achieving gender balance among members of the Scottish Parliament and on boards of Scottish public authorities