Month: September 2015

Give Women Candidates the Credit they Deserve.

Gaby is a feminist, a campaigner and activist for the Scottish Green Party and on issues such as rent controls, women’s representation and European Politics. You can follow her on Twitter at @VelvetVert:GabyC

When I tell people I’m a feminist and that I believe in positive discrimination, the response I usually get is: “at the end of the day, I believe that the best person should get the job.”

What people usually mean when they say this is that the person who currently best fits THEIR understanding of what it takes to be good at that job should get the job. They mean that anyone getting the job should look like and behave like the person who already has the job.

In politics, this usually means someone who confidently throws their weight around and who is “thick-skinned”, someone charismatic, who is loquacious and articulate. And in politics, this assumption that politicians should homogeneously share these qualities is particularly problematic. After all, the electorate is anything but homogeneous, and politicians are supposed to represent the electorate.

But sometimes people who don’t seem to have those qualities could still be the right person for the job. For example, when Susan Rae was chosen from an all women shortlist to contest the Leith Walk ward council by-election on behalf of the Scottish Green Party; many complained that the standard of entries wasn’t high enough, that we didn’t have enough candidates to chose from. Rather than stop and think about how to turn the two enthusiastic and enterprising women standing into fantastic candidates; party members voiced frustration at not being able to pick the ready made thing, a carbon copy of your standard “politician”.

For Susan, being chosen to run was in her words, the first chance anyone had given her to prove what she’s made of. When I first went to hear her speak, I was unsure if she was ready. I was wrong. Susan was born ready; she has the passion, the experience and the humanity to make a wonderful politician. What she lacked then was the ability to package herself as a politician, to play the game and act the part. By working with her, I’ve come to understand that this politician’s veneer is the easy bit, that bit can be taught. The problem is that this shiny polish is sometimes mistaken for the substance. As she highlighted in the local hustings, her CV matches Lewis Ritchie’s (Leith Walk’s new SNP councillor) point for point; apart from the fact it took her an extra 25 year to get there. But those are 25 years she spent developing the substance not the veneer!

Susan absolutely flowered as a candidate throughout her campaign; and even though she lost the by-election, she scored the highest vote share the party has ever recorded and was the only candidate never to be placed last in the list of 10! The Scottish Greens may have lost this election; but they have won a fantastic candidate.

The lesson’s I’ve learnt from this election is that as parties we should select for substance, and teach the polish. I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s more important to recognise someone’s potential than their current ability: sometimes it’s more important to help build a good politician than to win the election. I’ve learnt that good politicians need to be made of good substance; and that if you give women of substance a chance, you won’t regret it.

Press Release: David Mundell MP confirms devolution of gender quotas

David Mundell MP confirms devolution of gender quotas

Ahead of presenting to the Devolution Committee tomorrow, Women 5050 welcomes David Mundell MP’s comments, and reiterates its call for Westminster to fully and clearly devolve the ability to introduce legislated gender quotas to Scotland.

In a letter to the Devolution Committee, Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP has written:

“The Smith Commission Agreement was clear that Scottish Ministers and Scottish Parliament should have competence for socio-economic inequality and duties that attach to that. The Smith Commission agreed that the 2010 Equality Act should remain reserved, and the subject matter of the 2006 Equality Act falls within the scope of the equal opportunities reservation. That is why the clause is clear on this point. The clause provides a framework within which the Scottish Parliament can introduce additional equal opportunities measures, including gender quotas.”

Talat Yaqoob, Founder and Chair of Women 5050 said:

“We welcome the opportunity to present evidence to the Devolution Committee. Almost 60% of the parliaments across the world use some form of gender quota to increase women’s representation and tackle institutionalised inequality, the campaign will be using this platform to push for the Scottish Parliament to follow their example.

I am particularly pleased to see that David Mundell MP agrees with the need to address the underrepresentation of women and has stated that gender quotas will be fully devolved. What we need now is absolute clarity on this issue, so that Scotland can lead the way by not only introducing quotas on public boards, but legislating for candidate quotas in the Scottish Parliament and local council elections. We have the support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of the Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Green Party and Scottish Liberal Democrats, there is a clear mandate for quotas to be devolved and implemented as soon as possible.”


Notes to Editor:

  1. For more information please contact Talat Yaqoob on 07795575446
  2. The full text of David Mundell MP letter can be read here;
  3. 55 MSPs now back the Women 5050 campaign (100% from the Scottish Greens, 95% from Scottish Labour, 25% from the SNP, 40% from the Scottish Liberal Democrats and 0% from the Scottish Conservatives). Full list is available here:

The fight for 5050 and fair politics for everyone

Ann Henderson is the STUC Assistant Secretary and supporter of Women 5050. CIvkGSgWwAAXbMy

As the arguments over women’s representation in public and political life are rehearsed again during the parliamentary scrutiny of the Scotland Bill, it may be appropriate to reflect on the wider political context. When looking back to the early days of the campaign for the Scottish Assembly, subsequently Scottish Parliament, we should remember how women’s voices played a key role in shaping that new institution in 1999.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1980s had a Women’s Issues sub group, convened by Maria Fyfe MP, with trade union and civic organisation representation. Yvonne Strachan Transport and General Workers Union, and STUC Women’s Committee, brought a strong voice for trade union women and wider working class involvement. Submissions to the Women’s Issues Group contained a range of ideas for changing the face of Scottish political representation, and the Reports from the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989, in 1990, and in 1995,  all made clear that the working structures and patterns of a Scottish Parliament should positively encourage the involvement of women, ethnic and other minority groups.

The STUC Women’s Committee triggered a wide discussion with its very straightforward proposal that 50% of the elected representatives should be men and 50% should be women. This was tied to the idea that the new parliament would have two representatives for each constituency, a proposal which had emanated from the Kilbrandon Commission. The STUC Women’s Committee took this, and specified one male and one female, drawn from two lists in each constituency.

As the campaign around 50/50 grew, the trade unions also took their proposal to the political parties, and in 1990 the Scottish Labour Party adopted support for the 50/50 approach. The arguments at that time included the preferred format of the Parliament and the voting system to be used, whether First past the Post or some form of proportional representation. This had been resolved by 1997, when the UK General Election returned a Labour Government, and the Scotland Act was subsequently passed, to set up the Scottish Parliament. As we know, the suggestion on two member constituencies was not adopted, although the combination of first past the post and the list system does give every citizen in Scotland more than one representative, and some of the political parties continue to try to devise ways of using the electoral system to increase women’s representation.

The STUC Women’s Committee, and all those campaigning for women’s voices to be heard, shaped those early days of the Scottish Parliament, and the legacy is still here today.

However, looking outwards at the wider political agenda, we should remember we do not campaign in a political vacuum. The Conservative Government today seeks to significantly limit the role of trade unions both in the workplace and in wider civic society. The Trade Union Bill currently being rushed through the Westminster Parliament, will restrict the most basic rights to organise collectively, and will inhibit much of the progress made through workplace representation, on equality, on health and safety, and on pay, terms and conditions.

This should be of concern to us all, and it is not simply an attack on trade unions. The restrictions proposed on the Political Funds of trade unions will mean  it is increasingly difficult for trade unions and their members to campaign in the political arena, be that on wages and decent work, or on women’s representation such as the 50:50 campaign. The basis for this has already been laid in the Transparency of Lobbying Act, Non Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration 2014,

which requires additional registration procedures for third party organisations when campaigning in the run up to Elections.

The media may portray this as being concerned with trade union links with the Labour Party, but make no mistake, it is about far more than that. Without those legitimate union political funds, trade union women and men will lose their voice on social and economic policy – and the 50/50 campaign all those years ago, led so effectively by the trade unions, would not have been possible.

So, please add your voice now to the growing opposition to the Trade Union Bill at Westminster, as it will do nothing to strengthen women’s voices in the workplace or in wider society, in fact, quite the opposite.