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Meet The Women #2

Women 5050 is hosting blogs from women MSPs from across political parties who support fair representation.

This week, meet Ruth Maguire, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South.Ruth Swearing In

I’ve long supported the 50/50 campaign. To me the under-representation of women in public life is simply unacceptable and we have to address the structural reasons behind that with meaningful action that gets results.

Whilst I acknowledge we all still have a great distance to travel in terms of the ethnic diversity in the Scottish Parliament, it is evident that, where positive action has been taken by the main parties, the public get representatives who better reflect their community.  It’s also crystal clear which side of the chamber doesn’t see the problem!

With the argument won that action is needed, it’s crucial that we continue the momentum.  I am very pleased that SNP national council agreed mechanisms at the weekend which will see even more women SNP candidates for the council elections in 2017.

This week I set down my first parliamentary motion and was happy to receive cross party support and congratulations for Ayrshire College on their #ThisManCan campaign and event on the 26th.  That excellent campaign aims to encourage more men into careers in health and social care.  It’s not only women that are held back by inequality.  If we can stop limiting ourselves by notions of what men and women “do” then it’s better for society as a whole.

I look forward to continuing to work both in and outside the parliament on driving the 50/50 agenda forward.


Meet the Women #1

Women 5050 will be hosting guest posts from women MSPs from across parties who are supporters of fair representation. We will hopefully be posting these weekly (depending on how busy the MSPs are!). Here is our first edition:

Meet Gail Ross SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross:CqBArLkC

It’s a huge honour to be elected as an MSP and represent the area that I grew up in and love. It’s also great to be able to be a strong role model for young women who are trying to find their way in life and are unsure what path to take. Politics has traditionally been seen as a male dominated profession in the past, now I am glad to see that is changing.

I’ve come across a few instances of casual sexism in the past few years as a Councillor and recently as Civic Leader, from joking remarks about the ‘weaker’ sex to outright astonishment that I should hold such a post. The most memorable was a piece in our local newspaper by a columnist musing on who would hold positions in a new Caithness Council. I was to be promoted to ‘Meenister fur Weemin’ and my primary responsibilities were to be things like ‘advising women on skirt lengths, make up and nail polish, reminding men about their wives birthdays and making the tea’. Satirically written but underlining a more serious challenge that a lot of women face every day in the workplace. I must say I’ve had a lot of mileage out of it though, I used it as the basis for a speech to the SNP conference last October about gender balance and people are still talking about it!

As we move forward we have to encourage more women to get involved in politics. The SNP group now have 43% female representation, we have a gender balanced cabinet and we strive to make the Scottish Parliament more family friendly. This job comes with enormous responsibility and it’s not for everyone but at least we can show women that whether it’s politics or some other career or life goal, gender doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore.


Full List of Candidates for 2016

Here is an outline of all candidates and how the Scottish Parliament is fairing for women.

(all data has been taken from party websites or press coverage – get in touch if we’ve got something wrong!)

Scottish Labour: List Candidates: 50% – 43 out of 86 candidates

Scottish Labour: Constituency Candidates: 53% – 39 out of 73 candidates

SNP: List Candidates: 45% – 43 out of 96 candidates

SNP: Constituency candidates: 41% – 30 out of 73 candidates

Scottish Conservatives: List Candidates: 16% – 12 out of 74 candidates

Scottish Conservatives: Constituency Candidates: 16% – 12 out of 73 candidates. 2 out of 8 lists have no women standing whatsoever.

Scottish Liberal Democrats: List Candidates: 41% – 11 out of 27 candidates

Scottish Liberal Democrats: Constituency Candidates: 37% – 20 out of 54 Candidates

Scottish Greens: List Candidates: 50% – 33 out of 66 candidates

Scottish Greens: Constituency Candidates: 33% – 1 out of 3 candidates

RISE Scotland: List Candidates: 55% – 22 out of 40 candidates

RISE Scotland: Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

Solidarity: List Candidates: 45% – 18 out of 40 candidates

Solidarity: Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

UKIP List Candidates: 15% – 4 out of 26 candidates are women. 4 out of 8 lists have no women on them whatsoever.

UKIP Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

Women’s Equality Party: 100% – 5 out of 5 candidates (Lothians and Glasgow Lists only)

Women’s Equality Party: Constituency candidates: Not standing in constituencies


There are 460 candidates running across the lists, of which 188 are women (41%)

There are 276 candidates standing in constituencies, of which 102 are women (37%)

Imagine the talent we are missing out on, without a fair representation of women on the ballot paper. After this election, we will be working to make fair representation a reality by the time another Holyrood election comes around.


Loaded questions and myths

That’s the Scotswoman from 21 years ago…still talking about how we get more women into leadership. Shall we just do it already?

Talat Yaqoob, Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050 highlights the problem with the quota public narrative:

It’s International Woman’s Day and to celebrate The Scotsman has become the Scotswoman. It’s actually a great thing to see (although a more regular occurance would be even better). The writers at the Scotsman (all women for the day) have been quick to get in touch with us for commentary and to include the campaign. For that, we thank you.

The Scotswoman has done an exclusive poll for today, which, unsurprisingly reveals that 1 in 4 people have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace and sadly that only a third of people think gender equality will be a reality in their lifetime.

They also polled a question about Women 5050’s aims for legislated candidate quotas. This found that only 23% of the polled public (1000) supported quotas.

But here is the reality of how that was asked:

Respondents had 3 options:

  1. Yes, I support quota measures for gender equality
  2. No, it should be the best person for the job regardless of gender
  3. Don’t know

The Scotsman did what many do – they fell for the myth and gave people a false choice. This question assumes that quotas would prevent the best person for the job to actually be recruited or elected. That simply is not true. On that logic, that would mean that somehow men are just more competent that’s why 75% of them are in the parliament. Seriously? We do not exist in a meritocracy, quotas will allow us to promote women with the ambitions and talent. Women will have to go through the same selection processes and training, all that will change, will be that the starting point from which men and women run for election will now be on par. It was an incredibly loaded question, if The Scotsman would like to run a poll again, we suggest they get support in ensuring that questions are not leading and are asked through robust unbiased language.

If you say a lie enough times, it becomes the truth:

That’s what has happened with quotas. This idea of merit being forgone for the sake of a headcount of more women is so deeply insulting, yet men and women seem to think it an acceptable retort to the only, I repeat, only real measure to change the status quo.

On Call Kaye this morning, I lost count of the number of contradictions. Every caller agreed; “Women should be paid fairly, there should be more women leaders, we need more women in our councils”. So should be introduce quotas and actually make it happen? “no, no, that’s a step too far in favour of women”.

So, what’s your solution?

Training for women? – been done, gets done by all political parties

Mentoring? – done by most political parties

Voluntary mechanisms like all women shortlists? – done by the majority of parties, has been used for over 20 years and usually gets us to an increase of around 35%

The solution is legislated change. Even then, we will still have work to do. There is legislation (which people at the time called patronising to women, by the way) for equal pay and yet despite it being a criminal offense, women get paid around 11% less than their male counterparts. So quotas are not even that radical, they in themselves are the starting point. Ideally, the quota mechanism is temporary, to normalise the existence of women’s leadership and overcome the institutionalised attitudes in our system which close the door on women. Are we saying a temporary, radical measure for fairness is going too far? The alternative is to sit and make women wait another 50 years, for something that should have existed from day one.

There is not an equal footing in politics for men and women. The status quo favours men. If you really want to do something about equality, saying the right words and reassuring yourself that you really care isn’t enough.

Change doesn’t come from warm words, it comes from progressive action. Quotas are the only truly progressive action.



Women are worthy of an equal voice

Kirsty McCahill is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament and last year presented a support for 5050 representation at the SYP conference: Kirsty McCahill – Ayr

In Scotland, 34.9% of MSPs are female, despite the Scottish population being over 50% female. When this fact is pointed out, one errant response given is that women aren’t interested in politics. But how blinkered must we be to believe that women have no interest in the issues that affect them? Do we believe that women aren’t as deserving of fair representation or, even worse, aren’t worthy of an equal voice.

At the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), we know that women are interested in politics, and now we can prove it. SYP has just released a census of its current membership and it shows that for the first time in our parliament’s history, there are more female MSYPs than male. Thus, it can be argued that  SYP is more representative than the Scottish Parliament, as it truly reflects the gender balance of Scotland’s population, with 13% more female representatives than the Scottish Parliament.

This is a tremendous fact, and one I am extremely proud of, not only as the SYP Equalities convener but as a young woman who is interested in politics. In my experiences, I’ve had many people say to me “Oh, perhaps you’ll be the next female Prime Minister!” Isn’t it a little funny how you’ve never hear someone say to a man the same thing in a male context? Is this because the Prime Minister is expected to be a male? Is it somehow abnormal for a woman to be in a position of leadership?

During my time in youth based politics, I’ve chaired my local youth forum, been the Convener of a committee, and sat on the Board of  SYP as a Trustee. Never once have I been doubted because I am a woman. And that’s what I love about young people – in my opinion, we have a much more nuanced and realistic view on representation and equality. Never once has my ability as an MSYP been doubted because of my gender. I’ve had the same access to opportunities as everyone else in the organisation, and that’s why I feel that SYP is leading the way for gender equality, and we as an organisation are an example to be inspired by.

In 2014, SYP elected a female chair and a female vice chair, and we currently have as gender balanced a board as possible (7 members, 4 male, 3 female) including a female Vice Chair. Our Conveners Group is completely gender balanced with a female Convener’s Trustee. We go to show that gender equality is not an idea anymore, it can be a reality.

Our census shows that young women are interested in politics, but we need to make sure that as they grow older that they are not told they can’t do the things to which they aspire to. It’s important that we recognise the strength and power of women to be strong, inspirational leaders, and we should be encouraging young women down the avenues which they want to walk. Organisations such as Women50:50 and campaigns such as the 50:50 by 2020 pledge (which  SYP supports) are doing great work to make sure that women are given equal participation. If we all do the same, and change our attitudes towards women in society, then automatically our country can strive to be a more equal nation.

No longer can women be pushed out of the boardroom, be excluded from the debating chamber, and denied positions of power. It’s time for a change in the way we think about equality. It’s time for a change in the way we see women. It’s time to encourage young women to stand up to the social norm and do what they want to do – not what they’re expected to do. Every young woman has the power to shape her own future, and every young woman has the power to shape the future of her country. We believe that here at the SYP. It’s time the rest of Scotland did too.

Why I changed my mind

Anas Hassan is an SNP Activist and was a nominee for Mid Scotland and Fife for the upcomingasanhassan Holyrood Elections. He writes a column for Common Space and works as a pharmacist

A few months ago, I caused much disappointment with a column that I wrote on Common Space regarding women in politics, where I hastily dismissed the idea of gender quotas. Whilst the tone of what I wrote was absolutely pro-women, I recall stating, “In principle, it is regrettable that gender quotas or other forms of positive discrimination have to be undertaken in order to address imbalances.”

I came to that conclusion last year, because I genuinely felt that it was very sad that society’s general attitude as a whole towards women participating in politics was not moving in a progressive direction. But what I didn’t appreciate back then was the inhibiting factor of the patriarchy, which remains all too potent in 2016. We might be moving well into the 21st century, but we remain blighted by serious gender inequalities.

Women constitute for just over 50% of the Scottish population (according to National Record of Scotland statistics from 2014). One would think that we would have a public life that reflected the gender split of our population. But it sadly just isn’t politics where women are underrepresented in the context of matters.

The arts, sport and the media are a handful of many other examples of other areas of life where gender inequality is all too apparent. And, speaking as someone of an ethnic minority, I cannot ignore the vast inequalities that exist when it comes to the lack of people coming from a wide range of backgrounds in that context as well.

All this underrepresentation isn’t out of chance. They are the cataclysmic result of the outdated and frankly ill thought out ways and traditions that societies have been brought up with over the generations. One rule for boys and men and one rule for girls and women have without doubt fallen disproportionately in favour of the male gender.

But the main focus of this article is Scottish politics. It is an absolute scandal that only less than 35% of the current Scottish Parliament are MSP’s who are women. For a country that deems itself to have a progressive character, this is extraordinarily disappointing. And only hoping for that number to increase won’t readdress the inequalities.

Because what needs to happen now is for legislation to be implemented sooner rather than later to ensure that Scottish Parliaments in the future are 50:50 in terms of gender balance. Scotland’s current First Minister has taken the initiative in ensuring that her cabinet is half women and half men. Other world political leaders such as Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have followed suit.

Having an elected Scottish Parliament that is truly representative of the general population of our country is in everyone’s interest. Achieving a 50:50 gender balance will create a chamber of politicians that truly reflects our country and can lead to better policy making for all of our fellow citizens.

Further still, we should look at quotas for political representation within the media. I appeared once more on BBC One’s The Big Questions in Edinburgh this past weekend and was horrified to find that well over 80% of the front row panel were men and that only two people within that front row were representatives of an ethnic or religious minority.

We just cannot continue to see programming, especially of a political or debating nature, where there a lack of women, ethnic minority or religious minority representatives. The battle for real equality belongs to everyone and is an issue for everyone.

Equality should never stop inside the Holyrood chamber or inside a TV studio. It should extend towards the whole of Scotland and beyond. We are all better off when all of the talents of all of our people are being truly appreciated and made effective.

Busting Myths, One Tweet at a time

The campaign is inundated with tweets on a daily basis, the vast majority are tweets of support. People telling us they like the campaign, asking how they can get involved and occasionally and tweet from a councillor or MSPs signing up to the campaign.

The majority of MSPs are behind us. Over half of the Scottish Parliament back legislated quotas for women, they understand the powerful consequences of institutionalised inequality. But every so often (actually quite often) we get tweets that perpetuate myths, that misunderstand the campaign and sometimes are just plain wrong.

It is intriguing to us, that despite significant evidence, some people find the prospect of social justice for women problematic. It is usually the same myths over and over again. Sometimes by the same people…I mean a couple of them are just, like, obsessed with us…

Here are the top tweets:

1. Why are you only fighting for the “top jobs”Tweet - bin collectors

The answer: Do bin collectors or pest control govern decisions which effect our lives? Do they control budgets? Are they part of the most significant decision making bodies? No, they are not. What they do is vital, of course. But there are decisions made about Scotland, without a representative sample of Scotland around the table. It is pretty obvious why more women need to be there and why that is worth fighting for. Oh and well paid? We fight for more women councillors where the salary starts at £16,000 and women on public boards which are in the majority, unpaid.

2. Voters chose fairly already:

Twitter 2

Answer: When the candidate list is a majority of men, then voters are not getting a democratic choice – their choice is restricted by what is available. We have no way of knowing what voters would choose, because they are yet to have a fair choice!

3. Quotas insult women:


Answer: ceased being equal? That implies we are equal now; pay gap, motherhood penalty, violence against women, cat calling and under-representation is equality? That’s news to us. Women with merit can and should be able to over come institutionalised barriers through quotas. This implies that women who have become MSPs on all women shortlists are less equal to their male counterparts in the debating chamber. That is just offensive to all the competent women.

4. Stop blaming the menz:

twitter 4

Answer: Nobody is blaming men, it is odd that when we discuss equality for women, your response is to assume it takes away from men. You should probably reflect on that.

5. Merit not gender!

twitter 5

Answer: We quite agree! It should be on merit, not gender, if only it was like that right now. There is an over-representation of men – is that not a position based on gender? Or do you assume that somehow, by some genetic disposition men are just more likely to be leaders? Of course not. Quotas give women with the merit and ambition the door into these positions. They still have to be selected by their constituents, they still go through the same procedures and they still need to convince voters to vote for them – all the same, and taking gender bias that is there now out of the equation.

6. Women just don’t want to be in politics:

Twitter 6

Answer: Nonsense. You really think women just “don’t want to enter” politics? You think men are just, naturally, more inclined. That’s taking the nature V nurture argument to new heights. Women appear to not want to enter it, because there are obstructions preventing them from doing so! Women are intelligent, diverse people – some interested in politics, some not so – just like men. But if we genuinely left it to women’s interests, there would be an equilibrium of men and women in politics (we also like that there is an admission of inequality within party structures just tacked on at the end).

7. I don’t want to be that woman:

Twitter 8

Answer: We get it, you’ve fallen into the trap of believing the hype. Well don’t. Is there any man in politics who is made to feel like he got the job because he “fit a criteria”? No, even though their over-representation could be used in the same way – he fit the criteria of man so therefore had easier entry into politics. Funnily enough, we don’t talk about men that way. Women who enter politics through quotas have to earn it, just like everyone else. Same qualifications, same process, same democratic voting system.


8. Just general abuse:

Twitter 7

Answer: thanks pal, you seem lovely. The abuse is rather unnecessary, we would like to think you can conduct yourself in a manner better than this, but the reality is, you seem disgruntled at women fighting for their social justice and that’s not something to be proud of.

Twitter is an interesting place, but also painfully repetitive. None of the comments above are accurate, there is evidence in droves which dispels every myth. We hope this enlightens more people as to why we are fighting for women’s social justice and that women don’t choose to be under-represented – it is happening to them through systematic barriers.

If it doesn’t and you’re still very angry (which many of the tweeters seem to be) then of course it is your prerogative to continue tweeting – but maybe you will get why we don’t always bother replying…