Alison McInnes’ speech in the Scottish diversity debate: Positive action is a realignment to break the mould that society has been using for too long

This is the speech that Alison McInnes gave to the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference. It’s quite direct and points out our own failings, saying that we have to take action to resolve our lack of diversity.

I’ve been a member of our party for a quarter of a century.  One disappointing constant has been the gender imbalance in our parliamentary groups.

I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the dynamics of our party, locally and nationally, and to identify through the party’s own myriad actions what it actually values and honours.

Despite being the party that claims it cherishes equality and women’s rights, its actions often reveal a clear preference for adherence to a single, male patent pattern.  And that creates a feedback loop that means members when asked to choose are most  likely to opt for what they know the party values above all, and so it goes on.

There is a societal, ingrained implicit bias that leads us all, women and men, to value a particular set of attributes above others. There is no need to be outraged or defensive – no one is saying it is deliberate or malicious, but it is real.  

For generations – for ever really – society has been constructed by men, institutions named and shaped by them. They have built systems that are so comfortable and work so well for them that they often can’t begin to imagine the advantage it gives them.

And that’s the crux of the matter –the advantage and privilege that men currently enjoy.

It has been heartening over the last few weeks to hear some men say they are willing to cede that advantage in the interests of fairness.

So to those who argue that positive action is giving a special advantage to women – I say it is quite the opposite – it is a realignment to break the old mould that society has been using for too long.

Of course our party is not alone in this – how could it be?

But in academia, in board rooms, in workplaces we have seen concerted action for some time to tackle this.

Whereas in our party?  Deep discomfort, usually swiftly followed by  playing down and outsourcing  the problem – by saying we need to “fix” the women.

I’ll leave it to others to point out how insulting it is to women to rely on the superficial refrain ‘it should be the best person for the job’ as a defence for the status quo.

Let me acknowledge that it is an uncomfortable realignment that you are being asked to endorse.  Many young people in particular will find it an affront.  The ambitious young men who think their ambitions might be thwarted  (they won’t).  Young women who are determined to get there on their own thank you  (they might).

But none of this is about individuals.  This is about making the party fit for the future.

Willie has led this party with verve and determination through a tough time.  He has successfully kept the libdems in the story, we have punched above our weight. Today Willie is telling you he needs to lead a diverse team.  That he needs to harness all the talent in the party..

I agree. There is nothing liberal about blocking 50% of our talent.  Members, I urge you to set aside any personal misgivings you might have about this –   otherwise the party faces growing irrelevance.

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  • David Evershed 8th Mar '16 - 5:07pm

    Alison McInnes says “There is a societal, ingrained implicit bias that leads us all, women and men, to value a particular set of attributes above others. There is no need to be outraged or defensive – no one is saying it is deliberate or malicious, but it is real.”

    I challenge this.

    Women who choose to join the Lib Dems are self selecting. Of these women members, those who choose to put themselves forward as parliamentary candidates are self selecting. So candidates (men and women) are not going to be a homogenous group and the characteristics of the women are going to be different to the characteristics of the men.

    Local candidate selection committees can only choose from those who come forward (men and women). Local party members are using their judgement to select the candidate with the best chance of winning. If that happens to be a white male, so be it.

    HQ may feel they know better than local party members, but locally we use evidence based competency style interviews with candidates. Our experience is that the local party is more competent than the region or HQ bureaucracy when it comes to selecting the parliamentary candidate.

    HQ seems to be slipping into a “nanny knows best”, central dictat culture and does not trust the judgement of local parties and its members.

    What price localism? What price freedom?

  • Tony Dawson 8th Mar '16 - 5:50pm

    This is yet another posting from a Lib Dem who wants to alter the shape of how we split nothing rather than gain something at parliamentary level.

    I would be more than happy to see some form of gender-equality processes if we had a form of proportional representation for elections. Until we do, however, we shall only gain any seats at all (and hold non-incumbent seats) due to the efforts of a very small number of crazy individuals who are prepared to exploit themselves, their families and their friends over several years to a disgraceful degree in addition to having serious campaigning nous and numerous other characteristics to a high degree. Tories and Labour and SNP do not have this problem. Such individuals, of whichever gender, will be largely-obvious and few in number. Creating gender-equality in the other 620 or so seats will not make any difference whatsoever to how many Lib Dem MP of either gender get elected. Forcing gender-equality in certain key seats is likely, through removing one or two of these exceptional individuals, to reduce the number of seats won by Lib Dems, full stop.

  • simon mcgrath 8th Mar '16 - 5:50pm

    “Despite being the party that claims it cherishes equality and women’s rights, its actions often reveal a clear preference for adherence to a single, male patent pattern”

    well apart from in Wales – see Kirsty Williams speech to the recent Confernce

    and in London where the top three places on the list went to women and in our seats where MPs stood down where 60% went to women.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Mar '16 - 6:04pm

    So is this the end of gender roles then? The traditional family has been the source of oppression for thousands of years?

    We can end the gender income gap, which we have already taken measures in the past to reduce, but I’m a sceptic that the whole family unit is going to change and the new one is going to be commercial childcare for everyone.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Mar '16 - 6:07pm

    And if it isn’t going to be commercial childcare for everyone, then which bosses are going to let their workers stay at home for half the week?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Mar '16 - 10:54pm

    @David Evershed: “Central diktat culture”? Such a diktat that 2000 people in a room are going to vote on it on Sunday.

  • So here’s the rub. If I was on a selection panel – I’d vote to select Alison as a hard working woman – but then I’d think a bit more and have to vote against her selection on the transplant issue. with which I have very strong deeply personal views.

  • Jim Alexander 10th Mar '16 - 10:19am

    @Caron Lindsay”Central diktat culture”? Such a diktat that 2000 people in a room are going to vote on it on Sunday.”

    You mean a bit like the Fracking Vote at the Scottish Conference ?

    So what motions are now deemed to be ok to become Part Policy and what motions are not – why not cut to the chase and get the Leadership to tell the members in advance on how the Vote should go
    -save all this messing about and having to go about ““reaffirming” positions post conference.

  • Joyce Onstad 10th Mar '16 - 8:49pm

    Great piece Alison McInnes, well articulated. People who care about equality and fairness will get it, and I am hopeful that will be MOST people.

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