Jo Swinson to take part in Willie Rennie’s gender balance working group

Willie Rennie has announced the four members of his working group into improving gender balance which he announced last month. He made it clear that he wants to see the party adopt a raft of measures including all women shortlists. Today he met with the Women 50/50 campaign to discuss improving gender balance.

What’s interesting about the make-up of his working group is that it includes people who have historically been sceptical about measures such as all women shortlists. If they support his plans, it will be a very clear message to the party that it is time for serious change. I would be very surprised if they didn’t come up with other measures, such as intensive support for the campaigns of female candidates. They should make sure that they consult LGBT Plus Lib Dems to ensure that the plan that emerges is fully inclusive for transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid and non-binary people.  Steering clear of long-term proponents of procedural measures to achieve gender balance may well be a clever move by Willie.

The members of the working group are:

Willie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Fred Mackintosh is a former parliamentary candidate and Councillor.  He is an Advocate who practices in the field of human rights and criminal law.

Sophie Bridger was the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Inverclyde parliamentary byelection in 2011. She now works in the third sector and is based in Glasgow.

Jo Swinson was Liberal Democrat MP from 2005-15 and a Business Minister and Minister for Women from 2012-15. She is now a non-executive director of award-winning Scottish business Clear Returns and a consultant on workplace diversity.

Sheila Ritchie is a prominent Liberal Democrat activist, and has been an agent for Alison McInnes, Malcolm Bruce, Christine Jardine and other Liberal Democrat candidates.

Willie said:

I am delighted that Jo, Sophie, Fred and Sheila have agreed to join the working group. They each bring with them an invaluable amount of expertise, not only in campaigning for greater gender equality, but also in the party’s constitution and structure.

It is now time to take the necessary action to deliver change.

The working group will now finalise proposals to put to the Spring Conference of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Talat Yaqoob, the Chair of the Women 50/50 campaign welcomed the move:

We welcome the Scottish Liberal Democrats taking a proactive step to ensure women are better represented in their party and in elected positions. Voluntary mechanisms such as all women shortlists have been used for a number of years and have allowed women to make some progress.

While we welcome this, we believe the progress has still been too slow, which is why we are calling for legislation to move this from being voluntary to being an expectation of all parties. On the current trajectory it would take us another 80 years to reach a 50/50 parliament, one day is too long to wait for equality.

We need all political parties to be proactive on this, women with the talent and ambition deserve the doors to Scotland’s public life to be fully open to them.

The Scottish Party’s failure on gender balance has been embarrassing. Let’s hope that this group finally brings about the change that we so desperately need.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Any truth to the rumours Jo Swinson is being lined up for Deputy Leader? Swinson and Farron really would be a dream team IMO.

  • David Evans 30th Sep '15 - 2:30pm

    The comment “The Scottish Party’s failure on gender balance has been embarrassing.” is three words too long. What the Scottish Lib Dems need to focus on is not getting obliterated in 2016. We are in danger of simply allocating the best deckchairs to a few chosen people as the Scottish Lib Dem Titanic finally slips beneath the waters.

  • Joyce Onstad 30th Sep '15 - 11:47pm

    David Wallace is assuming that those “of the right group” will be “less qualified” than “the suitably qualified” group of white men. What he fails to see is that what lists and such interventions achieve is to allow equally or even better qualified bright stars to shine where they have been dimmed by historical, cultural and psychological biases. Black and other ethnic minorities suffer even more from these biases than your average white woman and so the focus should go beyond gender if we are really interested in fairness and equality.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Oct '15 - 9:14am

    Joyce – Looking at the age of our MPs we will probably only have two or three retiring in the lead up to the 2020 election. Surely it would be possible to go to BME women only shortlists in those very few held seats where we need a new candidate ? I have raised this on LDV before and people thought I was joking. I am not!

  • David Evans 1st Oct '15 - 9:51am

    Ruth, I refer you to my earlier post. The existential crisis we face now is simply whether we survive as a party with MPs, or disappear forever like the National Liberals or more recently the SDP. To survive we will need the very best candidate to just give us a chance of holding an existing Lib Dem seat. Do you really believe that restricting choice of candidates is the best way to ensure we win?

  • Ruth Bright 1st Oct '15 - 10:25am

    David I try to read your posts carefully. 99 times out of a hundred I respect your viewpoint.

    Part of our existential crisis is a failure to look like today’s Britain. So my answer to your question is: Yup.

  • Joyce and Ruth, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think some members attitudes towards women and BME only shortlists is a bit like those who favour the trickle down theory of wealth and the response to both is “How long do people have to wait for equality of opportunity to trickle down “?

  • John Barrett 3rd Oct '15 - 10:10am

    David Evans hits the nail on the head.

    Managing to elect any new MPs, MSPs, councillors etc. will be difficult enough, without restricting who can go forward for seats where we have any chance of winning.

    The time spent by the members of this working group considering how to get the various groups Caron mentions on to short lists, would be much more wisely spent campaigning on a range of issues that matter to the wider public, much more than our internal party discussions which will no doubt result in a heated debate at conference and not much more.

    Unless the party reconnects with many more people from community campaigns to national campaigns our electoral fortunes will continue to decline and the gender of the candidate who loses a deposit will not matter.

  • Paul Holmes 3rd Oct '15 - 12:00pm

    I can’t speak for Scotland where John Barrett has far greater wisdom and local knowledge than I do and there is in part a PR system which to some extent changes campaign calculations.

    But as far as MP’s in general go I would suggest that most of those Liberal Democrats who are going to win in 2020, however small or otherwise that number is, are already well known in their constituency and have already been out campaigning again since May 7th.

    There was a brief period where we were ‘on the rise’ and chosen outsiders with no local profile could get themselves selected and then more or less immediately elected in a seat where someone else had already made the breakthrough. David Laws inheriting Yeovil in 2001 from Paddy and Nick Clegg inheriting Sheffield Hallam in 2005 from Richard Allen being two prominent examples. Such examples are however the exceptions that prove the rule and even our previous string of stunning Parliamentary by election winners almost always had a local profile/connection in a seat where, usually, we won from second place.

    Following the worst election result for our Party in a century and half we are very much back to the old days where people like Patsy Calton, Annette Brook, Norman Lamb, Menzies Campbell and Ricky Younger Ross only won their constituency after building a profile over a number of elections. Paddy set out to win the very safe Conservative seat of Yeovil over three General Elections but managed it in two. Lynne Featherstone built her profile until she could win the traditional Labour seat where she lived. Tim Farron had to stand twice before winning in a seat where we were already in a strong second position when he first became the PPC.

    That was mostly the reality for the Third Party in a FPTP electoral system. Now we are, for the moment at least, the Fourth Party in a more crowded FPTP system. Bringing in ‘The One’ might cut it in the Matrix (John Barrett will appreciate the reference) but few Liberal Democrat MP’s have been elected in that way. Those who want to get elected should be campaigning now, building their team and their profile now and should be planning on the long haul rather than expecting instant success.

  • David Evans 3rd Oct '15 - 4:21pm

    Ruth, One part of our crisis may well be a failure to look like modern Britain, but it is a tiny, tiny part as far as voters are concerned. If you don’t believe me I suggest you go out and ask ordinary voters if they voted for us because we look like modern Britain or if they have stopped voting for us if they did it because we stopped looking like modern Britain. I don’t think you will find many.

    As I liberal I judge people on what they say and more importantly do. What they look like is almost trivial in comparison.

    To put it in a different context, I think we are in a position where we are setting up a committee; on the Titanic; to discuss how to advertise; for a new band; that can play a cross between Loretta Lyn, Cyndi Lauper and Buffet St Marie; for the return trip; across the Atlantic; after the holes in the hull have been repaired.

    I simply just think you have got the cart in front of the horse.

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