New campaign aims to give women equal representation in Scotland’s parliaments and councils

A cross-party campaign aimed at ensuring gender equality in the Scottish Parliament has been set up. The idea comes from Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale and Green MSP Alison Johnstone and has the support from MSPs across the political spectrum including Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes.

Scotland on Sunday has the details:

With Lord Smith of Kelvin’s newly established commission examining the transfer of more powers to the Scottish ­Parliament, the group of six MSPs believes control over equality legislation should be moved from Westminster to Edinburgh.

This would allow MSPs to introduce legal quotas to achieve a 50/50 ratio of females to males at Holyrood, in local government and in the ­Scottish Government’s public bodies.

Scotland is currently going backwards in terms of gender equality, with the number of women at Holyrood down at 32% from nearly 40% in 1999. Only a quarter of Scotland’s councillors  and just 22% of our MPs are women.

This is a controversial issue for Liberal Democrats, many of whom will baulk at the idea of parties facing sanctions if they do not provide a 50.50 balance of candidates. I am supporting the campaign as I’ve spent 30 years campaigning on gender equality with little progress. I’m not willing to leave it to chance that, several generations down the road, we might just get equality if we carry on at the same rate.

The details will need to be worked on but the aim, an equal parliament, is reasonable. I hope that this campaign will take the fight for equal marriage – for which Kezia Dugale, one of the founders was in at the beginning – as its inspiration. In just six years, they turned round hostility into majority support.

The Women 50-50 campaign has its own website explaining what they’re about:

The campaign for 5050 representation began when the Scottish Parliament was first created, this regeneration of it comes from women heavily involved in the independence referendum. We watched the two year long debate with a critical eye, and proudly saw women from all background and all walks of life become politically engaged. There was noticeably more effort to have women speakers on debate panels and have comment pieces from women in newspapers. All over Scotland we attended, spoke at and publicised events specifically organised for women and by women. Importantly, we saw a wealth of talent, women who have the potential and capabilities to be representatives. This made us even more adamant in tackling inequality and pushing for measures to give women access to the positions that are currently unfairly and structurally dominated by men.

Women were often front and centre of the debate and now that the result is in, we don’t want to lose that momentum.

This is a call for sisters from across the independence referendum; whether you voted yes or no, to come together as a movement and push for the representation women of Scotland deserve.

If you agree, please sign up. The referendum has changed Scottish politics forever. This campaign gives women from both sides a chance to work together to achieve progress.

The first challenge will be to achieve progress through Lord Smith of Kelvin’s Scottish Devolution Commission. This so far is unpromising on female representation with on ly 2 of its current 7 members being women. The Greens and Labour, yet to announce their representatives, could do something about that if they chose but all parties really need to step up and think about gender balance in all appointments and elections.

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

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  • Ignoring the pros and cons of the mechanism for a moment, 50/50 is a start but the blinkered binarism underpinning it is a bit 19th-Century. Better 4x/4x to give the rest of the population some representation too.

    Though doesn’t Holyrood have 129 seats? I suppose while we reserve a load for men and a load for women we could use that ‘odd number’ quality to reserve 3 or 5 for the rest of society.

  • Women make up 52% of the population and have had poor representation in politics,business and in decision making roles. It us 121 years since women first were given the vote in New Zealand. Itvhs about time that gender equality was taken seriously. Well done to Scottish colleagues for doing so. Good luck with your campaign. Many in England will wish you success!

  • I support parties instituting their own gender quotas, but rules like this would effectively ban the Swedish Feminist Party (which fields only women). Is that really progress? I don’t think so.

  • What a terrible idea.
    Why are we so obsessed with women? Yes, women are under-represented, and this is something which is undesirable, but so are many other groups – BAMEs for instance, or the working class (something which I think is much more pressing)

  • Major flaw in the proposals: Forcing parties to field a 50/50 balance of candidates does not guarantee a result of 50/50 MSPs in Holyrood, unless you are proposing that voters no longer have a free vote…

  • The assumption that having 50% women will make everything better is a false dream.

    Unless something is done about the social class of our elected representatives things will stay much the same.

    Having 50% of our representatives coming from the female half of the 6% of the population who make up the Elite will not change very much at all for those of us from the other 94% of the population.

    From The Great British Class Survey    

    Members of the elite class are the top 6 percent of British society with very high economic capital (particularly savings), high social capital, and very high highbrow cultural capital. Occupations such as chief executive officers, IT and telecommunications directors, marketing and sales directors; functional managers and directors, barristers and judges,financial managers, higher education teachers,[13] dentists, and advertising and public relations directors were strongly represented.[14]

    Average household income of elite households in 2011 was £89,000; average house price was £325,000. Few are ethnic minorities; many are graduates, and over half come from families who were also in the elite class. Graduates of elite universities are over-represented, especially from Oxford, City, King’s College London, London School of Economics,Cambridge, Bristol, London South Bank University, Imperial College and Trinity College Dublin.[15] Only Trinity College Dublin is located outside the south of England. Their education and residence patterns are centered on London and the south of England, particularly South East England and the Home counties.[15].

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Sep '14 - 6:04pm

    Respectfully, from the bottom of my heart, can someone explain to me why quotas should only apply to the good jobs such as parliament and boardrooms and not the arguably less attractive jobs such as in the military? If the belief is gender equality then why does it seem to selectively only apply to the good jobs? Therefore, as I have said in the past, too much of the movement seems to base not around equality, but female self-interest. We see similar such proposals in the criminal justice system, where equality gets thrown out the window and female self-interest seems to take priority.

    I am not angry, just a little tired that these arguments are not addressed and it just seems to be a never ending argument.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Sep '14 - 6:30pm

    John I don’t think the class issue is anyway near as simple as you make out – how on earth do you measure these things?The game of “prolier than thou” is tedious but if it has to be played here goes! Apparently as an approved candidate and LSE graduate I am to be classed as one of the elite (not what my bank manager would say I am sure). However I got to LSE through sheer grit in the face of opposition from my sixth form college where I was advised to aim lower, largely it seemed because my Dad was a bricklayer.

    My daughter has been educated entirely within the state system (starting at a play group in special measures and a school that was merely “satisfactory”) does this denote a non-elite start in life or does the fact that her grandfather went to Oxford and her father went to Cambridge make her a Bullingdini in waiting?

  • Ruth Bright 28th Sep ’14 – 6:30pm

    Ruth, I think you are attacking something that I did not say and do not believe.

    If you read the definition of Elite from the Great British Class Survey in my comment, it defines the 6% at the top of our society in some detail.
    Given the way you describe yourself in your comment I would suggest that you do not fit the Survey’s description of Eiite.

    It is only your degree from LSE and the fact that you live in the South that you have in common with this group . The Survey does not say that everyone who went to the LSE and lives in the South is one of the 6%.

    My point was that — The assumption that having 50% women will make everything better is a false dream.

    I cannot see that your comment really addresses that.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Sep '14 - 7:50pm

    John, fair enough as long as the women we promote are from the 94% everyone’s happy!

    I do think 50% women would make a tremendous difference (94% or 6%) . We need more representatives who can understand the pressures on mothers in particular. Most of the discrimination I have experienced has revolved around being a mother rather than resulting from gender or class

  • @JohnTilley – Your response to Ruth’s comment made me look a little closer at the study you linked to.

    Whilst it does define the top 6% in some detail, there is a notable exception, namely its definition of “elite university”.
    The source report for the quote (reference [15]) only lists the nine universities citied. Searching further provides a list of “12 elite universities”, namely: Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Exeter, Bristol, Warwick, Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton. This list being based on the numbers of AAB students attending {source: As we can see whilst there are obvious overlaps, it is the differences that are quite instructive; personally, I wouldn’t regard Sheffield, Manchester or Southampton as being “old school” elitist.

    I’m well satisfied to be (like Ruth) one of the exceptions, but then my university motto was “Do Different”.

  • Ruth Bright

    You both make reasonable points. And describing class is a bit like writing down a detailed description of an elephant; you may not get all the details right and you may omit to mention some but you recognise an elephant when you see one.
    Anthony Sampson ten years wrote the book “Who runs this place?”, which followed up his 1962 book “Anatomy of Britain”. What is perhaps shocking or if not shocking certainly depressing is how little social change or increased equality there has been in the UK since 1962.
    I have not read the latest Owen Jones book “The Estabishment and how they get away with it. However, from what I have have read about it I am guessing that it will share some of themes of “Who runs this place?”

    My firmly held view is that — Until we tackle the power of The Elite we could have 100% female representation in parliament — but if they all came from the 6% little would change.

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Sep '14 - 9:10pm

    I suspect John Tilley’s right; but I think it’s quite obvious why there is a concentration on addressing the unequal representation of sexes: it’s easily identified and straightforward (if not entirely uncontroversial) policies can be proposed to deal with it. Almost everyone is unquestionably either male or female; and absolutely everyone is classified already as one or the other on birth certificates and passports. Attempts to classify us all by class or “race” would have almost all of us, rightly, up in arms (and would be open to obvious manipulation anyway). So, yes, push measures for greater representation of women (though I don’t think we should make a shibboleth of 50%); but don’t imagine that this will result in transformation of society or politics. Gender gaps, when it comes to political views, tend to disappear quite quickly (unlike income gaps, health gaps, or visibility gaps, of course…). Witness the Scottish referendum, where the idea that men were all for independence and women for sticking with the Union turned out to be, pretty much, moonshine.

  • John

    I’m more in agreement with you than not, over our elected representatives seemingly come from the “Elite” and if we really want a more representative government things have to change. However, and it is probably more of a comment upon the report you cite, I’m less certain whether having “Graduates of elite universities are over-represented” in the “Elite” of British society is a good or bad thing.

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