Opinion: Tackling the myths about that Scottish Diversity motion

I’ve seen a few comments online over the past few days insinuating that the Scottish Liberal Democrats don’t care about improving diversity in the wake of a motion passed at the recent Scottish Conference after a passionate debate and a protracted and complex series of votes.

I want to correct some myths about what happened. Scottish Women Liberal Democrats (SWLD) put forward a motion containing a wide ranging series of measures. Most of these were uncontroversial. Who can argue with making sure that the concerns of women are hardwired into the policy process?

The first main points of contention were over the Federal Party’s Leadership Programme which SWLD wanted to extend to Scottish Parliament seats and change our selection rules to allow for the shortlisting provisions for leadership candidate programmes which state:

Where candidates from the Leadership Programme apply to a priority seat at least two candidates from the Leadership Programme should be shortlisted on their short list.

Katy Gordon, new chair of SWLD argued that the Leadership Programme did not represent positive discrimination:

The party has repeatedly taken the view that it did not want to see that. In March this year the Federal Party supported the creation of the Leadership Programme so that candidates from under-represented groups – including young people, and those from low socio-economic backgrounds as well as the more traditional women, BAME, LGBT, disabled candidates – could get the training, mentoring and support they need so that they have a more equal chance of fighting for selection in winnable seats.

Liberal Youth Scotland, however, were unhappy with the automatic shortlisting element. Their amendment sought to remove that part and to take out the extension to the Scottish Parliament seats. However, they welcomed the training and mentoring aspect of the Leadership Programme.

Their Membership Secretary, Kavya Kaushik, explained their concerns:

My sentiments towards automatic listing are best summed up by Lord Ashdown at a Federal conference fringe: “I find them illiberal and I find them demeaning to those who are put in that position. I find them potentially insulting.” Whenever I am encouraged to do something I feel insecure – is it because I am good or is it because I am female? Is there a quota that needs to be filled? I find these moments of self doubt demeaning, a product of a new culture of quotas and automatic shortlists. Scottish subscriptions to Candidate Leadership lacked numbers due to, I believe, self doubt. Automatic shortlisting is humiliating and creates self doubt, which deters strong candidates.

Ultimately, Conference agreed with LYS on the automatic shortlisting and extension to Scottish Parliament seats by just 5 votes.  This does not mean that Scotland has rejected the Leadership Programme per se – in fact, the Scottish Party is instructed to actively promote particpation in it. I think that the proposers didn’t give enough detail about what the Leadership Programme entailed, and including within the same motion a measure of very direct affirmative action may have confused the issue and been a tactical error on their part. That element was the introduction of quotas of at least a third of either gender for party committees. This was defeated by a much larger  margin.

What was very clear from the debate was that nobody in Scotland thought that our current record on diversity was acceptable. However, some felt that the motion failed to tackle the underlying culture within the Party. LYS President Sophie Bridger said:

The main problems  women face in getting selected or elected, whether for committees or parliament, are negative attitudes. That’s a difficult thing for us to come to grips with – we’re Liberals, after all, we’re not sexists! But there are women in this room who didn’t get selected because they had young children – that never stopped Alex Cole-Hamilton!  Women who make no secret of their ambition are seen as upstarts, where men in their place would be lauded.  Recently , I was discussing an upcoming committee election, which was hotly contested  entirely by women. The response of one our party’s foremost activists was ‘Catfight’! Was it meant in jest? Of course! Did he mean any offence? No. But that is the kind of attitude that holds women back.  I know of so many examples where attitudes like that, held by good decent Liberals, have stopped outstanding women from fulfilling their potential.

LYS’s amendment also added in elements which would give training to local parties and selection committees on diversity issues, giving them the tools they need to go out and engage with all the groups of people in their area.

The Scottish Party has come out of last Saturday with a lot to work to do – measures such as proper diversity monitoring, engaging more actively with under-represented groups, training local activists and ensuring that gender mainstreaming and budgeting are integrated into the policy making process were all passed.

Many of us will have been shocked by Ruth Bright’s recent article on this site, in which she outlined the appalling treatment meted out to her as a PPC when she had just had her baby. I suggested in the comments that we should have a bank of  people who can provide temporary cover for PPCs who are unable to carry out their duties.

I think that Liberal Democrats across the country can learn from each other on this. We need to swap ideas about what works and what doesn’t, about how to change those elements of the underlying culture which hold good people back. Don’t doubt the determination of Scottish Liberal Democrats on all sides of our debate to make us a more diverse and open party.

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9 Comments

  • paul barker 18th Oct '11 - 8:11pm

    No-one disputes our willingness to talk about these issues or to pass cuddly resolutions that offend nobody & make no real difference.
    Take the idea that Party commitees, Lists etc should be at least 1/3 for each gender, something The Green Party (EWNI) adopted in the mid 1990s, its hardly revolutionary.
    Until we are willing to do things that seriously annoy some activists we are never really going to change.

  • Matthew Harris 19th Oct '11 - 9:16am

    Sorry, but since when did young people become an under-represented minority that needs greater measures getting into Parliament? I’m all for measures to increase the numbers of female and BME MPs, but young people? That’s different. If young people, why not the elderly – how many octogenarian MPs are there, compared to the number of octogenarians in the population? How much would Parliament benefit from the wisdom of more older people? I meet a great many young people who are already candidates and MPs. They are not an under-represented minority. I have seen no evidence that young people are more likely to vote if presented with younger candidates. Young people will, in any case, obviously become older if they live long enough, whereas BME or disabled people do not usually cease to be BME or disabled at any point. Even if there are disproportionately few young MPs (and are there?), so what? Being an MP is a senior role that will attract a lot of experienced candidates who are in their middle years. So what? That is not age discrimination. I’m noticing a lot of age discrimination across all parties in favour of bright and beautiful young people, to be honest, not the reverse.

  • Quite Lester – if that speech was given as quoted it was a disgrace

  • Kavya Kaushik 20th Oct '11 - 2:26am

    The second part of the Ashdown quotation was addressed in the remainder of the speech. To reiterate our point: we are pro Leadership Programme but it should be used in conjunction with training.

    The main point is the usage of the word “demeaning” – bringing on self doubt and concerns about ability and confidence. That is what I was trying to address.

  • Sal Brinton 23rd Oct '11 - 5:03pm

    Thanks, Caron, your posting, as ever is very helpful.

    Kavya Kaushik:: you and your colleagues in both LY and LYS are really misrepresenting the Leadership Programme (LP), and I feel very frustrated by this. At every possible occasion we’ve talked about the training – and advanced training – which is key to the LP. In addition the training offered by CGB and New Generation will continue, as will the more general training that the party offers.

    The party has encouraged younger candidates from under-represented groups to apply, and we have some excellent and outstanding young candidates already selected. And, Matthew Harris, if PPCs are from an under-represented group AND young, then that can provide an extra barrier, so yes we do take it into account.

    And just to be clear, Kavya, adding two LP candidates to the short list of a strategic seat is not restrictive at all (and therefore not a quota) for the local party, as the selection committee is not bound by the number of candidates on the short list. Given that getting on to the short list has been a longstanding problem for ppcs from under-represented groups, this is a helpful step forward. We hope that this, plus the training, mentoring and other support, we will put these LP candidates in a better position to get to the hustings of selection meetings, and thereby get selected, and then in 2015 elected.

    We are currently in the middle of recruiting to the programme. Of the first 11 selected in September, 5 are women; 3 from BAME heritages; 1 LGBT; 3 with disabilities; 4 are under 30; 5 from low-socio economic backgrounds. The mathematically advanced readers will recognise that this totals more than 11, but some people cover more than one under-represented group. We’ve been really excited by the quality of the ppcs applying.

    I really hope that LY will support those younger ones – including an outstanding 17 year old! – when they go for selection in winnable seats.

  • Kavya Kaushik 28th Oct '11 - 1:40pm

    I have spoken to a number of people about the Candidate Leadership Programme and would like to believe I do understand it. I think what we’re trying to do has been completely misunderstood by the rest of the party and this equally frustrates me. As I’ve said before I completely agree with the Leadership Programme and what it is trying to achieve. However people speaking at the debate cited incidents of discrimination BY the Selection Panels. A female candidate said that people questioned her reliability as a candidate because she was a carer. The incident outlined in Caron’s article about a member calling an election a catfight – this is evidence of views held by people unaffected by the LP. We’re not saying we’re a party of bigots but we want to get everyone across the party to understand and address the problem of diversity within the party. The debate was only seen by a handful of people – not a lot of people stayed to watch and we want more people to sit in the debates, to combat the lack of engagement with underrepresented groups within the party. We want the change to be from across the party – from the top down to the bottom.

    The Leadership Academy has already existed, as has mentoring, as have positions for women on shortlists. With similar measures already in place it is disappointing that we STILL only have 7 women in Parliament. We want to extend training to panels to ensure these strong and credible candidates aren’t held back by comments such as those above. The LP still exists and Scottish members can still apply and take full advantage of the mentoring and advanced training it provides. I’d like to make it very clear only 12 people that voted in that hall were LYS members, the views we have are not exclusive to us and I get frustrated to see blame and anger targeted towards us, younger people who are just standing up for what we believe in.

    Liberal Youth Scotland is NOT an SAO filled with mini politicians looking out for their own interests. We campaign for what we feel is important and give younger people a loud voice. We believe in a strong need to address diversity within the party and I can proudly say 3/5 of LYS Office Bearers are women. We also have LGBT and BME members on our committee. We have done this by recruiting and encouraging strong candidates. We will support any strong candidate regardless of any box they may tick, that includes age. I look forward to supporting a 17 year old if he/she is a strong candidate. I personally find the argument that the LP is great because it includes younger people insulting to what I spend my time campaigning on. We’re fighting for so much more than that! Our lead campaign this year is Separate Isn’t Equal, addressing Equal Marriages. We never fight for “Please make me an MP! I’m ever so young and adorable. That translates into me being Prime Minister one day”

    I feel the need to stop defending myself about this matter and move forward to work on a new proposal outlining training and recruitment. I just hope the anger and frustration people feel towards us is lifted when we bring our proposals to the table.

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