Scottish Lib Dem Spring Conference agenda now online: Rennie’s radical diversity motion to be debated

The agenda for the Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference to be held on Edinburgh on 26 and 27 February has been published and can be found online here.

Traditionally, pre-election conferences are full of non-controversial items aimed at setting out the party’s stall to the public. This agenda, by and large, follows that pattern with debates on opportunities for young people, public services, a plan to decentralise power, particularly to Scotland’s island communities, better and fairer delivery of essential services like electricity and broadband in the Highlands. All of these are pretty much bread and butter issues for the party.

The main moment of controversy, however, will come in a closed session when party members will debate a radical and wide-ranging motion on improving the party’s diversity. Yes, it includes all-women shortlists for the five most winnable seats in 2020, the first two places on the 2019 Euro list going to a woman and a man respectively and decisions to be taken at a later date for the Scottish Parliament elections. That’s not the whole story, though. There’s a minimum of £10,000 a year in ring-fenced funding to support candidates from under-represented groups with personal or campaign expenses, a duty on the leader and every member of the Executive to make the party more diverse and a duty on local parties to report, as they do for PPERA, on diversity every year.

What’s interesting is that Jo Swinson, who was famously against all-women shortlists, is summating for this motion.

The motion itself is very long, over 1200 words and 120 lines. I’ve reproduced the first two sections setting out the problem and a broad set of principles for action at the bottom of this article. This motion, like many others on the agenda, is open for amendment until 24 February. It is significantly more radical than that which has been submitted by the Federal Executive for Spring Conference. We will find out later this weekend if it has been selected for debate.

The early bird discount rate for Scottish conference is in place until 31st January and you can find out details of how to register here.

Conference notes:

The track record of Scottish Liberal Democrats for electing women and people from diverse backgrounds does not reflect the party’s values of equality and opportunity. There has only ever been one woman MP at any one time.

There have only ever been two women MSPs at any one time.
There has never been a parliamentarian from an ethnic minority.
In the last 20 years, of 36 new Liberal Democrat parliamentarians in Scotland only 5 have been women.
In the last 10 years, of 9 new Liberal Democrat parliamentarians in Scotland only 1 has been a woman.
Only 36% of Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors are women.
Only 30% of Scottish Liberal Democrat council group leaders are women.
Whilst 42% of members attending the Scottish Spring Conference in 2015 were women only 32% of speakers at that conference were women.
Whilst 46% of local party secretaries are women, only 21% of Conveners are women.

The party has deployed a variety of mechanisms and efforts to improve diversity including Diversity Champions, diversity training, candidate initiatives, mentoring, Leadership Programme and engaging with underrepresented groups.

Conference believes:

The party’s parliamentary representatives should properly reflect the country we seek to represent, legislate for and govern.
The imbalance in our representation at all levels damages our electoral prospects.

We are losing out on some great talent that exists in our party and the broader liberal movement.

Despite the deployment of a variety of techniques and efforts, bolder action is now required.

New measures should be deployed to bring about greater diversity of elected parliamentarians and councillors and participation in the party’s activities. The party should send a powerful signal to women and people from underrepresented groups that their participation is actively encouraged.

The automatic assumption that a candidate must be able to commit all evenings and weekends to campaigning even if they have caring responsibilities should change.

An environment and culture should be created in the party that gives women and people from diverse backgrounds opportunity to succeed in the party and to access elected office at all levels.

Half of the party’s parliamentary representatives should be women.

Our party’s parliamentary representatives should broadly reflect society in terms of ethnic background, LGBT+, disability and other characteristics.

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

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  • I’m reading the motion.

    It appears to exclude non-binary people from the both first two places on the Euro-list.

    (and from all the five most winnable seats in the 2020 General Election and, similarly, five of the ten most winnable seats for the 2021 Scottish General Election).

    The party has been campaigning for equality for trans and non-binary people for some time, and undermining this campaign by failing to recognise them in our own internal equality measures is entirely unacceptable.

  • … and I’m wrong.

    “In interpreting this motion any approved candidate who does not identify as male or as female shall be able to access the same arrangements as are proposed for women.”

  • John Barrett 25th Jan '16 - 7:33pm

    I fear that the unintended consequence of this motion (if passed) will be to put another nail in the coffin of the party in Scotland.

    At a time when electing candidates of any gender at any election is a major problem, to rule out any talented individual on the grounds of their gender is madness.

    At Westminster level, in recent by-elections, saving our deposit has been the target. Does the gender of the candidate matter when that is the case – I think not. The vast majority of our candidates in May will not win, we should thank every one of them for standing and fighting the good fight. At least the proposed changes will not apply to them.

    The section in the motion saying that candidates have to commit to every evening and weekend is also nonsense and even in top target seats many candidates will confirm this is not the case. Candidates do have a tough life, but this motion does not reflect reality in many ways. The motion appears to think that gender is all that matters and I fear that the end result, if it passes, will be to put off good people of either gender from wishing to stand for election for the party.

    Equally bonkers is to lump in the percentage of local party office bearers by gender. Anyone who is enthusiastic about becoming an office bearer, especially treasurer, in any local party will be snapped up. Many Lib-Dem treasurers, male or female who have been in post for years, would love anyone to allow them to stand down. This is not a gender issue. Lumping it in with this motion ignores that there are real issues to be addressed by local parties – other than the gender of the secretary. (I was my local party secretary for many years).

    At the next Westminster, Council or European election, our problem will be attracting high quality candidates of either gender, who will then go on to win seats. To put any obstacles in the way of any of our candidates, as this motion will do, is as pointless as re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.

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