17 year old Women for independence member Zara Munro reflects on inequality in Scottish Politics.
Two of the leaders of Scotland’s main three parties are female and so is the Prime Minister. On the surface that looks fine, doesn’t it? It’s not though. It may seem like there are plenty of women but when you look closer there are still much more men than women across all levels of politics. This report will look at just how wide that gap really is and why.
When it comes to politics, people are generally apathetic, or if they do pay attention, they don’t look at representation as an issue, just the key policy differences between three or four parties. The sociological theory I will look at is feminism. Today’s idea of feminism has been horribly skewed so it’s now seen as toxic. The Oxford dictionary defines feminism as “The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Feminism is not about women being superior-it’s about equality. The feminist view of politics is that we live in a patriarchal society and politics is a man’s world. That’s what I grew up believing and sadly it’s still very much the same today.
At council level, after last year’s elections, female representation sits at just 29%. That’s only up 4% from the last elections in 2012 and if it stays at this rate it would take 25 years to achieve equal representation. The Western isles council (Na h-Eileanan Siar in Gaelic) is the worst for equality, as all the councillors are now white men. In Angus Council there are only 6 female councillors and only one is in the administration. The other 5 are from the SNP meaning the SNP women make up 83.3% of all female councillors. Overall while only 18% of Conservative and Unionist councillors in Scotland are female; 39% of SNP and 47% of Green councillors are women. The SNP has 169 female councillors which is more than any other party, and more than all others combined. Eight of the party’s council groups now have at least 50% female representation.
At a glance, Holyrood looks fabulous for equal representation. We have a female First Minister, leader of the third largest party and both deputy presiding officers are also female. However, female representation at Holyrood is only at 35% which is no improvement from 2011. At committee level, it’s even lower, with only 32% female representation. It’s done considerably well for LGBT+ equality though, with the leaders of the opposition and former Labour party leader, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dudgale respectively, both being openly gay as well as Scottish Greens’ leader Patrick Harvie who is bisexual. Holyrood falls short in more diverse equality though with no disabled MSPS and only 2 Black or Ethnic Minority (BME) MSPS: Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, and Labour’s Anas Sarwar. There has never been a woman of colour elected to Holyrood.
At a UK level, while we do have a second female Prime Minister, they have both been from the Conservatives and the Labour party have never even had a female leader despite being founded nearly 120 years ago. In the House of Commons, female representation is bad as at council level. There were 44 more women elected in 2015 than 2010 and, at 191 female MPs, it’s the highest level ever. However, it’s still very low at just 29% female representation. Remember women are 52% of the population. Labour used gender quotas in their selection process leading to 34% of their candidates and 43% of their MPs being female. They also made sure to place female candidates in seats where just a small swing was needed to win and seats they already held. The Conservatives done the complete opposite with female candidates more likely to be in less winnable seats and only 26% of their candidates and 36% of MPS were female. In the SNP, 36% of candidates and 20% of those elected were female. Across the UK there wasn’t a single constituency with all female candidates yet 102 (16%) had all male candidates and in 575 constituencies, less than half the candidates were female. While the SNP and Labour have changed their candidate selection methods to be fairer to women which has made some progress, other parties aren’t really doing anything. So, no matter how much progress these two parties make, until the other parties, particularly The Conservatives, do more to get more women in politics then equal representation is very unlikely.
Yet despite the progress that has been made, women still face many obstacles such as age, sexism and sexualisation. Look at Mhairi Black for example, she got involved in politics back in 2011 with the announcement of the independence referendum, when she was about the same age as I am now. Then when she was elected 4 years later at age 20 she became the youngest MP since the 17th century. While there are many who praise her for being involved in politics from her mid teenage years, there are others who look down on her for it and think she’s ridiculously young so has no experience and doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. Though she proved them wrong very quickly! She was also subjected to a barrage of abuse following her appearance at a Glasgow rally against the Tories’ rape clause last year. Afterwards, there were absolutely vile comments on twitter such as “She’s got nothing to worry about. Nobody’s gonna wanna rape that” and “She’s alright nobody will rape her”. Interviews are also a severe issue as there is a constant focus on women’s weight, family life and children. Male politicians are never asked about any of these things. We are constantly sexualised too. During the Labour leadership contest of 2015, The Spectator actually ran an article asking if the two female candidates, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, were attractive enough to be successful leaders. Did that happen with Jeremy Corbyn? More recently, The Daily Mail received widespread criticism for its coverage of a meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The headline, from mid-March 2017, reads “Never Mind Brexit, Who Won Legs-It!” alongside a photo of the two senior politicians. This article is even more disgraceful considering it was written by a female journalist.
What all this shows, is that while we are making progress, it is very slow. The SNP, Labour and The Greens have made a great deal of progress on gender inequality in the past few years. It’s the Conservatives that are undermining all this by doing next to nothing and dragging female representation down on average. On the surface, it all looks ok with women in a lot of the top jobs but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Despite decades of campaigning, the feminist viewpoint that we are living in a patriarchal society particularly when politics is concerned is still true. There are still many barriers that women face and there is still that glass ceiling in politics and across many aspects of public life. However, let me end with a quote from our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon: “There should be no limit to your ambition or what you can achieve. If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit - and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams.”