What did the 2021 Scottish Parliament election deliver for women’s representation? Here are three quick takeaways from our research on gender, intersectionality and candidate selection:
- Celebrating representative ‘firsts’
45% of the new parliament are women, a record-breaking number (though still short of gender parity). Amongst these headline figures, Kaukab Stewart (SNP, Glasgow Kelvin) and Pam Gosal (Conservative, West of Scotland) became the first women of colour elected to Holyrood. Stewart is also the first Muslim woman MSP. Meanwhile, Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) becomes the first permanent wheelchair user elected to Holyrood; while the parliament’s youngest MSP Emma Roddick (SNP, Highlands and Islands) has borderline personality disorder and PTSD. These ‘firsts’ should be welcomed, and will bring a wealth of diverse experience to the sixth Scottish Parliament.
- Quotas work, but they still have not fully caught on.
One of the biggest takeaways from these numbers is that strong equality measures like gender quotas work. These record numbers have not been achieved by accident – they highlight the impact of quotas measures (particularly the use of all-women shortlists by the SNP in key constituency seats where sitting MSPs were retiring). While most of the main parties used equality measures this time around, and the SNP, Greens and Labour achieved close to gender parity or better in their parliamentary representation – the Scottish Conservatives remain an outlier, lagging well behind the other main parties on the adoption of equality measures and women’s representation, with only 26% women MSPs elected and only one woman candidate topping a regional list.
- Now is not the time for complacency
The history of the Scottish Parliament has shown that gains in representation cannot be taken for granted, and that progress has often been uneven. Now is the time to institutionalise commitments to gender equal representation. Scottish parties need to routinely and publicly publish diversity data on candidates (in the absence of UK Government action on Section 106 of the Equality Act). The Scottish Government should follow the evidence and consider introducing legal gender quotas – which would apply to all parties, and which would require equalities law to be devolved to Holyrood.
Now comes the hard work. In the aftermath of an election that was largely framed in terms of independence and the union, now is the time for wider debates and discussions over what recovery from the pandemic might look like, for women of colour, for unpaid carers, for lone parents, for disabled women; and to ensure a modern and inclusive parliamentary culture (including, for example, considering retaining virtual parliamentary proceedings and remote voting). In all of these discussions, it is vitally important that women’s diverse voices are at the decision-making table.
Kirstein Rummery discusses how this Scottish Parliament will be the most gender diverse in its history. A historic 45% of MSPs are now women, making it the 13th most gender equal Parliament in the world.
However, not all parties faired equally in the gender revolution:
This reflects that fact that the Scottish Greens, Scottish National Party and Scottish Labour have signed up to the Women 50/50 pledge to get 50% of their elected MSPs to be women, and both the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats have declined to take pro-active measures to support women. The evidence suggests that the structural barriers to women entering politics are so significant, without proactive measures it would 145 years to achieve gender parity.
Barriers to entry
One of the barriers to entering politics faced by low income women and other marginalised groups is the cost of running and, if elected, taking up your seat. Emma Roddick, a young disabled woman elected for the SNP in the Highlands and Islands, tweeted about the costs of running for election and received social media abuse. Other female disabled candidates faced physical barriers, such as Pam Duncan-Glancy, elected for Scottish Labour in Glasgow, who was denied entry to the count because officials didn’t believe she was a candidate.
Two BAME women were the first to be elected to the Scottish Parliament, Kaukub Stewart of the SNP and Pam Gosal of the Scottish Conservatives, joining a cohort of only 6 BAME MSPs out of a total of 129.
It is good that there are some ethnic minority people standing for the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections. I hope they are standing in seats they can actually win. Agnes Holmes Sceptical Scot October 2020
Why does diverse representation matter, particularly when it comes to gender?
- White, educated men are overrepresented in Parliament and have a relatively narrow life experience compared to the Scottish population. Most of the Parliament’s time is spent attempting to tackle social problems such as inequality in income, pay, health, education and welfare. People with lived experience of these issues are more likely to create policies that have positive outcomes.
- Increasing numbers of women mean that issues seen as gendered (childcare, equal pay, social care, period poverty, domestic violence) are more likely to be addressed by policy makers.
- Being visible matters. If women (and other marginalised groups such as disabled people, people with experience of poverty, and people from BAME communities) are not seen in politics then people from those communities do not see politics – and by extension, public and civic life generally as something that is relevant for them.
So more diversity means better policy making: this is going to be particularly relevant in a post COVID19 Parliament where Scotland will need to address the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on women, disabled people and the BAME community. But in a Parliament likely to be dominated by the constitutional issue and potential independence referendum, will their experiences count?