Should there be quotas in Scottish politics?

Scotland, Scottish Parliament, women, politics, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Veeneman

Recent research commissioned by the BBC has indicated that female candidates are underrepresented in Scotland ahead of May’s general election.

The research showed that the SNP had 36 per cent of female candidates, while Labour had 26 per cent. The Liberal Democrats had 27 per cent and the Conservatives had 15 per cent, while the Scottish Green Party had 42 per cent of female candidates.

In the Scottish Parliament, the SNP is led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, while Ruth Davidson leads the Conservatives. Kezia Dugdale is Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour and serves as the party’s spokesperson in the body.



More to do

The research comes as discussions are made on gender representation in Scottish politics, in advance of the general election in May, but also ahead of Scottish Parliamentary elections due next year. One of the subjects that has been introduced is that of quotas, which would require a certain percentage of political positions or political seats to be held or contested by women.

In a speech on 14 March in observance of celebrations marking International Women’s Day, Sturgeon said she endorsed the Women 50/50 campaign, co-founded by Dugdale and Green MSP Alison Johnstone, and said the government would call for a 50:50 target in place by 2020 for public, private and third sector bodies to have women make up half of the board.

“We’re appealing for them to do it – not just because it’s right, although it is – but because it’s in their own best interests,” Sturgeon said. “Having a better diversity on boards leads to better decisions. The argument for organisations is the same as it is for Scotland as a nation. We will do better, and achieve more, if we use all of the talent available to us.”

Sturgeon added on the subject of women in politics that while progress had been made, more work needed to be done.

“Standing in this chamber each week for FMQs, before a female Presiding Officer to debate with two other female leaders it could be easy to forget how much more work we still have to do,” Sturgeon said. “But it took hard work and support to encourage those women to enter the political fray. Many still perceive politics as an unfriendly place for a woman to be. That must change.”

Changing the law

Labour has called for changes into the law, and that it should be a requirement that political parties field candidates on a 50/50 gender ratio, as well as a 50/50 ratio for positions on boards. In an interview with the BBC, Dugdale said the issue should no longer be left to fate or to chance.

Kettle’s attempts to reach someone in Dugdale’s office at the Scottish Parliament were unsuccessful, and a spokesperson for Scottish Labour did not respond to a request for an interview with Dugdale. A spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats did not respond to a request seeking comment.

In a statement, Liz Smith MSP, the Scottish Conservatives’ spokeswoman for culture, said she was against quotas, and believed that a person should be in a position based on merit.

“Politicians have become unpopular people in recent times,” Smith said. “Part of the anti-politics movement is because there is insufficient trust in the body politic and I think we risk making that situation worse if we gerrymander the selection of MSPs. Forcing a 50:50 ratio would, by definition, exclude some talented individuals from getting selected by their parties (and ultimately elected) simply because they were a man or a woman. I don’t believe many colleagues want to win a seat selection because they happen to be of a particular gender. They want to be selected because they will be good at their job.”

Looking ahead

So what does this debate say about the future for women in politics in Scotland, and could quotas be realistic?

Writing for the blog of the Political Studies Association, Meryl Kenny, Lecturer in Government and Politics at the University of Leicester, and Fiona Mackay, Dean and Head of the School of Social and Political Science and Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, say despite the surprise of the results for the General Election, there were still questions.

“The SNP seems poised to take over from Labour as leaders on the issue of women’s representation in this election at least, although it is far from clear whether that will translate into support for quotas in the future,” Kenny and Mackay wrote. “But without system-wide statutory quotas, it remains the case that gains in women’s representation are contingent upon party will or individual champions. Whatever the outcome of the General Election in May, we will still have a distance to travel before equal representation becomes a realistic prospect.”



What do you think? Are quotas a good idea to boost the participation of women in politics? Have your say in the comments section below.