Kate Shannon: Gender equality still remains a big problem in politics

Written by Kate Shannon on 9 April 2015 in Comment

Only about 28 per cent of General Election candidates in Scotland are women

With the general election fast approaching and the political parties whipping themselves into a campaigning frenzy, it’s no exaggeration to say all eyes are firmly on Scotland.

The polls have been widely predicting a massive boost for the SNP north of the border, at the cost of Labour and the Lib Dems. If this comes to pass, the SNP will hold a lot of power in Westminster and much of the talk in recent weeks has been about which party they will prop up in government (if any).

However, while this is largely new territory, there’s one aspect of the General Election that is woefully familiar. Gender equality still remains a big problem in politics and this particular election is no different.

Indeed, several different studies put the percentage of female candidates standing in Scotland at around 28 per cent, which is still shockingly low.

Writing last month in their gender politics blog, academics Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay examined this topic further.

They wrote: “While the uncertainties of the 2015 elections have made it difficult for forecasters, there is one outcome that we can predict with a high degree of certainty – the majority of the MPs that Scotland sends to Westminster - as elsewhere in the UK - will still be men.”

According to data compiled by the Guardian, 15 per cent of candidates fielded by the Tories are women, 27 per cent for Labour, 26 per cent the Lib Dems, 43 per cent the Scottish Greens, 36 per cent for the SNP and 18 per cent UKIP. While the Greens and the SNP are creeping towards 50/50, the others are lagging behind.

 

 

The SNP in particular has been making a concerted effort to address gender inequality, with conference last month voting to agree moves to ensure greater women’s representation in the Scottish Parliament.

Delegates voted in favour of a resolution which would enable the SNP national executive committee to direct that an all-women shortlist should be submitted in a constituency which has a retiring incumbent SNP MSP – and to ensure that in any constituency in which more than one candidate is nominated, at least one candidate must be a woman.

The resolution agreed also makes clear that the NEC may take steps to balance the number of male and female candidates being submitted for ranking on the regional list.

This is positive but as Kenny and Mackay said in their blog, while a political earthquake might be forecast for Scotland on 7 May, “it doesn’t add up to a genderquake”.

They continued: “Whatever the outcome of the General Election in May, we will still have a distance to travel before equal representation becomes a realistic prospect.”

In 2015, where we have arguably the most politically engaged public in generations thanks to last year’s referendum, Scotland should be leading the way. Let’s hope that with the Holyrood elections next year some of that engagement will translate into reality where gender equality is concerned.

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