The SNP’s problem with wimmin

One of the burdz first posts  raised concerns about the Scottish Parliament’s regression on gender equality in its representation.  The publication of the SNP‘s regional list rankings provides an opportunity to consider the issue afresh.   Especially as the issue of securing women’s votes appears to be exercising the party somewhat.

It’s not good news, for the SNP nor the Parliament.

I’ve attempted to analyse how many women MSPs will be elected for the SNP, based on results at their nadir in the 2003 election and their high point in 2007.  It’s not an exact science, and is based on all sorts of currently unknown ponderables, such as the shift of some SNP constituencies across regional boundaries and the holding of first past the post seats or even winning new ones, so I may be out by the odd MSP.

However, if the SNP takes the same number of constituency and regional seats in 2011 as it did in 2003 it is likely to have only 8 women MSPs, from a total of 27.  That would be 2 less than it actually achieved in 2003, resulting in less than 30% of its group being women.

If the SNP wins 47 seats next year, repeating its triumph in 2007, then it will have 14 women MSPs:  exactly the same as it has now.  A few current women MSPs will lose but there will be new ones elected to compensate.  And still, less than 30% will be women.  Anything less than 47 and the number of women will undoubtedly reduce, as they are in the most vulnerable ranking positions. 

It’s fair to assume that the SNP will not be contributing to any reversal in the downward trend on gender equality at Holyrood. 

There are a few bright notes.  Well done South of Scotland and all those rural conservative (sic) constituencies and members who ranked so many women so highly.  On a good day, 4 will be returned and even on a bad one, 2 existing women MSPs will be returned.  And if Tricia Marwick holds her Central Fife constituency, Mid Scotland and Fife looks likely to return an additional woman MSP.   Highland, though, continues its dismal record and will return no women MSPs no matter how good the result.  Central Scotland will return one woman less, as might the West of Scotland.  Women top the list in only 2 out of 7 regions. 

The burd believes firmly that Scotland’s Parliament should be representative of its population.  But does it matter to the SNP’s potential electoral fortunes?

Probably.  At the end of July, Jennifer Dempsie, a former Scottish Government Special Advisor, considered the gender imbalance in the SNP’s vote in an article in Scotland on Sunday.  She put forward several suggestions for addressing this, of which increasing the number of women MSPs was one.   One part of her suggested formula has already been cast aside, though it is not necessarily fatal to a strategy to increase the number of women voting SNP in 2011.   Jennifer rightly pointed out that there is no single magic bullet to resolving this conundrum: a combination of actions is required, but the number of women MSPs is probably the most visual indicator of a party that takes gender seriously.  

The SNP’s failure to tackle the issue – again – for the 2011 elections has created a wholly unnecessary obstacle to closing the gender gap in voter base.   It might also have much more serious consequences.  Summer polls combined with the inherent difficulty of being an incumbent administration point to an uphill struggle to secure a second term in government.   Not taking the opportunity to increase the number of women MSPs could just have made it steeper still.

8 thoughts on “The SNP’s problem with wimmin

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  3. Thanks. That’s a pretty decent analysis Burd. (I’m not sure what to do about it though.)

  4. What I was getting at is that from Professor Mitchell’s analysis of the SNP membership, the number of female candidates aren’t so far out of proportion with the numbers of women in the party as a whole. It could be a supply problem, rather than one of equality generally.

    • That is undoubtedly the case. And certainly what Jennifer’s article in the summer indicated was a need to tackle all these issues. The supply side of membership is a long term haul but raising the number of women MSPs might have helped hurry it along and present an acceptable face on the issue publicly. Policies also count. In fact they will count for a lot. I think I am just disappointed that the party is going backwards on the issue yet it has been aware of the women voter thing for 10 years now. And still not a lot being done to address it.

  5. As a woman, I’d rather be there on merit, rather than as part of a quota. There are lots of wonderful, committed talented women in the SNP, and a good many of them are on the lists and selected for constituencies.

    The larger issue is that there is something of a gender imbalance in the party as a whole – we simply need more women in to begin with. I have never found the party to be hostile to women in any way, and have always been welcomed, so I’m not sure what more we need to do to attract female members.

    • It is a familiar debate, and not just one held in political parties! I prefer the term positive action to quota though. And I agree with you Alison there are lots of wonderful, committed talented women in the SNP. But the stats speak for themselves: fewer of these women on the lists and standing in constituencies are likely to be elected than the men on the lists. Why? Because party members choose to rank men higher than women. They enable more men to be elected than women. I’ve had a good look at the lists, as I’m sure you have. And I do not conclude that these men are better than the women who did not get ranked highly enough to be elected. The one time the party had a debate on positive action to create gender balance, it pushed the issue high up the agenda and in the thoughts of activists (as it was they who did the ranking at that time) and by some incredible coincidence, 50-50 balance was achieved. A starting point would be internal debate and consideration of the issue so it is at least on the minds of members when they are casting their list votes.

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