A Woman’s Place is in the Parliament

This was the slogan of the 1999 cross party campaign to achieve gender balance in the Scottish Parliament.  I bought the T shirt, wore it and might just have to consider digging it out of the drawer.

Because our political parties are in need of a wee reminder that oor place is indeed, in oor Parly.

To mark the 100th International Women’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to try and work out if the decline in female representation witnessed in 2007 might be halted in this Holyrood election.  Now that all the parties have filled their stalls in constituencies and on list rankings, are we likely to wake up on 6 May to more or fewer women MSPs?

The exercise of working out how many MSPs will be women is fraught with difficulty, but the Scotland Votes predictor helps enormously.  There is still a little guesstimating on which regions will produce which list MSPs for each of the parties:  I used previous results and a little of my scarily encyclopaedic knowledge of the foibles of Scottish politics to fill in any blanks.

Of course, it depends on which poll findings you use to predict the final outcome.  I used the most recent one, which I know is compromised by its weighting and sampling biases, but it wasn’t too far off what other polls conducted before Christmas were showing.  If readers demand a stewards’ inquiry, the exercise can be re-calibrated using the one that put the SNP ahead to see if it makes any difference.  I doubt it will.

Make no mistake, the findings are woeful.  On the burdz calculations, Scotland’s Parliament could start its fourth term with only 43 out of 129 MSPs being women.  That’s exactly a third.  Which means we will have stood still since 2007 while continuing the downward trend from the dizzy heights of 40% recorded in 2003. 

Flatlining sure isn’t anything to be proud of.

According to this latest opinion poll, the SNP will return only 35 MSPs.  Of these, a quarter of its constituency MSPs are likely to be women, with nine of the 23 list MSPs returned being women, meaning they will occupy 34% of its seats at Holyrood.  This will, in fact, mark an improvement on gender representation in the SNP group on 2007 – which suggests without all the tortured calculations, that a victory for the SNP in May will have minimal impact, and indeed might have a detrimental one on the Parliament’s overall balance.

It is a major shift in internal party policy by Scottish Labour which has done for any aspirations of improved gender balance.  The practice of twinning constituencies is no more and it means that left to their own devices, Constituency Labour Parties have chosen to replace all those women MSPs standing down at this election with men.  Not a single solitary seat will return a woman this time round.  It means that only 29% of Labour’s constituency MSPs will be women and no matter how and where the 10 list seats come from, only six of them are likely to be women. 

The result?  Worse gender balance than the SNP.  The party of fifty-fifty gender balance all the way through the first twelve years of devolution has come crashing down to a low point of 34% (and that’s only cos I rounded it up). Janey Buchan and Maria Fyfe will be tearing out what’s left of their hair.

Depressing isn’t it?  So how about this one:  the Lib Dems, who according to this poll, will be down to just nine seats will elect a single, solitary female MSP in Margaret Smith.  The Conservatives will manage no female constituency MSPs and probably at best, six from the regional lists giving a percentage share of seats to women of 40%.  Yep, the Tories will do better on gender balance than either Labour or the SNP.  

A bright spot to finish on – if Margo is standing again, and she has said she is, then her return will mark a full 100% for the Independents.  And if the Greens take six seats as this poll predicts they might, then either three and possibly four of those seats could go to women, depending on which regions return Green MSPs.  A political group with a majority of women MSPs.  Imagine.

Overall, it’s pretty dismal stuff with which to mark International Women’s Day but it is important.  It would seem our dreams of a new politics are almost as deid as the dodo, that dreams of equal representation for women in the Scottish Parliament are stuck in the pipe, and that without some measures of positive action – as evidenced by the collapse in Labour’s representation – women have much less chance of being selected, never mind elected.

Next time I visit Holyrood, I might just don my *A Woman’s Place is in the Parliament* T shirt.  A little faded and frayed it might be, but sadly, its message is still relevant today.

(For more like this, visit the excellent The Shoogly Peg blog – her totals are different from mine, because she looks at total candidates rather than just winnable seats.)


9 thoughts on “A Woman’s Place is in the Parliament

  1. Pingback: The Shoogly Peg » Blog Archive » Less than a third of MSPs female

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  3. Looking at the numbers without looking at why reveals nothing.

    Why do women not get selected as often as men? Actually, why are there fewer women seeking selection in any seat? Why do less women see selection in a winnable seat? Why are so many women stepping down after getting elected? Why does the list offer a better opportunity for some women, especially for the parties that have forsaken constituencies?

    My answer is to all of the above is: Time.

    Time to devote to selection. Visiting every party member, attending selection meetings, attending approval meetings etc.

    Time to devote to win a winnable seat. Question during selection – how much time can you spending campaigning? Correct answer is living in seat, every weekend and a few nights each week, usually for the next year.

    Time to spend hour and hours and hours being a social worker (Constituency MSPs). Spend time in parliament away from home, spend time every weekend doing anything but relaxing. Maybe having three weeks to yourself in the year. Free time dealing with the multitude of issues that constituents bring through the door.

    Etc etc.

    Being an MSP means not having time for yourself. It is not a job. It is a way of life. Maybe that needs to be changed before a basic look a how many women MSPs there will be.

    • I think what also needs to be factored in is how many women go for winnable seats and those constituency parties – in all parties – choose men first. Be interesting actually to have someone map that ie the selection routes and number of times standing before getting a winnable seat etc.

      You are spot on though, one of the reasons I haven’t gone back actually as cannot face or afford the time for selection and campaigning. And parties are still pretty poor at supporting men and women with young children to participate fully.

      I suppose I hope that by shaming them into showing how badly we are doing they will do something to address the time issues, and others, that hold women back? Or maybe that is being too optimistic. It should not be beyond them in the 21st Century to acknowledge a problem and act to do something about it.

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  5. Pingback: The Shoogly Peg » Blog Archive » Looking forward

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  7. Silence speaks volumes?. I for one am with you!

    The SSP was a political group with a majority of women. Maybe again one day….

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