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[i] suggests that the structural barriers to women entering politics are so significant, without proactive measures it would 145 years to achieve gender parity.
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[ii]. 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.
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?