In the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory earlier this month the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale asked the First Minister what the Scottish Government was doing to promote equal opportunities in Scotland.
The First Minister responded that Hillary Clinton’s defeat indicated
‘that we are not as far down the road to true gender equality as we hoped that we were, so we have a great deal of work still to do’.
Nicola Sturgeon didn’t have to look far to see a major hurdle on the road to gender equality. Although at first glance you may be forgiven for thinking that Scotland is doing rather well with regards to equal representation, with the three largest parties all led by women, a closer look around the Chamber confirms the FM’s view that more need to be done.
Despite one of the Scottish Parliament’s founding principles being ‘to promote equal opportunities for all’, in its five elections so far female representation in Holyrood has not made the improvements many hoped for. Since the initial success of 1999, where 48 out of 129 MSPs were women (37.2%) and 2003 where the proportion of women elected rose to 39.5%, the number of female MSPs has declined or stayed much the same in the subsequent 3 elections. 2007 saw numbers decrease to 43 (33.3%), there was a marginal increase in 2011 (34.8%), but 2016 saw no change despite an increase in the number of female candidates standing.
The picture seems to be the same behind the scenes in the Scottish Parliament. Last week the Women 50:50 campaign, which is calling for fair representation of women in public life, said that women only accounted for 13 of the 59 people appointed as government Special Advisors since 1999.
It is clear that more needs to be done if the Scottish Parliament is to build on the initial successes of 1999 and 2003. However, these victories didn’t happen by themselves – it was part of a concerted effort by women’s organisations and the main parties to promote equal representation. This combined with the zeal for a ‘new politics’ in Scotland, distinct from Westminster, produced the laudable results. Unless the Scotland’s political parties actively implement measures to promote gender equality as they did in those early elections then the gender disparity in Holyrood has little hope of narrowing.