Respect Unzipped

Yet another thoughtful blog from BurdzEyeView—in this case entitled “Nae man can tether time nor tide” demands consideration and, in this case, response. The piece welcomes the initiative of a motion in the name of the party NEC to the SNP Conference (planned for Glasgow next weekend) that will require the party to consider all-female short lists of candidates for next year’s Scottish election in those constituencies without a sitting SNP MSP.

This blog can make no better a case for this initiative than is laid out in BurdzEyeView and it is therefore recommended reading as preparation for the stushie that is about to break out in Glasgow when this is debated. For a branch in Clydesdale (already represented by a female in the shape of Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell MSP) has lodged an amendment that effectively nullifies the original motion.

The SNP is to be commended for facing up to this controversy and providing what may prove to be a lively debate on the eve of a full-scale General Election campaign. While there is little doubt that the bulk of SNP leadership, starting with Nicola Sturgeou, stand full-square behind the idea of all-women shortlists to redress a gender imbalance in SNP (and other party) representation in the Parliament, in the soaring membership now passed 100,000 (many of them women) that may not be universal.

Rewind some 17 years to a similar conference in Aberdeen prior to the first Parliament election and there was a similar motion (in that case proposing ‘zipping’ candidates on regional lists—the idea that the list should alternate between genders as you went down) which triggered lively and impassioned debate on both sides but resulted in a rejection of the proposal. Many of those arguing against were women who felt such methods were artificial and demeaned women with the presumption that they were not able to achieve selection without help. As the Burd puts it:

“That debate for me was characterised by the number of bright, young women speaking against the idea, adamant that they would get there under their own steam, thanks very much. Only one of them ever did.”

Having met and worked with many colleagues of either genders while I was a member, I was impressed both by its egalitarian culture and, (having lost as many debates as I won against them) the abilities of the distaff side.

Because of said abilities, in this case I am not fearful that any such artificial construct might dredge up some dreadful candidates simply because they are women. But it must be said that earlier parallel efforts by Scottish Labour resulted in what has been slated as a ‘coven of Karens’ getting elected in the Parliament’s early days. They brought scant experience and even less ability to the chamber, having been elected entirely because they were a) loyal b) Labour and c) female. The argument could be made that the stature and achievements of the early Parliament were hindered by such members.But let me be clear that this must not be seen as applying to all female Labour MSPs. Wendy Alexander (whom I respect immensely) and Margaret Curran (whom I detest but accept has ability) to name but two were both formidable presences who could hold their own with the boys, not to mention Bella Goldie and Nicola herself.The issue is not whether women belong in Parliament or that they are in any way naturally inferior in ability, contribution or stamina, once they are there. And there is much to be said for Nicola’s position, which is:

“People say to me, ‘I don’t want quotas, I don’t want all women shortlists because I believe people should get on on merit’. I absolutely 100 per cent believe in that, I think people should get on on merit.

“The problem is that’s not what happens very often just now. If we had a system that was purely based on merit, we’d have gender balance because women are 52 per cent of the population, and unless you think that women are somehow less capable, then if we had a merit-based system we wouldn’t have these problems of under-representation of women.”

The trouble is we DO have a merit-based system and running a dogmatic coach and horses through it will not improve democracy.

Thirty years ago, because Latinos made up a significant portion of the population of California, the new equal-rights laws there were applied to boost promotion of Latinos and entire schools became Spanish-speaking to cater to the prevailing language in their catchment areas. Latinos were promoted and school grades improved. So a win?

Actually, no. So many people—especially Latino women—who benefited found themselves out of their depth because their background ill-prepared them to operate nearer the boardroom and their skills had not had adequate training to succeed. Many were failed by this missing element. Meanwhile high school achieved excellent grades that would have set them on careers had they been in Bogota or Buenos Aires. But their English wasn’t fluent or professional enough to earn them a job in Los Angeles.

Crow-barring culture through legislation is a crude and possibly even damaging approach. And if we don’t want to train Thatcher clones (females who operate in a male dominated environment by ignoring the fact they’re women and fail to offer enlightening character traits  in which men are singularly ill-equipped), then culture has to change first. That women are able and have equal contributions to make should be a given.

But simply shoving more women in by force who will have a doubly hard time until the social environment changes is gesture politics. If supported, I hope the motion does succeed in its long-term aims. I believe it to constitute a well intentioned approach at progress—but it is actually delusional.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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