THE SNP and Labour have launched a last-ditch attempt to hand Holyrood the power to impose gender quotas to increase the number of female politicians in Scotland.
This week both parties will attempt to change the Scotland Bill to give MSPs the authority to create legislation that could be used to ensure a 50:50 gender balance at the Scottish Parliament and in local government.
Scotland on Sunday understands that the parties intend to support each other when their proposals are debated in the House of Commons tomorrow in a rare show of cross-party unity.
The bid has been supported by Women 50:50, the pressure group campaigning for gender equality, which in turn is backed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, and five other nationalist MPs are sponsoring an amendment to the Scotland Bill that would transfer power over gender quotas to Holyrood. A similar amendment has been tabled by Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray.
Tomorrow’s session will see the consideration of the report stage of the proposed legislation to make Holyrood more powerful. The SNP is set to support Murray’s submission if it is accepted for debate, while Labour is understood to be behind Robertson’s amendment if that is the one brought forward.
Ahead of the debate, Women 50:50 has been trying to secure the support of Conservative MPs by pointing out that the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s 59 Commons representatives favour the change.
A Women 50:50 statement, supported by Dugdale and other prominent figures, including Kathleen Caskie of Women for Independence, was released yesterday.
It said: “There are women across Scotland with merit and ambition. What holds them back are barriers which we have a duty to remove.
“We believe that legislated candidate quotas are a bold, temporary measure needed to equalise the balance of decision-making. For too long decisions about the whole of Scotland have been made by a parliament that fails to look like the society it is meant to represent.”
Angela Crawley MP, the SNP spokeswoman on Equalities, Women and Children and one of the signatories of Robertson’s amendment, has called on the Conservatives to support the drive for fairer representation of women.
Currently, women make up 35 per cent of Scotland’s 129 MSPs, and fewer than one-quarter (24 per cent) of local authority councillors are women.
This week will see Women 50:50 host a conference, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which will look at gender equality.
Research conducted for the conference shows that more women are likely to make it to Holyrood at the Scottish election next year as a result of SNP and Labour introducing their own equality initiatives.
The SNP’s use of all-women shortlists in selected seats means that women make up 30 out of the SNP’s 73 constituency candidates for next year, up from 29 per cent at the last Scottish election to 41 per cent. And women make up 42 of the SNP’s 96 list candidates – the equivalent of 44 per cent.
Labour has not yet completed its selection process, but its policy of using all-women shortlists and twinning – where two geographically close seats which the party has a roughly equal chance of winning form one selection panel and elect one woman and one man to stand for each seat – has resulted in 18 women being earmarked for the 30 seats chosen so far, the equivalent of 56 per cent of the party’s constituency candidates. In contrast, women are poorly represented in those parties who take a less pro-active approach. According to Women 50:50 research, women make up just 15 per cent of the constituency candidates selected so far by the Conservatives – nine out of 58. For the Liberal Democrats, ten of 26 constituency candidates selected so far are women.
Conservative MSP Liz Smith said she could understand why there was an argument to devolve equality issues, but emphasised she was against the imposition of gender quotas.