Women’s Equality Party targets Holyrood seats

Sandi Toksvig, Sophie Walker and Catherine Mayer at the WEP policy launch in London. Photograph: Getty
Sandi Toksvig, Sophie Walker and Catherine Mayer at the WEP policy launch in London. Photograph: Getty
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THE newly launched Women’s Equality Party (WEP), fronted by broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and author Catherine Mayer, will put up candidates for next year’s Holyrood elections in all Scotland’s major cities.

A special screening of the film Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter, was used to formally launch the group’s policy platform of gender equality in Edinburgh last week.

Party officials told Scotland on Sunday that WEP now has hundreds of members in Edinburgh and Glasgow and expects to get its supporters elected as MSPs on the regional list for the Holyrood election in the two cities.

Dr Abi Herrmann, branch leader of the party in Edinburgh, said it would “be ideal” to stand in all the major cities in May 2016.

The party is likely to field candidates for the regional lists covering Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen as the very minimum for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

However, the group said it would also approach Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, Tory and Green party politicians to see if they want to stand on joint platforms with the Women’s Equality Party to boost the number of people elected to Holyrood on pro-gender-equality platforms. Under such arrangements a politician would stand as a Lab­our-WEP candidate or SNP-WEP, for example.

The party, which is led by former Reuters journalist Sophie Walker after being launched by Toksvig and ­Mayer, is expected to field candidates in elections across the UK, including those for local government and other devolved administrations.

A newly-launched policy platform commits the Women’s Equality Party to the core aims of pushing for “equal ­representation for women in politics, business, industry and throughout working life”, action over equal pay, equal parenting and “care-giving and shared responsibilities”, “equal treatment of women by and in the media” and an “end to violence against women”.

The party’s mission statement says: “Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself.”

However, the leadership of WEP in Scotland has ruled out taking a stance on the independence issue.

Herrmann, setting out WEP’s plan for Scotland, said: “We’re non-partisan. We don’t have a line on the referendum.

“We have active branches in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We’re strong as a brand and are getting name recognition.”

She added that “it would be ideal” for the party to stand in all major cities in Scotland in next May’s Holyrood election.

Herrmann, a dementia researcher, said WEP was still concerned about women’s representation in Scottish politics despite the three main parties being led by women – Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP and Ruth Davidson for the Tories.

She said that a key part of the party’s platform was to increase the level of female representation at Holyrood, where about 35 per cent of women are MSPs – compared with 29 per cent for Westminster.

Herrmann said: “It’s brilliant that there are women leading the three main parties, but when the leadership changes will that continue?

“We want to have joint candidates with other parties and hope people from other parties will want to stand on joint tickets. We’ve had discussions with Scottish leaders.

“We’re a party based on the rights of women and we’ll field candidates against parties if they don’t take on our policies.”

The party has called for a gender quota system to select MPs at the next two elections so that equal representation can be achieved in the Commons by 2025.

It has also backed six weeks’ paid leave – at 90 per cent pay – for both parents after having a baby, as well as an extra ten months of shared leave at statutory pay.

Supporters of the party have had a series of policy launches across the UK last week to coincide with the release of Suffragette.