Kate Forbes made history when she became the first woman to deliver the Scottish Budget earlier this month and Nicola Sturgeon’s reshuffle has produced another landmark moment with women now outnumbering men in the Cabinet.
To those who thought the argument over equality of the sexes had been won long ago, it may come as a surprise that such events have taken so long. Given the Scottish Parliament has existed for two decades, one would have thought there would have been a female Finance Secretary or a majority of women in the Cabinet before now.
But anyone thinking this would, unfortunately, be guilty of considerable naivety in assuming the process was left purely to the vagaries of chance. For years after women won the right to vote, politics was a ‘man’s game’ and this persisted – perhaps more informally as an ‘old boys’ club’ – even after everyone at least paid lip-service to the idea of equality.
Today, women in politics take a disproportionate amount of flak from bigoted men on social media, while they can also come under greater scrutiny from people who should know better over the clothes they wear, rather than the policies they hold. The challenge for those who recognise that women and men are equally suited to hold political office, equally intelligent and wise – or, indeed, equally stupid and misguided – is to stand up for this self-evident truth.
So the fact that seven out of 12 members of the Scottish Cabinet are women – assuming the appointments are confirmed by MSPs – is something worth celebrating, just as other landmarks in the fight for equality should be celebrated.
Hopefully, they will help inspire young women and make clear that there is a place at the top tables of power for half the population. The normalisation of female leaders may also encourage the last vestiges of male prejudice to wither and die.
But we should look forward to a time when the composition of the Cabinet – whether it has a majority of men or women – no longer attracts any comment because it is clearly irrelevant to the process.
After Forbes’s appointment, Conservative Finance spokesman Murdo Fraser graciously remarked it was “well-deserved”. She should face scrutiny as her job is one of the most important in Government, but it should be based on the effects of her decisions, not her gender.