Gender equality ‘tokenism’ row in SNP committees leadership race

An SNP MP has criticised her own party for “tokenism” on gender equality in a deepening row over the leadership of two Westminster committees.

Dr Lisa Cameron was disappointed not to have been supported. Picture: PA

Dr Lisa Cameron said she was “disappointed” not to have been supported in her bid to mount a challenge for the chairmanship of the Scottish affairs committee, after a lack of nominations from her own colleagues effectively blocked her from standing for the role.

Leadership of Westminster committees is allocated based on the number of MPs from each party. For the first time, the SNP has joined the Conservatives and Labour in opening up the influential positions to an election by all MPs.

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To be nominated, a candidate for one of the two SNP chairmanships needs signatures from five of their colleagues to meet a threshold of 10 per cent support from their party group.

Dr Cameron told the Scotsman she had secured the backing of “a lot of MPs from other parties” in the hope of fighting a full election for the leadership of the Scottish affairs committee.

However, with sitting chairman Pete Wishart winning the backing of almost all the SNP group, the East Kilbride MP has been squeezed out.

Dr Cameron said she believed a flurry of emails from MPs backing Mr Wishart as Scottish affairs chairman after he confirmed his candidacy – including one from junior SNP whip Owen Thomson calling him an “excellent choice” – had “discouraged” colleagues from signing her nomination paper.

Angus MacNeil, the chairman of the international trade committee, could still face a challenge to his position, with fellow SNP MP Hannah Bardell among those understood to be considering a bid for the role.

Mr MacNeil has clashed with the SNP leadership over his call for the Scottish Government to swiftly hold a second Scottish independence referendum, even without being granted the legal power to do so by the UK government.

The Western Isles MP also broke with his party over the vote to hold a snap election, sparking a fiery exchange with Westminster leader Ian Blackford at an SNP group meeting before Christmas.

Dr Cameron stressed that Mr Wishart was doing “a great job” as chairman, but wanted to advance gender equality in committee leadership roles, with just 20 per cent going to women.

“After previously having appointed the chairman positions, I thought it was important to have a full election now that the party has backed an open process,” she said.

“It’s disappointing that the party hasn’t encouraged women MPs to take part.”

Dr Cameron added: “It’s important the party truly support women and those from minority backgrounds to stand for both committees or else people are likely to assume they’re engaging in tokenism.”