Ruth Davidson has warned the Tories’ lack of diversity could thwart her ambition to become First Minister – as she unveiled plans to get more women and minority candidates in the party’s ranks.
It follows criticism that its last Holyrood intake was too male-dominated. The party is now to launch a commission headed by Baroness Nosheena Mobarik to ensure the greater gender and ethnic diversity. The Tories overtook Labour to become the main opposition party at Holyrood in the last election when Davidson’s party returned 31 MSPs in the last election.
But just six women were elected, although another has since joined their ranks, and no minority candidates. With just two non-white MSPs currently at Holyrood – SNP transport minister Humza Yousaf and Labour’s Anas Sarwar – there are growing concerns that the parliament has some way to go before being truly representative of Scotland.
The Tories have previously launched the Women2win campaign aimed at attracting more female candidates, but last week’s revelations about sexual harassment at Holyrood, coupled with the racist behaviour experienced by Sarwar, has now persuaded Davidson to go further.
“The last few months have been catastrophic for politics and public life in general,” she said.
“The appalling treatment of women in public life has been exposed for all to see. And here in Scotland, I applaud Anas Sarwar for bravely exposing how we are still afflicted by casual racism.
“Political parties must uphold the highest standards. But the truth is that no party can stand up right now and say, hand on heart, that they are not tainted.
“Every party needs to act. That includes us. And by the time of the next Holyrood election, the Scottish Conservatives need to show we’ve got it. That we understand the need to change.”
Davidson has previously opposed the use of gender quotas for women candidates at Holyrood, claiming that she is more focussed on getting the best person in the role regardless of gender.
Baroness Mobarik is currently the Scottish Conservative MEP for Scotland and a former chair of CBI Scotland.
Davidson added: “Let the message be clear: Scottish Conservatives value, need and want the contribution of everyone in Scotland. Let’s show we understand that if we don’t sort this out, we won’t become a government for Scotland.”
Talat Yaqoob, chair of Women 50:50, welcomed the proposed commission.
She added: “Whilst training and networking opportunities are important, evidence tells us time and time again that this is only half the battle; structures need to be put in place to ensure women of all backgrounds have access to elected positions.
“That’s why we, along with four party leaders, support legislated candidate quotas. I hope this commission, and Ruth Davidson, one day join the Women 50:50 campaign and recognise that to truly deliver equality and diversity we all must take real, bold action to challenge the status quo, not continue with more of the same.”
There are just 46 women among the 129 MSPs at Holyrood. Efforts to improve the situation such as Labour using 50 per cent women candidates and the SNP’s all-women shortlists have seen little improvement in the past decade.
Nationalist MSP Gillian Martin said: “The Tories have an appalling record on women’s and BME representation, and have actively opposed measures to increase the number of women in public life.
“The SNP has taken steps to increase the number of women candidates and have a gender-balanced Cabinet – and recent analysis found that Scotland was ranked the third best country in the world for women’s political empowerment.”