Westminster – look north for political representation of women

Nicola Sturgeon new Scottish government

Written by Andrew Wilson

Let’s not beat around the metaphorical bush, we live in a patriarchal society. I know it. You know it. Maybe even Nigel Farage knows it. I’ve always considered women’s representation in politics to be the best indication of how deeply ingrained a country’s patriarchal beliefs are held. I’m sure you can guess that the political representation of woman in the UK is, well, dismal. The UK as a whole ranks 57th in the world in terms of members of parliament with 22% of MP’s being women – http://www.quotaproject.org/uid/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=GB. However, there is a beacon of hope, a bastion of women’s political representation if you will. They bathe in oil, export whisky and hate the English – we love you guys really. Yes, it’s the Scottish.

Although Scotland isn’t competing with Nordic nations – 47% of MPs are women in Sweden and 42% of MPs are women in Finland – Scotland still has impressive female representation in Holyrood. 35% of MSPs are women and this is not limited to backbenchers, two of the three major Scottish parties are now headed by women. You could put this down to Scotland being a predominantly left-wing, liberal nation, but you’d be wrong. Even the Scottish Conservatives, a party associated with white, straight men, have now been headed by women from 2005 onwards. Their current leader is not only a woman, but a lesbian woman to boot. In its inception in 1965, how many would have dared to guess that a lesbian woman would lead the Scottish Conservatives? Surely that’s a sign of some progress for woman in the political-sphere. Even if I disagree with Ruth Davidson’s political views, it is refreshing to see woman being represented, right and left wing.

The progress of women in politics took another step forwards in November of last year. Nicola Sturgeon became leader of the SNP and thus First Minister of Scotland and one of her first acts was to promote a number of women into her cabinet, resulting in a 50:50 male-female split. This act really was an astonishing move. Not only does the 50:50 place Scotland amongst Nordic nations, but these women are in positions of the highest power. They can have a real difference. An equal cabinet is one of the first steps towards equality in politics for women.

Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go. The mere notion that any country claiming to operate as a representative democracy while men dominate the positions of power should be laughed at. It seems appropriate to laugh at the UK then. Commence laughter in 3-2-1…

Unfortunately, it’s not all that funny. Without a strong number of women in politics we cannot expect women’s rights to be built upon, or even protected. If the government announced a bill to outlaw abortion, who would be more likely to pass this bill, a parliament of male MPs, or a parliament with an equal number of men and women? If the government introduced a bill to repeal free birth control, who would be more likely to pass this bill, a parliament of male MPs, or a parliament with an equal number of men and women? I’m sure we all know the answer. A male-dominated parliament goes against every notion of democracy. How can a democracy, which is supposed to represent the population, claim to represent when only half of the population is being represented?

I won’t create any illusions of equality. Women are still grossly underrepresented in politics. Even if Scotland has an equal cabinet, 65% of MSPs are still male. However, Scotland is making large strives towards equality and the rest of the UK should take note. There is still a long way to go, but recent events in Scotland are a case for optimism. Even if it’s a small case.


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