A political earthquake forecast for Scotland – but will there be a genderquake?

By Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

This blog was originally posted on the Political Studies Association’s Blog for International Women’s Day 2015.

The 2015 General Election has the potential to be one of the most unpredictable electoral contests in British political history, with no party likely to win a majority. Amidst all the post-election scenario discussions, however, lies one certainty – on 7 May the Scottish political landscape will be fundamentally rewritten. The post-referendum political shakeup continues, with recent polling suggesting that the SNP could win 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats, a political earthquake that would mark the final death knell of Labour’s political dominance north of the border (though other estimates, including the PSA’s own, have been more conservative).

The question on everyone’s minds is what happens next – who will hold the balance of power? With the SNP almost certain to be the third largest party at Westminster after May, it is very likely that it could play the role of ‘kingmaker’ (and we use that word advisedly) in post-election discussions. While Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband is being pressured from all corners to rule out a coalition deal with the Scottish nationalists, Nicola Sturgeon has hinted at the possibility of a looser ‘confidence-and-supply’ arrangement, with the SNP supporting a potential Labour minority government on an issue-by-issue basis.

While the uncertainties of the 2015 elections have made it difficult for forecasters, there is one outcome that we can predict with a high degree of certainty – the majority of the MPs that Scotland sends to Westminster – as elsewhere in the UK- will still be men. Yet, here there are also some interesting developments. At time of writing, only 29% of candidates selected to contest Scottish seats in Westminster were women. Nonetheless, this is a small increase on the 2010 General Election when only 24% of Scottish candidates were women. Furthermore, if recent predictions by Lord Ashcroft and others prove to be accurate, and the SNP do win more than 50 seats at Westminster, this could result in a record high of 30% or more female Scottish MPs (compared to 22% in 2010).

These results are particular significant given that Scotland has historically had a relatively poor record on women’s representation in the House of Commons compared with the UK overall figures. Indeed, until 2010, the percentage of women MPs elected have been smaller in Scotland than for the UK as a whole (see Figure 1). As we have observed [elsewhere], despite relatively high levels of women’s political representation in the post-devolution Scottish parliament (currently 35%), there has been little evidence that women’s representation has ‘caught on’ across the different levels.

Scottish MPs over time

What are the trends in candidate selection? At time of writing, not all selections are complete. However, all parties, except the Greens and Conservatives, have increased the number and percentage of women candidates from 2010 (see Figure 2). Only the SNP and the Green Party have achieved female candidate figures higher than 30% – with the SNP selecting 21 women out of 59 candidates (36%), and the Greens selecting 13 women out of 31 candidates thus far (42%). The Scottish Greens have never won a seat at Westminster.

Scottish candidate figures 2015

The rise in the percentage of female SNP candidates for GE2015 is notable in two respects: first, the increase is substantial; and second, it has been achieved in the context of fierce competition for seats as a result of the sea change in the party’s support. Comparative studies demonstrate that women prospective candidates typically lose out when the electoral prospects of minority parties radically improve as male candidates jockey for position. The party does not currently use positive action or quota type mechanisms so the figures are all the more remarkable.

Does this ‘leap forward’ signal a step change for a party that has traditionally been seen to have a ‘problem with women’? Despite a history of a few high profile women, the party has — in terms of its membership and organisation, culture and policy agenda — struggled to portray itself as ‘women friendly’.

Traditionally, there has been a gender gap in electoral support for the party, with women voters apparently wary of the party’s ‘macho’ image[i]. The issue of women’s representation has been less prominent despite the efforts of feminists inside the SNP, and the party has – to date — rejected the use of quota-type measures. As a result, the Labour party in Scotland has outperformed the SNP in terms of its selection and election of female candidates at Holyrood and Westminster, employing positive action including gender quotas. Currently, women comprise 47% of Labour MSPs compared with only 27% of SNP MSPs.

Nicola Sturgeon’s appointment as the SNP’s first female party leader and Scotland’s first female First Minister has created new momentum for change. She is driving change from the top with powerful statements such as her gender-equal cabinet and her public support for the cross-party/civil society lobby group Women 50/50. Rule changes to be voted on at SNP conference to centralize control over candidate selection to the NEC would give the leadership the organizational capacity to implement quotas if it so wished. But the potential transformation of the SNP extends beyond a massively popular female leader who relishes her role model effect; there are signs this is a two-way street. For a start, the composition of the party has changed – its membership has grown from around 25,000 prior to the Independence Referendum to around 85,000 [others have put estimates at 100,000]. The SNP has thus been the beneficiary of widespread mobilization around the Yes Campaign. And 44% of SNP members are women, including many grassroots feminists who saw independence as a means to create a gender-equal social democracy. Indeed, some prominent leaders of the Women for Independence campaign group are standing as candidates for Westminster.

Meanwhile, questions can be asked of Labour. Whilst its percentage of female candidates improved slightly from 2010 figures, only two selections used the quota type mechanism of All Women Shortlists (AWS): Glenrothes (a retirement seat where the sitting MP had stepped down) and Argyll and Bute. This compares to the previous GE, when five of the six new women Scottish Labour MPs elected in 2010 had been selected using AWS. The use of these measures was reflected in the overall results – 11 of the 13 Scottish women MPs elected in 2010 came from the Labour Party. In contrast, after the 2015 GE, if the Ashcroft ‘earthquake’ predictions pan out, there could potentially be only two Labour seats left in Scotland (both men – Jim Murphy & Willie Bain).

A political earthquake is forecast for Scotland in the General Election 2015, but despite some positive developments, it doesn’t add up to a genderquake. The SNP seems poised to take over from Labour as leaders on the issue of women’s representation in this election at least, although it is far from clear whether that will translate into support for quotas in the future. But without system-wide statutory quotas, it remains the case that gains in women’s representation are contingent upon party will or individual champions. Whatever the outcome of the General Election in May, we will still have a distance to travel before equal representation becomes a realistic prospect.

[i] See F. Mackay and M. Kenny (2009) ‘Women’s political representation and the SNP: gendered paradoxes and puzzles’ in G. Hassan (ed) The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power. Edinburgh University Press.

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Debating a 5th World Conference on Women: defiance or defeatism ? | openDemocracy

Anne Marie Goetz (UN Women) and Joanne Sandler (Gender at Work) reflect on the reactions to their tweetchat on whether the time has come for a 5th World Conference on Women in this openDemocracy blog

Debating a 5th World Conference on Women: defiance or defeatism ? | openDemocracy.

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What Germany’s Gender Quotas for Candidates Can Teach Us about Its Gender Quotas for Corporate Boards


Lessons for Scotland? Louise Davidson-Schmidt (University of Miami) considers the evidence from Germany in this IASGP blog

Originally posted on IASGP:

What Germany’s Gender Quotas for Candidates Can Teach Us about Its Gender Quotas for Corporate Boards


By Louise Davidson- Schmich, University of Miami

In December the New York Times International Edition published an op-ed piece, written by Carrie Lukas from the Independent Women’s Forum, entitled “Boardroom Quotas Won’t Help Women.” In her editorial, Lukas argues against the Merkel cabinet’s draft law regarding gender equality for leading economic positions in the Federal Republic. The law proposes three new regulations: 30% of large corporations’ board of director seats must be occupied by women starting in 2016, 30% of federally-appointed public sector board positions must be awarded to women by 2016 (increasing to 50% in 2018), and mid-sized firms must develop targets for women in top posts and routinely report their progress reaching their self-imposed goals.

While Lukas agrees with the Grand Coalition that women are indeed significantly underrepresented in German…

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We Need to Talk About Sexism in Academia


Powerful indictment of sexism in the academy. Heather Savigny’s recent guest blog for PSA Women and Politics Group.

Originally posted on UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group:

Guest blog by Heather Savigny, Bournemouth University

‘Perhaps men are just naturally better at research than women’ said a senior male colleague during a discussion about why so few women were returned to a University’s REF submission. On one level, you almost have to laugh that people might actually say these things out loud. Sadly, however on another level, this comment is also illustrative of an attitude, a mentality, a cultural discourse which often positions women as inferior in academic environments. Unpacking and making visible women’s experiences is the purpose of my article recently published in Gender and Education and featured in the Independent on Sunday. It is also something that I (and other colleagues that I know of) have been warned not to discuss as it ‘will damage our academic careers’.   Maybe however, having been in this career for 10 years and in the fortunate position of…

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Shattering the Highest Glass Ceiling in Scotland?

Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

scot gov

It has been a week of firsts: the election of Nicola Sturgeon as the first female First Minister of Scotland followed by the announcement that her first Cabinet – a ‘team of all talents’ – will be 50:50 women and men. These are historic breakthrough moments for women in politics, not only in Scotland but also globally.

Who’s in and who’s out? There are two major departures after the reshuffle: Kenny MacAskill at Justice and Mike Russell at Education. John Swinney was named Deputy First Minister and has retained his Finance brief. Shona Robison and Angela Constance – who were promoted to Cabinet in April 2014 – have now been given more powerful portfolios, with Robison sent to Health while Constance has been given charge of Education. There are three secretaries who are new to Cabinet: Roseanna Cunningham at Fair Work, Skills and Training; Michael Matheson at Justice; and Keith Brown at Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. Alex Neil, meanwhile, moves to Social Justice, while Richard Lochhead and Fiona Hyslop retain their positions at Rural Affairs and Culture respectively.

Scottish Cabinet as of November 2014
Nicola Sturgeon First Minister
John Swinney Deputy First Minister;Finance, Constitution and Economy
Keith Brown Infrastructure, Investment and Cities
Roseanna Cunningham Fair Work, Skills and Training
Angela Constance Education and Lifelong Learning
Shona Robison Health, Wellbeing and Sport
Alex Neil Social Justice, Communities and Pensions
Michael Matheson Justice
Richard Lochhead Rural Affairs, Food and Environment
Fiona Hyslop Culture, Europe and External Affairs

Is it window dressing? No – Nicola Sturgeon is a genuine champion of gender equality and she had plenty of talented women (and men) to choose from. She will also have recognised the powerful symbolism of selecting a 50:50 cabinet – shattering one of the toughest glass ceilings in public life. Scotland is not classed as a national government in comparative terms so doesn’t figure in world or european politics rankings. But if it did,  it would currently tie with Sweden in Europe in terms of percentages of women in Cabinet – just behind Finland (where three successive cabinets have been female-majority) – and way out ahead of the UK Cabinet where less than one in four of the Cabinet is female (even after the recent reshuffle).

But before we get carried away: other governments (particularly in the Nordic countries) have achieved 50:50 Cabinets before, and it is getting more common in the rest of the EU (with Italy and France also recently achieving parity until falling back slightly in subsequent reshuffles).   We also need to remember, in the UK context, that the first three Welsh Cabinets after devolution were either gender equal or majority women.

Is it significant beyond the symbolic?

Well, it won’t necessarily make your government popular. Despite appointing equal numbers of women and men to his first Cabinet, Francoise Hollande has been one of the most unpopular French presidents. So part of the issue will always be what individual ministers and collective governments do when they are in office.

What also matters is where women end up in Cabinets. Comparative and international research on women and politics suggests that women in cabinet may be more likely to receive ‘soft’ or lower-status cabinet portfolios – in other words, as with other areas of politics, where there is power, there are no women. This is not the case in the new Scottish Cabinet, however, where women are in charge of portfolios like Health and Education that have significant spending power. It also marks a significant change from the previous Salmond Cabinet, where despite making up 40% of Cabinet secretaries, women oversaw less than 12% of the Scottish budget. What we also know from the international evidence, however, is that women in cabinets around the world are just as effective as their male counterparts. Indeed, comparative research shows that even when women are given less powerful portfolios, they aren’t merely treated as tokens – overall, they are just as likely to succeed, evidenced in measures such as length of tenure and number of bills presented.

There needs also to be pause for thought about the wider picture of women in Scottish politics and the distance still to be travelled – including for women within the SNP. Women continue to be under-represented at all political levels in Scotland: they are only 24% of local councillors, 16.7% of Scottish MEPs, 35% of MSPs, and 22% of Scottish MPs. And there are significant differences by party. For example, women make up around 27 % of the SNP MSPs compared with 46% Labour MSPs . This is largely as a result of the different stances taken on gender quotas, and the reluctance within the SNP to adopt strong equality measures to promote women’s representation in the parliamentary party. As we have argued previously the time has come for strong quota laws in Scotland and the UK. That’s why we support campaigns for gender quotas across all levels of British politics, including the new Scottish cross-party non-party Women 50:50 campaign.

*updated 30 November 2014 to reflect elections and Cabinet reshuffles in 2014. There is no comprensive comparative database on women in cabinets worldwide.

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Now is the right time to introduce tough gender quotas for the Scottish Parliament

Now is the right time to introduce tough gender quotas for the Scottish Parliament.

Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay’s recent blog post for Democratic Audit

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Syrian Women Know How to Defeat ISIS

Originally posted on TIME:

To the Islamic State, Syrian women are slaves. To much of the rest of the world, they are victims.

It’s time we expose their real identity: an untapped resource for creating lasting peace. Listening to and implementing the ideas of women still living in Syria is key to weakening ISIS and stabilizing the region at large because, in many ways, they have a better track record laying the foundations for peace and democracy than any other group.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked side-by-side with Syrian women leaders as they propose concrete steps to end the war. Most recently, we brought several women representing large civil society networks to Washington, D.C., where they cautioned against the current approach of the international community – and proposed a very different blueprint for the region’s future.

More arms and more bombs, they said, are not the answer.

They insisted that the…

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