In Scotland - change but not progress
We have a female first minister. Half of the cabinet are women. Three of the five party leaders in Scotland are female. The most senior civil servant in the Scottish Government is a woman. So we’ve got there, right? Equality.
Well, no. In this current Scottish Parliament, female MSPs still make up only 34.9 per cent of the total, 45 out of 129 MSPs, exactly the same number as were elected in 2011. Since the first Scottish Parliament in 1999 female representation has stayed fairly static at around a third: there were 48 female MSPs in 1999, 51 in 2003, 43 in 2007 and 45 in 2011 and 2016.
The highest ever proportion of women, in the 2003 parliament, still did not quite reach 40 per cent.
It’s not all bad news, though. As well as having a female head of the Scottish Government, two out of the six director generals leading directorates and nine of the 14 positions, including all three of the non-executive directors, on the strategic board, the ‘top table’ of the Scottish Government, are women. Gender balance in the Scottish Government has improved in recent years and 40 per cent of senior civil servants are women. At just 0.6 per cent, Scotland has the smallest gender pay gap in the UK for top public sector jobs.
The cross-party Women 50:50 campaign is pushing for 50 per cent representation for women in parliament, on councils and on public boards and change is beginning to take place. At this year’s Scottish Parliament election, the SNP introduced all-women shortlists where a sitting MSP was standing down and equal numbers of men and women on regional lists.
Over 50 per cent of Scottish Labour’s constituency candidates were women and Labour had ‘zipped’ alternate male and female candidates on regional lists. Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet is also gender-balanced. The Greens also operate zipped lists, but not having MSPs elected across all regions affected the result.
It has been the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who have lagged behind on gender equality. Two of the Tories’ regional lists had no women at all on them and most of the top spots on lists were given to men. The Conservative shadow cabinet has only one woman, Liz Smith, apart from Ruth Davidson herself.