Sunday, 29 March 2015

All-women shortlists

In an ideal world, there would be no need for all-women shortlists for any political party. 

In an ideal world, women would feel empowered to put themselves forward for selection, in the knowledge that their male colleagues would consider their candidacy with the same respect and seriousness that they would consider a man for the seat.

I don't support shortlists which are not based on merit alone. 

But it's not an ideal world.

But in a situation where we do have institutional discrimination against women - and if you don't believe we have, ask yourself why women are so systematically under-represented at every level in politics, from branch officers at constituency level, to candidates for all political parties in winnable seats, to councillors, MPs, MEPs and MSPs, through civil servants to political analysts in the newspapers and talking heads on the television - it is clear that simply "allowing" women to enter a male-dominated system and hoping that things will even themselves out hasn't worked. 

So as long as there isn't an organic development of 50/50 representation, and no sign of one on the horizon, we are bound to develop it synthetically. 

Is it unfair? Yes, to the odd individual here and there. Imagine a man who's worked for his constituency Tory party, say, for his whole adult life. The sitting MSP stands down. He might very reasonably expect to be next in line for the seat - but Northumberland Street imposes an all-woman shortlist, depriving him of his chance.

Is that unfair to that man? Yes, clearly. But he'll just have to cope with it and offer it up to the holy souls, frankly. Because if we have to make the decision whether to do a disservice to the odd individual here and there, or do a mass disservice to an entire section of society, I'm afraid the decision is not one which ought to require a very lengthy thought process. 

Now, all-women shortlists (and there's no point in Labour having an all-women shortlist in a seat in the Highlands, or the Tories in Glasgow, which they know they can never win, and then shouting "look at us! Look at us!" - they must be imposed on winnable seats, and preferably one in which the sitting member is standing down) can't be imposed centrally - each political party must be free to develop its own procedures. 

But there is a way that the government, centrally, can make a huge step towards ensuring 50/50 representation and if they're serious about doing so, I urge them to take. 

It doesn't necessarily deprive a man of a seat he's "entitled" to, and nor does it give any ammunition to those who so tiresomely moan "oh, x only has that candidacy because she's a woman". 

In the French départementals recenctly, the system was changed slightly. The number of cantons within the départements was reduced from 4.035 to 2.054 (halved, essentially) with each département containing roughly twenty cantons apiece. For the first time, the elections were held under a new binôme system with seats being filled by tandems instead of candidates; each tandem being composed of one man and one woman. 

This meant that automatically, there were 1.027 women elected to the cantonal assemblies. This is in sharp contrast to the previous elections in 2011, when less than one quarter (23,2%) of first-round candidates were women, meaning that even if every single woman candidate won her seat, only 936 women would be elected. And of course, in practice, many of those women would be standing against each other. Progress has been painfully slow: it was an improvement from 1992, when only 14% of candidates were women, but nowhere near 50/50.

In 2008, only 34,8% of conseilleurs municipaux elected were women, with only 13,9% of mayors being women. And in the municipales, only 17,8% - less than a fifth - of elected councillors were women. The highest proportion of women councillors in a département is only 35%, plunging to as low as 3% female representation. Clearly, something had to be done. 

For us to do something similar would not be tremendously difficult. We currently have 73 constituency MSPs. Why not, French-style, merge constituencies to halve the number, and run tandem votes there? If there was, for instance, a Southside-Pollok constituency represented by two deputies, the workload for each individual deputy would not be increasing (and it would be unlikely that the two MSPs would not come to some sort of "you deal with Southside and I'll deal with Pollok" arrangement anyway). 

The provincial lists would be slightly harder to deal with. But one way of doing it might be to say that of the eight provinces, four of them (chosen by lot at first and then being rotated at each subequent election) will be reserved for women alone, and the other four open to candidates of either gender. This would have the effect of electing 50% of constituency MSPs being women, and at least 50% of list MSPs being women. 

Radical action is needed to increase female representation in our public life. The lower limit of our ambitions in this regard should be the Scandinavian representation of 41,5% - but we can and must do better. And by this system of positive action in Holyrood, it would normalise the notion of women in politics, meaning that this would filter into other areas of our civic and political life. 

I don't think all-women shortlists, in isolation, can achieve that. That said, the SNP's decision to implement them is welcome - and long overdue (Labour introduced them fifteen years ago). But all-women shortlists won't work unless there's a genuine will at government level to increase womens' representation in parliament. 

1 comment:

  1. I think women will get to the top. Not everyone is a chauvanist.

    I said this elsewhere:

    I had that Nattalie McGarry in my house for five minutes or so, once upon a time. Charming and interesting lady.

    When she left, she had my vote.

    I find it difficult to see the point of women only lists when we have such good women candidates.

    In the future we may well need men only lists....

    I believe that to be true.