June 3, 2016 : Ruth Boyle

Why would you study politics? Girls can’t be prime minister!

Another election has failed to achieve balanced gender representation and now the Scottish Parliament must seize the opportunity to promote equality via internal practices.

I’m afraid that the title of this blog is not fabrication, or a line from a sitcom. Instead, it’s the words of a nine-year-old girl, spoken to my friend while she was volunteering with a local girls group a few years back. Depressing, isn’t it?

I wonder if our female First Minister and the fact three of our main political parties are led by women has done anything to alter her view? Despite these achievements, there remains much to do.

Analysis of the EU Referendum has shown that there isn’t even one woman among the top ten most frequent political commentators on the TV and press. Indeed, women make up only 16% of TV coverage on the referendum and 9% of press.

The Scottish Parliament offered the promise of a new politics and increased representation of women, but as we assess the results of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election – it would be hard to claim it has fully delivered.

The general election of 2015 produced a parliament that is 29% women. The Scottish Parliament comes in at 34.9%. But can we really get excited about ‘beating’ Westminster when building on such a low platform? It is little wonder that there are calls for legal quotas for balanced representation.

It’s our loss as a society when we marginalise women in public conversations and within our parliamentary structures

Despite the disappointment of the election outcome in this respect, the Scottish Parliament still has an opportunity to promote gender balance through the internal practices of the Parliament. It hasn’t started well, with the Presiding Officer, the Scottish Parliament Business Bureau and the Corporate Body comprised entirely of men. However, all is not lost!

The Parliament could ensure 50% of committee conveners are women and make sure there are no 100% male committees during this Parliament. In the programme for government, Nicola Sturgeon announced early legislation for 50:50 gender balance on public boards. With the selection of Committees, there is a real opportunity to provide a statement of intent.

Labour have announced their nominees for committee conveners – nominating Jenny Marra, Johann Lamont and Neil Findlay for their convenerships. If more parties follow their lead, this would be a real step towards greater equality within the parliament, helping to change the look and feel of the internal structures along the way.

It’s also up to our media outlets to diversify the representation across their platforms. Now we know that the EU Referendum debate is being dominated by Conservative men, the media has three weeks to be more inclusive. By diversifying discussion panels, we might even broaden the debate and put fundamental issues such as the environment and the social rights on the agenda.

It’s our loss as a society when we marginalise women in public conversations and within our parliamentary structures. I’ll be watching with interest as committee appointments are made, hoping that the Government seizes the opportunity to practice what it preaches with regards to equality.

Scotland’s Parliament has the chance to send a clear message that the prevailing attitude at Muirfield Golf Club is not the prevailing attitude of wider Scottish society, but rather a regrettable aberration. If we continue to pass on opportunities to promote gender equality, we’ll continue to send the wrong message to that nine-year old girl, and thousands others like her.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle