A new cross-party campaign has been established to facilitate greater gender equality and representation within the Scottish parliament, we ask: would LGBTI people benefit from a similar measure?
A newly established 50-50 campaign aims to “tackle inequality and push for measures to give women access to the positions that are currently unfairly and structurally dominated by men”, and is the brainchild of Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale and Green MSP Alison Johnstone. It notably already has the support of many other parliamentarians, such as the Liberal Democrats’ Alison McInnes and Labour’s Margaret Curran.
Earlier this week Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was quoted as saying that her becoming First Minister would demonstrate that there should be “no glass ceiling on [women’s] ambitions”. Given that women remain under-represented both in parliament and in local government, however, it would appear that more remains to be done before the glass ceiling can truly be said to be broken, hence the campaign aims to secure 50 per cent repreentation of women in Holyrood.
Women are not the only under-represented group in parliament, in councils and in public bodies. There is a notable absence of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and from the LGBTI community – most obviously we are still awaiting the election of our first transgender representative in any UK parliament.
Criticisms of the campaign are that it reinforces binary definitions of gender and identity and fails to grasp that inequality in representation is not exclusively a matter of gender. The specificity may also pose a problem, as Alex Dingwall, an out former Liberal Democrat councillor from Glasgow, told KaleidoScot, “the proposal from some female MSPs that politicians legislate to create a list of who I can vote for is not supportable.”
If quotas are to be introduced and are extended to include LGBTI people, those with disabilities, those from ethnic minorities and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, which category would a working-class disabled lesbian of Afro-Caribbean heritage fall into?
Bisexual comedian Chris Young believes that “dividing people by one or two broad, visible categories ignores many underlying, and sometimes more insidious, discrepancies in representation.” He also argued that a more pertinent course of action in widening access within politics would be “to make candidate selection a much less stressful and expensive business”.
Stephen Glenn, an LGBTI campaigner and former parliamentary candidate, agreed that there are weaknesses with quotas: “this can only be applied to openly out representatives – as we’ve seen in this Parliament another was forced out early doors and others came out to a wider audience in both houses during the same sex marriage legislation.” He also explained that “for [smaller] parties such as the Lib Dems with far fewer safe seats (witness the 2011 wipe out) and a relatively smaller pool of potential winnable seats it will be harder for to get that overall quota up at the same time as addressing the party’s abysmal BME and female contingents.” He does not see quotas as part of the way forward, not least because they may not deal with the problem of why many LGBTI representatives have remained “in the closet”.
Other criticisms include the campaign’s commitment to quotas as the prime means via which to facilitate equality, even if extended beyond gender. Nicola Prigg, a political activist from Ayr, told KaleidoScot “I’m never in favour of quotas, I’d like to know what the systemic biases are that are stopping openly LGBTI people from getting elected, because once we understand them, can we do something to eliminate them.”
Ian Duncan, a gay SNP supporter from Inverclyde, explained that he was in favour of the campaign and hoped that it would look at other ways of creating a more representative parliament: “While I understand gender is a priority, I’d hope that giving more opportunities to trans people in particular should be prioritised, and there are still not enough LGBTI people in local government, which is an equally tough nut to crack.” Duncan was not necessarily opposed to quotas, because “it’s a measure of the last resort, and when everything else hasn’t worked I don’t see what’s wrong in trying it. If it gets more under-represented people into parliament and helps to normalise it, what’s so bad about that?”
Constitutional expert Dr Elliot Bulmer suggested that “it is possible to imagine ways in which nomination quotas could be used in a parliamentary system to increase the presence of social and economic non-elites. If a constitution can prescribe the use of zippered lists based on gender, why could it not also do the same for factors such as wealth or education?”
Euan Davidson, a politics graduate from Aberdeen, echoed this and expressed support for the idea of introducing quotas for under-represented groups. “The reason I support it is that we have been encouraging under-represented candidates to stand for both the party and in politics generally for a significant amount of time, with what I’d argue bar the 1997 surge of female MPs little discernible difference. I would support quotas for a couple of parliaments in order to introduce a stronger culture of under-represented groups standing.”
There is broad support for politics to be more open and inclusive, not least to make it more responsive to the needs of the LGBTI community – whether quotas are the answer remains to be seen.