On Saturday I joined thousands of people in marching across the Meadows to mark 100years since the suffragettes took to the streets of Edinburgh. Because of course we’re still two decades off marking the centenary of women’s suffrage itself. Not until 1928 did women ‘enjoy’ the same right to vote as men.
- Could your granny vote?
In 2009, twenty general elections later, there are just 126 female MPs. 76% of which are Labour.
Rapid progress in the Blair years seemed to develop a degree of complacency about gender representation.
Just look at the Scottish Parliament results in 2007 where the total number of females slid from 39.5% to 33.3%.
The problem lay with the growing SNP back benches, filled with generic and often indistinguishable men.
In 1999, the SNP returned 43 per cent female MSPs, this dropped to 33 per cent in 2003 and again to just 25.5 per cent in 2007. Interestingly, the Labour group remained 50% men, 50% women. Why? Because women’s liberation and the fight for gender equality are causes written into the Labour movement.
Labour is the only party seriously committed to achieving gender equality amongst its Parliamentarians. Why? Because it uses methods of positive discrimination to make it so. All women shortlists are of course the most controversial of these methods and I’ve long been a defender of this process.
The most common argument I hear men make against the case for All Women Shortlists is that it should be based on merit and merit alone.
“May the best man win.” Aye, that says it all.
Of course, if I was feeling particularly flippant, I’d suggest that if political party’s selection processes were truly based on merit – both our Parliaments would look a little different.
And what say the Tories? For of course there were famously more David’s on their front bench than there were women until Mr Davis resigned.
I recently looked at the 50 most marginal seats in the UK to see what would happen to gender equality in our Parliament in the highly unlikely event of a Tory election victory. My conclusion was zero – there would be absolutely no change to the number of female MPs. Neither a cause of celebration or disdain - but stalemate is the enemy of progress.
And progress is what we need.
The pay gap, poverty, low paid jobs, maternity rights, pension rights, opportunity, education, domestic abuse are all priorities for this Government, powered by female Labour MPs.
The national minimum wage is considered one of the most significant achievements of this Labour Government, but people often forget that this policy delivered the most for women. Work that the campaign for a living wage would build on.
When Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont stood in for their respective leaders at First Ministers' Questions last week, they provided one of the most energetic bouts of the parliamentary session. Yet a well known journalist of this very paper remarked that it was “like ladies day at Ascot without the hats.”
Oh how that enraged the women of Holyrood’s corridors.
The Gude Cause march was an opportunity for everyone to celebrate all that has been done to progress the cause for gender equality and reflect upon all that there is to do ahead. This video attempts to capture some of that feeling: