Monday, 23 March 2009

More on All Women Shortlists

After my piece a couple of days ago about the race to replace John Reid as Labour candidate for Airdrie & Shotts, something resembling an actual debate has taken place in the blogosphere.

Yousuf gets the ball rolling by defending All-Woman Shortlists.

Will says they shouldn't be necessary.

Jeff takes the plunge and says how ridiculous AWS are - and incurs the wrath of... well, just about everyone. He also doesn't think there needs to be gender equality in politics - a view somewhat out of sync with political correctness.

Will responds, taking on the wider issue of female representation in politics and questions the democratic nature of AWS.

And Kezia takes Will & Jeff to task for "misjudged wisdom."

All in all, a fairly interesting discussion.

I'd like to point out that my original point was similar to Will's - not that it was made in anything like as eloquent a manner. I don't think AWS should be necessary (though the Hansard Society seems to think it is) and I think good female MPs/MSPs can be elected without the system in place.

But my original question has still not been answered in any meaningful fashion by anyone contributing to the debate. If we agree (and I know Jeff doesn't) that there needs to be more opportunities for women to enter politics, how can we do that that without resorting to the "political gerrymandering" that is AWS if we think it is fundamentally undemocratic?

Any ideas?


Indy 23 March 2009 at 15:47  

The short answer would be to change the political culture to make it more attractive to people who are not aggressive middle aged men - but how do you do that in a culture dominated either by aggressive middle aged men or aggressive slightly younger men waiting to step into their shoes, unless by some kind of mechanism?

For those who see no need for gender balance I would simply point out that the Scandinavian social democratic political model, which the SNP looks to in most other respects, is based on a core belief in equality, including gender equality, and on doing what is necessary to maintain it.

We have to recognise that equality is not a natural thing, it does not arise all by itself, it has to be created and it has to be maintained. In the 'natural' order of things historically men have dominated women because women are child-bearers. Rich people have dominated poor people. Big countries have dominated small countries. It takes a determined effort to move away from that model and to creaye a more equal world.

Malc 23 March 2009 at 15:57  

"The short answer would be to change the political culture to make it more attractive to people who are not aggressive middle aged men..."

That doesn't really answer the question, just rephrases it!

"We have to recognise that equality is not a natural thing"

That is an intersting point. If you are right, and equality is not a natural phenonemon, I guess the question then becomes "why is equality desirable?"

And I'd argue that it's not equality that is intrinsically desirable but the outcome that it would provided - a more diverse specrum of representatation and, subsequently, a set of laws which reflect that.

But still, there's no real anwswer - do you think AWS helps get representation for women or hinders the aspirations of women who want to achieve parity on their own merit without the aid of (for want of a better phrase) institutional discrimination?

Una,  23 March 2009 at 17:40  

It's the big question Malc - and you put it well.

Shuna 23 March 2009 at 17:47  

"We have to recognise that equality is not a natural thing"

Really? And all because we are childbearers? Next you will be suggesting that women should all be subject to a male - taking us back 2000 years +

I am just grateful there have been male role models through the ages who have not all shared this view. I always worry about being labled a feminist as I really believe in equality and try to avoid man-bashing. If I criticise its the person not their sex that is the object.

Women are just as capable as men at representing us - intellectually up to the job as many have proved.

As for AWS and how to get them to work - the only way I can see this working is if each party agreed to nominate equal numbers of men and women. This could work best if safer/target seats were paired with non safe/targets and one had a male and one a female - going male/female/male/female (or vice versa!)and so on down the list from winnable to non-winnable. But who would want be seen admitting a seat was unwinnable??

Perhaps we do just need to keep working at getting another lurch forward in thinking and maybe one day equality for ALL might just exist...but I fear I will be pushing up the daisies by then

Anonymous,  23 March 2009 at 19:09  

Indy: equality is not a natural thing

Equality is a legal thing. Either we are equal before the law, or we aren't. Discrimination is discrimination, whatever noble end it claims to be the means to.

Aye We Can ! 23 March 2009 at 20:50  


You ask they key question, indeed the best argument for AWS. Because nobody has yet come up with an answer, beyond "change the culture"

Why do the opponents of AWS not concntrate the efforts on the the clique (unsually male) driven closed cabals that run all our parties, rather than attack AWS. Prove you can do better without it - shut up the sisters by results not rhetoric?

But do you think the sisters like AWS? Do you not think they would prefer a culture in which just through the natural process we ended up with something approaching parity in terms of gender balance in parliament? Of couse they would. But they gave it 80 years and it failed - spectacularly.

AWS worked, or at least worked and is working in the one party that tried it, was committed to it Scottish Labour.

And why this fascination with Aidrie and Shotts? Could the sisters possibly come up with worse than the present, non AWS incumbent John Reid? Mysonginist, war crimnal, NAT0 plant, sexual harasser, one time drunk, and grade one hypocryt?

Find me a blinfold, and bus stop and i'd find you someone better than the what the non discriminatory "democratic" system has thrown up.

So I reckon out of the 25 million women to chose from, Aidrie and Shotts Labour party should do just fine, Just let them get on with it.

And those in other parties - once youve got your own gender equality , or even get remotely close, come back and moand at labour's at times cumbersome, and often manipulated AWS selection process.

But it does what it says on the tin - more than most of their policies

Malc 23 March 2009 at 22:08  


"Women are just as capable as men at representing us - intellectually up to the job as many have proved."

I don't think you'll find a comment on any of the pieces that have been written on this subject that disagrees with that statement.

I think you might have mis-read what I meant. I don't agree with AWS. I agree that we need something to help level the opportunity field but I don't necessarily think AWS is the way to do it.

What's wrong with "natural selection" (if you like) is that we - apparently - keep naturally selecting men as our representatives. I don't have the numbers to hand, but I suspect that female candidates now make up something like 40% (again, not quite parity). Problem is - as you illustrate - they're not in winnable seats.

As I think I said in the first post, there are 34 seats in Scotland (out of 59) that have never had a woman MP. Which illustrates the problem with AWS - even if Labour do it, there's no guarantee that the woman they select will win the seat against other parties' male candidates.

Malc 23 March 2009 at 22:09  

Agentmancuso -

An excellent point, well made. Doesn't bring us any nearer a solution though!

Malc 23 March 2009 at 22:13  

Aye We Can,

I don't want this to turn into a discussion of the merits or otherwise of John Reid as an MP.

What I would suggest is that there are plenty of very good female MPs that have been elected without recourse to AWS, just as there is plenty of male MPs who could be described as, for want of a better word, absolute dross.

Point is, I think our representatives should be there on mertit and not because of their gender. But there must be some way we can get more female representatives without resorting to "positive" discrimination.

Aye We Can ! 24 March 2009 at 00:47  

Johm Reid was a throw away remark for emphasis - and of coure there are much worse than John Ried.

Its the notion that any of our MPs or MSPs are there on "merit" I was directly challenging. It's all contried in one way or another - look for example at the hugely disproposrtionate number of folks that suceed in politics because their parents ( usually their dad) was involved. Is this not discriminatory against everyone else? Of course it is. Then there's public school pupils, uni graduates, union members, lawyers (Where most of our women MSP come from) . Look at the stats , objectvely they all have got a leg up, a big one.

So women - having seen the system systematically fail them, come up with a solution that starts, and only starts, to deliver equality. But they , they alone are singled out for using "unfair" selection methods. Oh these poor poor men. After dominating by 90% plus the
20th century's political world, they have the brass neck to cry foul, "unfair" when women propose - wait for it - equality!

Come up with your better way. I'm all ears. But Ive followed this debate for 30 years now and never heard one of the critics come up with anything remotely as effectve as AWS in terms of actually delivering

And I remember the critics - they said the world would fall apart, members resign in their droves, people would stop voting labour,

Well they were right on the last one, but for gender unrelated reasons. Indeed before it all went belly up for new Labour, look at the detailed polling evidence. Voters liked it. They never had had a say in selecting anyone, just voted for the rossete. And all of a sudden they were pleasantly surprised to see some women for a change - folks (in gender terms anyway) representatve of 52% of the poplulation the the "free and democratic - EQUAL! and FAIR previous system had near totally excluded.

Look what Camneron is now doing in the Tory Party? Why? I'd like to thin becuse hes convinced, but essentially because the tories, having been whipped three times running, have worked out theit all male team is just un appealing. Time warped

Not the only reason for doing it - but not a bad one, And a killer one to those who clam(ed) "it wil cost us seats comrades"

Provable mince.

AWS is a sytstem that delivers what it says it will, is now provably workable, and wins the party that does it votes. Not a bad case I think.

So can someone spell out the alternatve, a better way?. Youve has a century or more of democracy, 10 years of it in Scotland. Why can nobody come up with anything better? Beacuse there aint.

And does the SNP, and every other party, not have reserved seats for under 25s on their party executives?. Is this not discriminatory against these put upon middle aged folks?

Andrew 24 March 2009 at 03:30  

Sorry Malc---like the blog but not the new layout. It looks like a cross between an advert for Asda or Morrison's!
Not being a graphic designer I'm short of ideas on how to improve it, but it's too fussy and the colours are naff. A signature focal point (picture of yourself a la Calum Cashley?) might help.
Yours constructively.....

Malc 24 March 2009 at 09:29  


Sorry you don't like it! What's up with the colours?! I thought they were light and... "fresh"!

Also, I do have a header ready to upload, but for some reason blogger won't let me. It's why I didn't have it on the last re-design either.

Anonymous,  24 March 2009 at 12:05  


Spot the time of my post. The space where an exracted tooth had been was giving me some pain and insomnia.
I plead diminished responsibility!


Ps Site claiming "incorrect password" so I'm posting anonymously.

Malc 24 March 2009 at 12:13  

Does that mean the colour scheme doesn't bother you? Or that it was causing you further pain...? :)

Anonymous,  24 March 2009 at 17:22  


In the cold light of day, the colours are causing me pain.....sorry.

But from what you say, it's a work in progress.


Anonymous,  24 March 2009 at 17:46  

Doesn't bring us any nearer a solution though!

I'm not convinced we have a problem.

Should we manipulate democracy to ensure that the proportion of ginger haired people in parliament matches that of the population at large?

Malc 24 March 2009 at 18:42  


I'm not adverse to that argument (maybe not the ginger-haired bit). I know what you mean about the manipulation of democracy. Surely the great thing about democracy is that we can freely elect the person we think will do the job the best, irrespective of their gender, colour or, indeed, hair colour?

But I think the distinct difference between "gingers" and women (I know, that's crudely done) is the fact that being ginger isn't likely to impact upon your world view in a large way.

I'm rather messily making the case here, but I think the point is made.

One other thing you might like to consider is the concept of "tyranny of the majority". If Nats claim it is unfair that Scotland (population 5 million) is governed from London (whose population is greater than Scotland) and England has 10 times as many MPs, how is it fair that a group that has 53% of the population is represented only by 19% of the MPs?

Anonymous,  24 March 2009 at 19:38  

There is nothing 'unfair' in Scotland being governed from London. The question is whether Scotland would be governed better by a government much closer to the people of Scotland. I happen to think it would be, but unfairness doesn't come into it.

Leaving aside the intriguing question of whether being a woman would affect one's world view in a large way, what is the connection between holding a world view of any sort and expecting a comparable proportion of parliamentarians to hold the same world view?

Malc 24 March 2009 at 20:06  

The world view thing was a messy attempt at explaining it.

I disagree with you on the fairness principle. I'd imagine I could find a fair few Nats who think of it as an unfair thing that some people who have no connection whatsoever to Scotland (other than being an representative of a parliament which contains Scotland as one of its component parts) can make laws which affect Scotland. Remember the SNP's claim that the Tory's had no mandate in Scotland?

Which brings me to the point I was trying to make (and hopefully this is clearer):

If we accept the point (which I know you don't) that the majority making the laws for the minority when they are not representative of them is, if not wrong then at least questionable, then I think its a consistent position to argue that the minority (men) outnumbering the majority (women) in terms of representation by a ratio of 5:1 is somewhat unfair.

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