Brian Taylor has a great piece about the internal competition to replace John Reid as Labour's Westminster Parliamentary candidate for Airdrie & Shotts at the next election - and the wrangling over a potential all-female shortlist for the seat. Kezia Dugdale made her feelings on the issue of female representation clear last week while it is an issue I have written about before.
So here's the story so far. John Reid, now Chairman of Celtic, has decided he's had enough Cabinet positions to last a lifetime and will retire from the House of Commons at the next election. Labour's National Executive has "ordered" the local party to draw up an all-female shortlist of candidates. This hasn't gone down too well with the local party, whose preferred candidate is Airdrie councillor Jim Logue. But, with the National Executive having the power to close the branch if they do not toe the line, there may be fireworks ahead.
I don't think it will come to that... but there is a serious point from this story (well, more than one - but I'll ignore the power structures of political parties for the moment). What lengths should political parties resort to in order to see more women represented in politics?
Labour (and, to an extent, the Lib Dems) have been the most proactive in this respect - zipping their European lists with alternative male/ female candidates, twinning constituencies and, as discussed above, forcing all female shortlists onto - sometimes unwilling - branches. Others (the SNP and the Tories I think) do not have any formal structures in place to encourage female representation, preferring (again, I think) to let their members decide who should be their representatives in elections - male or female - and expecting that whoever gets the nod will be the best person for the job, irrespective of their gender.
Now, I'm not a huge fan of "affirmative action" when it prevents a better qualified candidate from getting a job. On the whole, if there are two candidates who are equally well qualified, equally well suited to the job, have interviewed well etc and you can't separate them, then maybe you pick the person who would diversify your staff. Which is, I think, how it is supposed to work. I don't know, maybe that's why I can't get a job - being a young, white male...
However, I do recognise this is as an issue in politics. After the sad death of Bashir Ahmed MSP, the Scottish Parliament lost its only MSP from an ethnic minority. 129 white faces now sit in the chamber, although with the election of Anne McLaughlin in his place, there are now 45 female MSPs (34.8%) of the total. There are also 34 Scottish constituencies for the UK Parliament that have never had a female MP represent that constituency.
How do we encourage more female - and ethnic minority - representation in politics? And how do we do it in a way that doesn't look like it is undemocratic?
I expect there are several answers to that, answers that some might find more appealing than others. But I think it comes down to whether we, as a society, want to challenge the predominant trend of politics being a man's world. Because until we do, women will remain a minority within the political world. And that isn't right.