Cat Headley, former parliamentary candidate and graduate of the inaugural Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, says women in the Labour movement deserve a sea change in our party’s attitude to sexism, abuse and harassment.


The current sexual harassment investigations and allegations both at Holyrood and Westminster will come as no big surprise to the many women who work in or campaign for political parties. We witness sexism every day and across every element of our lives, and sexual harassment is part of that continuum of sexism.

The Labour movement is one with equality and social justice at its heart, but it is not immune to the inequalities and injustices it seeks to overcome.

Every political party is filled with women who have stories of their experiences. Some will have experienced the worst of harassment and abuse and felt unable to come forward, for fear they will be labelled troublemakers, or not believed at all. Others have run as candidates and experienced online harassment and trolling all with a gendered dimension to it: about how we look or should look; about how we are not capable for the position; being told to get back in the kitchen.

Still others have run for selection to be candidates and have experienced the sexism directly from those who they thought were their “comrades”.  If you want a glimpse into the sexism we face, just try arguing for all women shortlists. What we see are questions about the merit of women candidates if they are chosen through this mechanism, or the passing of the buck entirely on gender equality by rejecting an all women shortlist, because this particular CLP has a favoured son they would like to get into the local council.

It is the duty of our party to take all of these experiences seriously. If we ignore the sexism faced by women who run for selection, we create a space in which we dismiss women’s experiences and which may consequently prevent victims from coming forward to report harassment or abuse.

That is why initiatives like the Jo Cox Leadership Programme have been inundated with women wanting to take part, because women in our party want a space to develop and strive that is safe and without sexism.  Hillary Clinton is absolutely right when she says that the only way to get sexism out of politics is to get women into politics.

Being part of the first cohort of the Jo Cox Leadership Programme was not only a privilege; it was a life changing experience.  Applications for the second cohort of the programme are now open and I strongly encourage any woman in Scottish Labour to consider applying:

At the start of this leadership election, I and eight other women came together to launch Scottish Labour Women’s Voice. Between us we represent different political positions, are supporting different candidates, are elected representatives for different areas and campaign on different issues. But the one thing we all have in common is the passionate desire to eradicate sexism from our party and beyond.

Both Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard have signed up to support the five commitments we are looking for, which you can read in full ( but the fifth pledge is the one that needs particular attention:

Commit to tackling sexism faced by women within the party and ensure there are real reporting mechanisms in place which take swift action.

This is a pledge written before the growing list of sexual harassment cases began, because we knew that the issue of sexism wasn’t being taken seriously enough across politics. The time is overdue for that to change. No matter what level of sexism we see, whether it is the woman running for selection receiving intimidation and sexism from those around her, whether it is women MSPs dealing with abuse and trolling online or whether it is blatant sexual harassment and abuse of power. By implementing these commitments, across the Scottish Labour movement, we can strive for a more inclusive and fairer party.

Women in our movement deserve change, and we will be waiting for whoever becomes leader to implement these commitments quickly and with sincerity.

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11 thoughts on “It’s time to change

  1. My concern about this drive against “Sexism” is the fact that no lines are being drawn between actual Sexual abuse and innocent flirting.
    At the end of the day it seems to be a choice between whether a woman welcomes the advances or is disgusted with them.
    If this gets out of hand then its going to be near impossible for people to start up new relationships or express themselves openly.
    Actual sexism is just a euphemism for another form of bullying. Lets not discriminate bullying into various distinctive groups rather tackle ALL forms of bullying equally.
    The Issue will just become confused and irrational if we try to apply different levels of recognition and unacceptance by gender race sexual preference or status.
    Treat all forms of bullying as bullying and make it all equally unacceptable.
    Concentrating on a single form of bullying allows other forms to be ignored such as Government domestic agendas. They can be used as a smoke screen to allow other forms of unacceptable behaviour to remain out of the spot light.

  2. This article is a fine example of the culture of political correctness that is killing the Labour Party.

    Whatever Happened To Equality?

    Traditionally the Labour Party was the party of equality. There was no room for discrimination within the Labour Party. However, over recent years the Labour Party has perhaps far too beholden to “positive discrimination”. Take a recent candidate selection at my local East Kilbride Labour Party, due to party rules there had to be a male and a female candidate, is this really fair? Would it not be better to have two female or male candidates, if they were the best? Why have one of each when one of them could be a total washout! To keep a capable person out of a job just because of their gender is discrimination and there’s nothing “positive” about it.

    The Labour Party should strive to be the party of equality and where un equality exists we should tackle the cause and not the symptoms. To gerrymander result’s with “positive discrimination” may be part of the present, but it has no place in the future. People respected the Labour Party, when it stood for Equality.

    Furthermore, there seems to be an unhealthy interest in some quarters of society (particularly within our own party) with regards to peoples gender, race, sexuality and religion. Moreover, this predominant school of thought, which is rarely challenged, is intent on categorising, separating and pigeon holing people into ever increasing diverging groups.

    Is it not a simple undeniable fact that we are all different? No two of us are exactly the same? Is it not better to stick together, find what we have in common and celebrate this? We all feel happy, we all feel sad and we all bleed red.

    1. “Traditionally the Labour Party was the party of equality.”

      Is that right, Andy? 🙂

      Labour Party conference 1906

      1. Yes Duncan, traditionally the Labour Party was the party of equality.

        The Labour Party stood on a platform of meritocracy.

        Meritocracy – “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement”

        The Labour Party currently discriminates based on gender. At this rate, events, if followined to their logical conclusion; it will only be a matter of time until “short lists” are “balanced”, based on race, religion and or sexuality.

        You may call it “positive discrimination”, I would say it’s closer to fascism.

  3. ‘My concern about this drive against “Sexism” is the fact that no lines are being drawn between actual Sexual abuse and innocent flirting.
    At the end of the day it seems to be a choice between whether a woman welcomes the advances or is disgusted with them.
    If this gets out of hand then its going to be near impossible for people to start up new relationships or express themselves openly.’

    At the risk of condescending I figured this out in secondary school. Unless you are pretty sure the person you are interested in feels the same, avoid any physical contact or comments that could be taken the wrong way. Ask a friend if you are unsure.

    I’ll be honest, I always suspected politics was a bit of a magnet for lonely, socially awkward guys and this latest scandal seems to confirm it.

    See also the hundreds of hours lost of people arguing pointlessly over the Indy Ref, often anonymously.

    You can’t spend that amount of time on the internet if you have a healthy family/social life.

    1. If everybody was to take your advice the Human race would die out within a generation.
      Ask a friend. Why would a friend know any more than you do? How would you know if your friend knew more than you do?
      That was an unbelievably childish response to a serious subject. Truly pitiful.

      I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Politics in Scotland has become sexy and vibrant lately. Scotland is engaged politically like its never been engaged before.

      If you’ve noticed a lot of activity online then it can only mean you’ve spent a lot of time online coming across it.

      Do projection much?

      1. I think you are being a tad melodramatic. I’m pretty sure there are far bigger risks to human civilisation than a clamp down on creepy behaviour.

        I meant ask one of her (or his) friends. Casually drop a few hints and their pal will report back to him/her. If they like you back then great. If not, you won’t get the vibe back but no harm done.

        I’ve had 2 serious relationships and I’m happily married so it has served me well over the years.

        But if you are struggling, try online dating if you find the whole thing too much.

        I’d agree for a few years politics got a bit more interesting in Scotland around the time of the referendum, although I think sexy and vibrant is pushing it a touch. Each to their own though, whatever turns you on.

        I spend about an hour a day usually online which I don’t think is particularly excessive in this day and age.

        For someone who obviously disagrees with Labour and all that they stand for, I’m mystified as to why you spend so much time on this website.

        1. A clamp down on ALL behaviour related to the interaction between sexes prior to mating would be a bit of risk don’t you think?

          “I meant ask one of her (or his) friends. Casually drop a few hints and their pal will report back to him/her.”

          Except that’s exactly the kind of behaviour which is being coined as “creepy” and unacceptable.

          You don’t seem to have a clue at all about any of this do you?

          If you only spend about an hour a day on line then you don’t actually have any evidence of excessive online activity by others do you?

          Why would I spend more time on a website that preaches what I already know and believe in?
          its like politicians who spend their entire careers preaching to the converted.
          A complete waste of time.
          Here I am giving an opposition point of view an opportunity to present its case to me can you explain why you’d object to that?

          1. All great points Mike. Where would we be without you? Lost in a sea of dispair with no hope for the future of reasoned and rational debate and indeed humanity itself.

  4. Cat women or men only short lists sorry no.
    It has to be mixed its the only way
    The other stuff that’s been happening and it has is going to engulf all walks of life.
    On ch 4 news the other night A woman journalist of many years experience . Said what happened when she interviewed Nicholas Fairbairn then Solicitor General for Scotland . During a live interview and I can only assume it was radio . She said Fairbairn carried out a very serious sexual attack on her and she said what happened .
    She said that later she had wished she had said through the mike to Jonathan Dimbleby we have to stop until he stops .
    She did not report it because she thought Fairbairn is Scottish Solicitor General no one will believe it.
    She said as a young woman in the Daily Mail office men made inappropriate comments and worse so she used to stub her cigarette out on their arm.
    An MP said on tv its happening in politics journalism the legal profession
    We need to create a workplace atmosphere where people and I mean men as well as women can safely report what is happening .Without fear of reprisal
    The call by Kezia Dugdale and others to change the all male setup at the Scottish parliament is to be welcomed
    And I think they are pushing at an open door on that .
    This is not banter or flirting its assault
    In politics Holyrood Westminster etc they have to bring outside organizations with experience on handling sensitive matters
    When the Harvey Weinstein story broke Kirsty Wark on newsnight asked Tina Brown an experienced journalist did you know
    The reply there were always rumours and anyway you would never get it published . Because he had people on his payroll in every newsroom
    He gave them freebies previews of films interviews with the stars .and lucrative book deals no one was prepared to give that up .
    And we have got to have a system where for instance Monica Lennon reports an assault to the party she does not have to withdraw it because she feels she is not being believed
    I don’t think I have put what I feel very well
    But someone somewhere has to get a grip of this and sort it out
    Everyone has to be made to realize there is a line no one can go over and if you do you will feel the full weight of the law
    Maybe in every school and workplace in the country we need a full public education programme.

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