Women are Scottish Labour’s greatest untapped resource, argues SUSAN DALGETY


Are there no women left in Scottish Labour?

A quick glance at last week’s posts on LabourHame would suggest that our party is now a female-free zone. Each of the ten articles were penned by men – all good men, all interesting view points… But ten out of ten? Surely some mistake?

Or maybe not?

In my last article for LabourHame, I argued in favour of a party quota system in Scotland (and the UK) to address the gender imbalance that pervades all political parties. The article prompted very little reaction, suggesting that the majority of LabourHame readers really don’t care that our political system does not reflect Scottish society, where women and girls make up of 51.5 per cent of the population.

This leads me swiftly to the conclusion I have been heading towards for some time now: politics, whether of the left or the right, remains primarily a game for boys.

And it is the overwhelmingly white, male culture of party politics, as much as structural constraints, that stop sufficient number of women becoming, and crucially, staying active in politics. A “jobs for the boys” mentality still prevails in our party. Having “balls” is regarded as a more useful aptitude than emotional intelligence.

Deals are still struck at five-a-side football, or in the pub afterwards. And women politicians continue to be judged by their appearance as much as by their abilities.

This toxic tetestorone culture is not unique to politics – there is a significant gender gap in the IT industry, where the jobs of the future lie. Cuts in public services are hitting women hardest, as employees and users.

A UK government-commissioned report from Sir Mervyn Davies, published in February this year, showed that only 12.5 per cent directors on FTSE 100 boards are women. And a former chief constable, Peter Neyroud, argued in a recent report that UK police forces are still dominated by an “overwhelming white, male structure”, strong enough to ensure its longevity by dishing out “jobs for the boys”.

Sound familiar?

We need a twin track approach to transform Scottish Labour into the People’s Party. We need party quotas, because without a critical mass of women in positions of power, the political culture is likely to remain stubbornly male. And we need the men in our party to embrace the fight for gender justice with the same enthusiasm and energy they bring to cutting deals and plotting their comrades’ downfalls.

As Michelle Bachelet, head of UN Women argued recently: “Without a doubt, women’s strength, industry and wisdom are humanity’s greatest untapped resource. It is potential we simply can’t afford to continue to waste.”

And it is potential that Scottish Labour can’t afford to continue to waste either.

Susan Dalgety is a writer and communications adviser specialising in international development and women in politics.

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