Shortlists and Short Tempers
The women only shortlists debate is a good one. It’s about how do we rectify institutionalised and structural inequality.
Many of us in the Yes movement thought that it was about transforming Scotland. Not just independence for independence sake, not just changing the flag, not just mirroring Westminster but 500 miles further north, not just politics as usual, but actually facing up to and dealings with some of our chronic problems of poverty, inequality and the rest.
For me, the truly moving and inspiring part of the whole Yes movement was how it was opened up by people who had been excluded until then. ‘The audience is taking the stage’ was a recurring phrase that captured the experience. Our young people getting involved and creating their own organisations and channels, the disenfranchised and disenchanted communities surviving in poverty engaging and leading and finding a new voice. The whole movement was built on the principal of self-organisation. One of the strongest elements of Yes was the role of women in creating new forums and organisations and not just demanding equality and educating a movement but engaging in the hard political task of winning other women over to Yes. This was a task that they succeeded in.
The other day someone called George Ferguson tweeted: “So men voted yes. Their reward is to be excluded from lists. Institutional discrimination. I am deactivated.” The crashing irony of quoting “institutional discrimination” may have passed him by. But the anger on twitter about this subject is extraordinary. The barely concealed male rage is spilling out, and this is the issue it’s focused on.
I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger. The lack of self-reflection, the complete absence of solidarity or connectivity with a wider movement and the inability to see beyond the narrowest political gauge is a depressing spectacle.
Is the argument “women voted No so fair gender representation is wrong”?
People seem angry because they don’t perceive this as a problem. But it is.
Only 148 of our 650 MPs at Westminster are women. Just 45 of our 129 MSPs at Holyrood.
As Andrew Eaton-Lewis wrote recently: “The SNP, if it wants to be a more progressive political force than Labour, needs to do better than 17 female MSPs out of 64, and one female MP out of six.”
The problem is, of course that this has been an issue for a very long time.
As Southside Girl wrote: “When I joined the SNP in 1988 I was opposed to positive discrimination for women. 25 + years later, I have changed my mind. No progress.”
And, of course, shortlists on their own are only really a partial remedial measure, they do nothing to challenge the wider cultures of sexism and misogyny. They do nothing to challenge the fundamentals of male power. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tried.
The angry rebuttal of these efforts to recalibrate our politics is predictably one-dimensional. “People should be elected on merit” goes the mantra as if trumpeting it repeatedly makes it make sense.
As the First Minister pointed out earlier this week: “Unless you think that women are somehow less capable than if we had a merit-based system, we wouldn’t have these problems of under-representation of women.”
So opponents of all women shortlists have to be living in a world where they believe we already live in a meritocracy, and secondly have to offer some explanation of the distorted representation that exists.
Women face structural discrimination in many aspects of society. Here is one simple measure that works to correct and obvious imbalance. It could be put in place for a limited period, and would bring a big change to the voice, the tone and the conduct of our political life.
Just as women led the Yes movement and helped form and change it, so too can they help change our wider politics. This is about understanding how power and privilege work. This is a society disfigured by poverty and characterised by exclusion, hierarchy and discrimination. The tasks remain the same. How do we transform Scotland, not just change the flags? That’s the political focus we should be uniting around.
So men voted yes. Their reward? It’s to be part of a real change movement.