Gina Davidson: Long way to go in equality fight

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‘JUST imagine the outcry if we wanted to impose all-male candidate shortlists.” Yes, stop what you are doing right now and try and picture the mass outrage there would be if a political candidacy shortlist was just composed of a handful of men.

Can you even begin to conjure up the righteous anger among the populace there would be at such absolute discrimination? There would be marches, petitions, perhaps even a protest outside Bute House or 10 Downing Street. Who could sleep soundly at night in the knowledge that men – and only men – were going to be allowed to become candidates and possibly elected as an MP, MSP or councillor? Can you hear the nation’s wailing and gnashing of teeth?

No? Me neither. For that’s the way politics has worked in this country ever since democracy came along to topple the rights of the monarch: it’s always been about The Man.

Even after women got the vote, even after women were allowed to stand for election, even after we had a female Prime Minister . . . if political careers were like sticks of rock you’d find “Jobs for the Boys” stamped all the way through.

And yet that quote above is the most common reaction to the idea that political parties, attempting to redress the gender balance, want to have all-female shortlists for candidate selections.

Despite the fact that 52 per cent of the country’s population is female, despite the fact that less than 35 per cent of MSPs are women and just 29 per cent are MPs – indeed, there are more men in the House of Commons at the moment than the total number of women ever elected – there is always the “what about the men?” wail.

Well, shush. The basic fact is that women are not represented properly at a political level. That might seem an odd statement when the First Minister, Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservative leaders are women, but despite their rise as individuals there is no strength in depth to the numbers of women in politics. They are far outnumbered and that is the real issue which needs to be tackled.

Last year’s referendum campaign proved – if proof were needed – how political women can be and it’s been a breakthrough to see the SNP adopt the policy of having all-female shortlists in seats for Holyrood where incumbent MSPs are standing down, a policy Labour implemented at the last general election which saw 99 women sent to Westminster, 43 per cent of its MPs (though obviously not from Scotland).

Shortlists, quotas, positive discrimination . . . they are all seen as hugely controversial, mostly by men, a kind of gerrymandering of gender balance. But the fact is that until women and men’s representation is more equal – even 50-50 as the Women 50:50 campaign aims for – then these mechanisms have to be in place to ensure the public gets a politics which is more representative of itself.

It’s not good enough to suggest women aren’t up to the job or that Men Have More Merit. It’s not possible that all men who step up to the plate are better candidates than women – the fact is that it’s endemic in our politics that it’s a man’s game, because they’ve been running it since the start; there’s an expectation that it is men who become politicians, in much the same way that there’s an expectation that it’s kids from private schools who go to university.

It’s also not good enough to rely just on the political will of some of those women who have made it to drag others after them. The responsibility to make politics more representative of the people can’t just be on their heads – they need help and shortlists are one of the mechanisms which can do that.

Of course, the ultimate aim is not to need any intervention at all as we’ll get to a place where more or less gender balance is the norm, something that no-one thinks twice about. So when one woman beats another for selection – as has happened in the SNP candidacy for Edinburgh East – or when three prominent female politicians run against each other as in Edinburgh Central, no-one will feel it even worthy of comment.

Now that’s what I’d like to imagine.

Car-free vision at Donaldson’s

THE redevelopment of the old Donaldson’s College in West Coates is back on the planning agenda. Not before time as it’s been lying empty for far too long – a result of the recession of course.

The designs for the new build look reasonable but what they’ll look like from inside Donaldson’s itself doesn’t seem to have made it to the artist’s impression stage. Would you be better off looking out or looking in?

Sadly, the new development will be what makes the restoration of the old building remotely viable as it would be much preferable to have left it in splendid isolation.

And the images don’t seem to involve cars. Is this to be a car-free zone or will cars go underground? The last place they should be seen is in front of such a magnificent building.

There’s a buzz about the place

LAVENDER is about the only plant which thrives in my garden – probably because it takes little looking after. And this summer it’s been loaded with bees; big black and yellow striped ones, small fuzzy yellow ones, others with bright yellow behinds. We’ve spent hours watching them.

So I’m not surprised that beekeeper Daragh O’Hare, the HR manager of the Dalmahoy Hotel, has fallen in love with them to such an extent he’s put up hives in the grounds. The honey will be tasty, but there’s much delight to be had just in watching them buzzing and bumbling around.

SHORT CHANGED

HOW embarrassed must the poor guy be who was caught short and then caught on camera by a property solicitor. His ill-timed leak appeared in a house sales brochure in Leith. He might have spent a penny, but

will anyone spend £200,000 if that’s the view?

Saving the best till blast

TO my shame I missed the Festival this year – I didn’t see a single performance, book reading, comedy turn or fire-eater. Not even the free magic show a family friend was putting on at the Serenity Cafe (though I’m glad Aye Spy won this paper’s recommendation). However, I did make it to the fireworks on Monday night, watching from the balcony of the Green Investment Bank. It’s a spectacle which never fails to amaze.