Paul Edie: Equality vision’s bad for me but great for society

Willie Rennie will address equality in the city this week. File picture: Jane Barlow
Willie Rennie will address equality in the city this week. File picture: Jane Barlow
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FRIDAY sees the Scottish Liberal Democrats gather in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms for our spring conference.

Pre-election conferences are anodyne affairs with everyone too afraid to rock the boat lest controversy costs us vital electoral support. Not so this 
time.

I recently wrote about our party’s dire record on gender balance. In the past we have had various proposals aimed at addressing this put to our conferences. These included zipped seats during selections, pairing 
one seat set aside for a man with another set aside for a woman. These were hugely contentious and were voted down by members, usually with opposition being led by 
women.

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Prompted in part by the effective de-selection of our last remaining female parliamentarian, leader Willie 
Rennie seeks to address this issue with one of the most radical set of proposals we have seen on this issue. The best five prospects for the party at the next Westminster elections will be reserved for female candidates.

Liberal Democrats have at best secured 11 Westminster seats in Scotland and we took decades building up to that. No-one can accuse Willie of lack of leadership on this issue.

For someone like me, this means the end of the road for any aspiration I may ever have had of sitting in Westminster, Brussels or Holyrood, so why will I still be supporting this move which is so patently not in my 
interests?

Our lamentable record on diversity is completely at odds with our liberal values. We elect councillors, MPs and MSPs to bring their life experience to bear in planning and running public services and passing laws. If we marginalise and exclude, by accident or by design, massive sections of our society then our public life is poorer, our laws will be stacked with unintended consequences and we will have politicians who lack the insight we need in our parliamentarians.

I would caution equalities campaigners with this message; there is far more to diversity than gender. While massive strides have taken place regarding equalities in many areas, Scotland has a poor record on racial diversity within public life.

I work with around 90 councillors and non-executive directors in my various professional roles at the moment. Not a single one could be described as coming from a minority ethnic community. That does not reflect the society I see on a daily 
basis.

All that being said, the motion we will debate this weekend is about gender equality and as such I believe these radical proposals deserve 
support.

• Councillor Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat Group Party leader at Edinburgh City Council and represents the Corstorphine/Murrayfield ward.