19 March 2010

Getting women into Parliament

I think, after last year's stooshie, readers will know where I stand on All-Women Shortlists. I'm opposed to them, but one question that was posed to me (and I didn't answer at the time) was, what would I do?

Well, you know that I don't like centrally-planned lists. I think they defeat the purpose of a Parliamentary system where an individual is elected to represent constituents. I don't think that jamming a candidate down people's throats is necessarily the way forward. Similarly, planning doesn't work: the upcoming General Election isn't one poll, but 650 sub-polls. A party could draw up a list of 217 women candidates for various seats but there's no guarantee that they'll get in. That, incidentally, is why extrapolations of opinion polls aren't great: they give you the national picture, but don't tell you precisely what's happening in, say, Airdrie. Every election produces surprises that the polls and extrapolations weren't prepared for.

Now, the Indian solution would get round that: the plans are for the Lok Sabha to have a quota of women MPs (on third of members), and that each constituency will have a woman MP for at least one term over a three-term cycle. When it's a constituency's turn, it will only be able to elect a woman.

Except this is open to abuse: it would be easy for parties to bundle three constituencies together, and have the candidates rotate depending on who had to move and when (similarly, had this been in place at Westminster, the Wintertons could have switched back and forth between Macclesfield and Congleton for years). Further, I'm horrified at the thought of voters' potential choice of candidate being restricted by 50% simply because of whose turn it is. That defeats the object of liberation movements, surely?

So, that's what I don't want - what do I want?

Two words: electoral reform.

Think about it. You could very easily insert into the rules for electing MSPs a section specifying each gender must comprise at least one third of each regions' MSPs. So Highlands and Islands has 15 MSPs - that would be a minimum of five women. The others have either 16 or 17, and as you can have a third of a woman, that would be six women in each. A guaranteed minimum of 47 women every time.

And the legislation would effect only Regional MSPs, the only part of the current electoral process subverted would be the parties' list making process: it might be necessary, for example, to skip a few names and go straight from, for example, number three to number five to meet the quota. But as things stand, most of the Regions meet it already: Central Scotland has seven women MSPs (4 constituency, 3 list); Glasgow elected six and now has seven; Lothians elected seven and now has eight; Mid Scotland & Fife has six; and South of Scotland has six. Highlands & Islands woefully elected a sum total of no women Constituency MSPs and only two Regional, so three of the male Regional MSPs would have to be displaced (Dave Thompson would make way for Mhairi Will; David Stewart for Christine Conniff; and Jamie McGrigor for Helen Gardiner). And West of Scotland has only four, so would need to exchange Stuart McMillan for Fiona McLeod. In real terms, Bill Wilson would have to be replaced as well, but somehow, the SNP in the West of Scotland managed to select only one woman on a list of twelve (now, that is a problem), so instead, Jackson Carlaw would have to stand aside for Stephanie Fraser.

So no change to the result, only party organisations seeing their plans subverted, and a five extra female MSPs. If Westminster were to adopt AMS, they could write this in and it could work.

Similarly, you could insert a clause into legislation for STV stating that registered parties fielding candidates in a division had to field at least two: one of each gender. That might be a pain for smaller parties trying to conserve precious deposits, but the legislation could also provide for a discount for the second candidate (so, say, £500 for an independent, £800 for a party pair, £1,000 for a group of three). So whereas it takes 59 candidates (and £29,500) to cover Scotland in its entirety, it would take no more than 20 pairs (so 40 names and £16,000) to do the same.

If you were feeling particularly ambitious, legislation could also be written specifying that each division had to elect both genders (so a minimum of one of each gender). Now, again, this might mean that voters' higher preferences would have to be skipped over, but they would simply transfer to the next applicable ranking, so voters would have shown at least some level of support - a more open situation than now, where voters would be able to express a preference between different candidates of the same party, and it would guarantee somewhere between 25% and 33% representation for women. That may not be great, but it's a sight better than the status quo, and of course, there's nothing putting voters off from increasing that percentage without any further input.

So there you have it. An AMS system that preserves the freedom of constituencies to vote for whomever they wish of whichever gender they wish and promotes a closer gender balance, or an STV approach that ensures voters aren't forced to choose between gender and party, and can set up a guaranteed level of representation using voters' stated preferences rather than centrally planned lists or cycles.

We can achieve a modern-looking Parliament. But not by stapling rules onto an outdated electoral system.


ASwaS said...

All of that is still positive discrimination.

In a 16- or 17-strong regional team there "should" be one LGBT candidate, two disabled candidates, and one candidate born outwith Scotland. What would that do to your lists of MSPs who would have been elected?

I'd say it would be interesting and possibly democratically justifiable to require parties to put up a set of candidates equivalent to the number of places on offer in any STV election - i.e. a party can stand three candidates or none in a 3-member district and four or none in a 4-member. I think if you did that the shame would be there. I don't see it happening though.

Anonymous said...

To tell you the truth, I am buggered if I can come up with a fair way of getting more women into Holyrood except having better education and preparation an grounding for female candidates to raise their presentational skills at selection.

This may mean that a better effort should be raised to bring women into the political process and help them master the boy's club rules

as for this,

"but don't tell you precisely what's happening in, say, Airdrie."

well, nothing is ever happening in Airdrie except getting shafted by Coatbridge Labour.

Indy said...

I don't think the problem is that women have poor presentational skills. Politics is not supposed to be about presentation, it's supposed to be about substance and the willingness to work for others to improve society.

It's interesting that women are over-represented in the caring professions yet under represented in politics. Because if politics is not about caring and wanting to help people, what is it about?

Maybe that is the issue we need to be looking at rather than selection processes or electoral reform.

Anonymous said...

I did'nt mean poor presentational skills I mean't honed skills to get over the bias of the resident knuckle heads.

My daughter is doing presentations day in day out to very senior managers and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and in in Europe in two other languages. It is not about intelligence whatever that may mean, it is about presenting the correct information in a manner that does not threaten the recipients. She had to learn that as you should know.

John said...

Hi Will,

Enjoyed the chat at Karaoke after conference. Sorry I never stayed to listen to your singing.

Enjoyed reading your posts. I suspect your writing is better than your singing.

Tom said...

Discrimination in any form is abhorrent; positive discrimination almost more so as it lowers the overall standard.
Taking your male/female scenario as an example, (while I do hear what you say about the old boys clubs) let us say that we divide the potential candidates into two groups according to gender. Irrespective of which is which, the potential candidates of one gender (in order of perceived strength) we will call 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 while the potential candidates of the other gender, again in order, we will call A, B, C, D, E and F.
Now let us say that the overall perceived order of strength is A, B, C, 1, 2, D, 3, etc.
The selection panel is tasked with choosing four candidates.
In an open and fair contest they would choose A, B, C and 1 (the four strongest on merit), but if the rules are corrupted by positive discrimination and they are told that they must select the best two from each gender then they are forced to choose A, B, 1 and 2. This means that the third best potential candidate (C) is sacrificed in favour of the fifth best(2).
The positive discrimination has done no favours to society as a whole as the selection process has watered down the quality of the candidates.
There are more than enough cases where we are leaning toward the lowest common denominator as it is, and positive discrimination only makes this worse.
We should be trying to improve standards, not water everything down.

Will said...

Thanks for the responses up to now, everyone, I know that this topic tends to get people revved up. Which is part of the reason why I posted it!

Having said that, however, I'm going to chalk this one up as one of my less successful posts in that I seem to have put across the exact opposite of the point that I was hoping to make, which was that you can't graft contemporary concepts like AWS, positive discrimination and the parity/equality drive onto an electoral system that predates political parties. That if you want to go down the road of having quotas, and having an absolute mathematical benchmark for gender-based representation, that has to be part of a wider reform package involving a system that can absorb something like this into its mechanics. What I was trying to demonstrate is that it's easier to wire something into an AMS or STV system than it is into FPTP.

Whether we actually want to do that is another matter, but I'm tired of opponents of AWS (myself included) responding to the pro camp by saying either 'this isn't a problem' (it is - we're supposed to be in a representative democracy so it would help if the central participants actually reflected the make-up of the country), 'this is a problem, but nothing can/should be done about it' (not good enough), or worse still, 'something should be done, but it shouldn't be this and I don't know what is should be'. Again, that's not good enough.

John, thanks for the comment and welcome to the site - I'll defend my singing to the hilt, though I can tell you that my writing is definitely better than my dancing!