Thursday, 16 October 2014

Gender Agenda

With Nicola Sturgeon becoming the leader of the SNP the Scottish Parliament, for the first time, finds itself with female party leaders in the majority (three women, two men).This is also a first for the UK as a whole.

Nicola Sturgeon had a very good mentor in Alex Salmond, and it shows.  She has some of his mannerisms, and has also learned to have all the facts at her fingertips before she goes into a debate.  She doesn't allow herself to become flustered under aggressive questioning (something that many male politicians find difficult) and doesn't allow her opponents to get away with not answering her questions.  She can come across as very earnest and without much humour at times, but in my experience that's not uncommon among women who have reached the top in what are traditionally regarded as male careers, since they've had to work harder to prove themselves and to be taken seriously.  Typically the Scottish Sun's headline was 'First Mini Stur: Nicola’s baby hopes revealed' - as if a woman's reproductive status is the only significant thing about her.

Ruth Davidson comes across as very intelligent and likeable, although I find her politics detestable.  She seems to be a good debater and is generally well prepared, unsurprisingly given her background in journalism.  Her main weakness is, I think, that she is not a constituency MSP but a list MSP, but then given the unpopularity of the Tories in Scotland there are few seats where she could be guaranteed to win.

Johann Lamont, while she may be a good constituency MP, is a weak leader.  She does not prepare well (saying 'but that's what we were told' does not get you off the hook) and often doesn't appear to understand the details of what she is discussing. This is quite surprising given her background as a teacher.  However, I have the impression that her classes may have been somewhat like this.

The Scottish Parliament as a whole started out with a very good gender balance, but this seems to have stalled since 2003.  While I agree that more needs to be done to get more women involved in politics, I am not in favour of a quota approach.  This is because I think that your MSP should be the best person for the job, irrespective of gender.  I don't think that gender should be the first criteria in choosing a candidate.

More needs to be done in getting women involved at the grassroots level and, as they gain experience, moving up to positions of further responsibility.  I think one way of doing this is for female politicians to get involved in mentoring younger women.  This approach would not solve the gender imbalance issue in the short term, but should work well for the longer term.  We also need to educate girls in particular to get out of the habit of thinking that politics is 'too difficult' or 'boring' or 'only for men'.  This is not only a problem in politics, but for many other career paths as well.  At least with now having three female party leaders in the Scottish parliament we can't day we are short of positive examples.

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