Female representation in Scotland looks set to fall
after next year’s election, which bodes ill for social care, says
Shona Main.

The Scottish parliament has retired for the summer recess, but
not before raising some awkward questions about the introduction
this week of free long-term care.

During first minister’s question time, Margaret Smith,
chairperson of the health and community care committee, raised some
councils’ fears that they did not have enough cash to deliver the
policy and their warnings of lengthy waits before clients will be
assessed or receive payments. First minister Jack McConnell
acknowledged the challenge for councils and said the Scottish
executive was giving every support.

However, it was only when the Scottish National Party’s Nicola
Sturgeon waded in that McConnell, whose enthusiasm for the policy
he inherited from his predecessor has been doubted, gave what must
have been the most fulsome praise for social work departments to
fall from his lips. “It would be right and proper for us to thank
and congratulate them, rather than denigrating their work as the
nationalists have done.” Here’s hoping Jack can recite these words
with similar gusto in months to come.

Following the SNP’s cack-handed handling of its regional lists
(which determine which candidate will get elected in the
proportional representation element of the parliament), there seems
certain to be far fewer women MSPs after next year’s election. One
of their female MSPs has resigned and another two are retiring. But
no attempt has been made to use the regional lists to redress the
gender balance. Instead the SNP shuffled three female MSPs further
down the list, giving them less chance of being re-elected. They
may well be six women worse off after the election and this will be
hard to put right in the future once people (ie, men) have their
feet under the table.

Assuming that there is little change in voting patterns, female
representation looks set to fall from 37.2 per cent to 32.5 per
cent. The Scottish parliament will move from third to seventh in
the world league – Westminster is 44th with 17.9 per cent women.
Kate Maclean, the chairperson of the parliament’s equal
opportunities committee, says: “The reduction is small enough in
actual numbers that it probably won’t make a significant
difference, but it is a worrying trend. It demonstrates that when
there is a scrabble for seats and no positive discrimination in
favour of women, women lose out. A critical mass of 30 per cent or
more women can have a very positive impact on the legislative
priorities and on the conduct of business.”

Those with an interest in social care will be uneasy at the
erosion of the number of women MSPs. There are sure to be other
able MSPs who will pursue progress in social care, but there will
be fewer female politicians struggling to act on issues given lip
service, but little priority, in what is still a man’s world.

Shona Main is the Association of Directors of Social
Work’s policy and parliamentary officer.

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