By Neil Davey
There are many strong arguments for independence and I have been a life-long supporter of it. However, there is one argument worth emphasising that could better the conditions in many arenas for Scottish women and their families. In my opinion this is one (among many) good reasons as to why Scottish women should be voting ‘yes’ on September 18th. This is due to Scotland’s potential to utilise its proportional representation (PR) electoral system in favour of fair female representation. This could lead to more female and family friendly policies, which can benefit the society as a whole and cement Scotland’s position as an equal and progressive nation.
The UK’s antiquated majoritarian first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The Lib Dems’ fruitless attempt at bringing in the convoluted AV system highlights this. Suffice to say, the old boys club of Westminster is still going strong. Still with only around 22% female representation in parliament, Westminster is deemed to fail women when it comes to policies and decision-making. It is generally regarded that a figure of 25-30% representation (known as ‘critical-mass’) is required in a parliament in order to impact upon policy-making; any less equates to under-representation. However, due to the Scottish parliament’s PR system, representation currently stands at around 35% female MSPs – a strong position to build upon in a newly independent country.
In 1999 the newly devolved Scottish parliament achieved 37% female MSPs. It has yet to surpass 40%, but is still significantly higher than Westminster although significantly less than the target of the 50/50 campaign. Still, it is more in line with historically progressive nations and European counterparts with PR such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These nations have also demonstrated that not only are societal improvements evident, but by having increased female participation in grass-roots movements to governments, economies can also benefit and flourish as a result.
Evidence shows that a multi-member electoral system leads to more women in parliament and there are of course many reasons why that is worth pursuing. Candidate appeal, honesty, integrity, compassion and pacifism have all been cited as reasons for women standing as candidates in the first instance. However, in a FPTP system such as Westminster, it has traditionally been men who are chosen to stand for election. This has been said to be due to men being more accustomed to a battle where there is only one winner. Perhaps the low percentage of female representation in the UK and the US, which has even less female representation than Westminster, explains their all-too-quick willingness to wage (illegal) wars.
Whilst I don’t want to dwell on the Scandinavian model, I am married to a Norwegian and after living in both countries I can certainly see the benefits of high female representation within a parliament when it comes to policymaking. Maternity and paternity benefits, child care, boardroom and workplace equality are all much more in line with what you would expect from a fair and just nation, which Scotland should be capable of achieving. And yes, Scotland does already have a relatively high proportion of women in parliament, but as long as we are tied to Westminster and its male dominated benches, we will never be able to fully realise the potential of our PR system to improve our society, and even our economy.
This may not convince all the women of Scotland to vote ‘yes’ on September the 18th. Furthermore, there are a multitude of other reasons in addition to what I have highlighted to get rid of the Westminster ball and chain. But I will conclude by saying: look at what we currently have, then think about what we could have. With our PR system in effect without the ties to Westminster, not only will Scotland be a fairer, more just and equal society for you to live in, but your daughters, their families, their daughters and their families will reap the benefits as we join the world’s most progressive independent nations. I know what type of society I want my daughter to grow up in, and I know how it can be realised.