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Scottish Labour leadership contest: Q&A with Engender

Voting for the Scottish Labour Party’s new leader is now underway, with the result to be announced on the 13th December. Until then, candidates will continue to put forward distinct visions for their party, in the context of a packed political calendar over the next 18 months. Whatever is pledged during this campaign will immediately be tested in the form of two parliamentary elections. It is a fascinating time for Scottish politics and this contest plays no small part in the post-referendum settling of dust.

It is also fascinating that gender issues have been included in the public debate this time around. At a themed hustings at Scottish Labour’s annual women’s conference last weekend, all five candidates for leader and deputy leader spoke on a range of issues, including the pay gap, equal representation and abortion rights. Ahead of this, the two forerunners for leader, Jim Murphy and Neil Findlay, published informal proposals to tackle gender inequality. Findlay's include tackling the gender pay gap, whilst Murphy's focus on equal representation at cabinet level and on public boards.

Meanwhile, the third candidate for the leadership, Sarah Boyack, has signed up to the Women 50:50 campaign calling for 50% gender quotas in Scottish Parliament, at local authority level and on public boards. The campaign was co-launched by Kezia Dugdale, one of two women in the running for Deputy Leader (along with Alison Johnstone of the Scottish Green Party).

Nor has this flurry of activity taken place inside a Scottish Labour vacuum. As Nicola Sturgeon took the reins as First Minister and leader of the SNP this week, she explicitly highlighted women’s rights as an area of personal focus. This followed revitalised statements and signals of intent regarding women’s rights at the SNP party conference at the weekend.

In light of all of this, we asked the five Labour candidates questions on gender issues in a bit more detail. Sarah Boyack, Katy Clark, Kezia Dugdale and Neil Findlay responded and their full answers are set out in the document attached to this blog. Meanwhile, here is a quick look at what they said.

1. What issues would you prioritise to advance gender equality in Scotland?

All four candidates highlight affordable childcare as a priority, with Neil Findlay also referencing free childcare. Kezia Dugdale demonstrates her credentials as an active gender advocate, with reference to her Every Step public engagement campaign on childcare, launched earlier this year.

Equal pay would be a priority for Sarah Boyack, and for the Neil Findlay/ Katy Clark joint ticket, with Katy Clark committing to continue her championing of mandatory gender pay audits. Boyack also highlights employment rights as a priority.

Dugdale and Findlay both go into a bit more detail on how they would close the gender pay gap, with a focus on occupational segregation. Findlay references the need to encourage men into female-dominated sectors, as well as the other way around.

Finally, Sarah Boyack also highights carers’ rights and Neil Findlay would make domestic violence a top priority for police in Scotland.

2. What action would you take to improve female participation and representation within your party?

Kezia Dugdale pretty much takes this category, as joint lead on the current Women 50:50 campaign for equal representation. The campaign calls for 50% gender quotas in parliament and councils and on public boards. Sarah Boyack is the only leadership candidate to support the campaign. Katy Clark also references the need for quotas, but with regard to internal party leadership positions. Neil Findlay describes the need for ‘positive discrimination’, for women, BME, young and working class people.

Meanwhile, ongoing use of twinning and zipping are considered to be key (SB, KC, NF), as are all women shortlists (SB, KC). Sarah Boyack also specifically points to the need for gender equality in terms of political appointments and public boards.

Finally, in terms of broader political participation, Sarah Boyack and Katy Clark would prioritise mentoring/ support mechanisms for young women within the party, whilst Neil Findlay would promote political education and training.

3. How would you ensure that everyone in Scotland stands to benefit equally from further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, regardless of what those specific powers may be?

All of the candidates commit to using additional powers to lever change for women, although their answers point to slightly different approaches.

Sarah Boyack would focus on a robust equalities framework for policy and financial decision-making, including at local government level.

Katy Clark would obligate each Cabinet Secretary to produce a strategy on how new powers would deliver greater equality, and campaign for this to be a manifesto commitment for Holyrood 2016.

Kezia Dugdale would also push for assessment of how new powers could advance equalities to be included in the 2016 manifesto, and highlights broader social justice imperatives as the lens though which further devolution must be conceived. She also points to SLP proposals for housing benefit and employment tribunals as potential vehicles that must deliver for women.

Neil Findlay diverges from the call for systemic impact assessment and focuses on the how specific powers could benefit women. This includes tackling low rates of pay and educational opportunities for all.

4. A key barrier to faster progress on gender equality issues is lack of political will within the policy hierarchy. As party leader can we expect you to prioritise women’s equality?

Unsurprisingly, all the candidates commit to prioritising women’s equality. Sarah Boyack, Katy Clark and Kezia Dugdale refer to their track record of promoting equality, with Boyack and Dugdale explicitly citing a personal history of campaigning for women’s rights.

More substantively, Dugdale’s response refers to the lack of women in positions of power as a key reason for the lack of political will to tackle gender inequality. She commits to more inclusive, less elitist policymaking as an internal shift within Scottish Labour.

Neil Findlay also refers directly to the issue of political will, but in terms of the SNP’s lack thereof. He points to the procurement bill and post 16 education bill as missed opportunities to advance gender equality, in promising to redress this.

The inclusion of gender issues in this campaign is by no means par for the course and we welcome the statements and commitments made here, and in other public forums by all five of the candidates. Ultimately, however, the critical issue of political will, in the face of competing policy pressures will of course bear heavily on these stated intentions. We will be watching with interest to see how these play out in the fullness of time. Warm thanks indeed to Sarah Boyack, Katy Clark, Kezia Dugdale and Neil Findlay for their participation.

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