Scottish Labour Party Leadership Election Q&A

With the deadline in the race for the Scottish Labour leadership approaching next week, we put some questions on women's equality issues to candidates Richard Leonard MSP and Anas Sarwar MSP. Read their answers below.

To start off, complete the sentence ‘Women’s equality is important to me because…’

RL: As a democratic socialist I want us to build a truly equal and classless society in which everybody realises their potential.

AS: Women’s equality is important to me because our daughters, sisters and mothers deserve the same rights, chances and treatment as our sons, brothers and fathers.

Q1: What issues would you prioritise to advance gender equality in Scotland?

AS: I want equality in society across Scotland and will make ending the gender pay gap an economic priority.

That’s why I will establish a Scottish Labour commission to tackle occupational segregation in Scotland’s workplaces and the gender pay gap.

I will seek to improve legislation going through Holyrood to boost the number of women on public boards from 36 per cent by introducing non-compliance penalties.

Women have borne the brunt of Tory austerity which has slashed public services and eroded social security.

So I will ensure the Scottish Labour Party prepares gender audits of Holyrood legislation and press for a statutory requirement of gender budgeting across all policy areas to examine how spending decisions impact on both men and women.

I will take steps in this this Parliament to incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) into Scots Law.

I want inequality to be a problem of the past, and will work to build a Scotland where everyone has the same opportunity in life, regardless of their social background, gender, race, sexuality or religion.


RL: Women understand all too well power imbalances, whether it's in the home, at work, in public life and in every part of our society. Therefore, I am not making a tokenistic offer that fails to address the power and economic imbalances that too many women face in their daily lives. The pursuit of equal pay and a Living Wage have been central to my work in the labour movement for over thirty years both in the trades union movement, and now continuing as a Labour MSP - seeking equality in pay and work will always be a personal priority but gender equality must go further than our economy.

We must end the culture that sees gender inequality as the norm. This starts with the very basic of having a zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. Not only should Police Scotland be properly resourced and trained to tackle these crimes, but by extending the existing Hate Crime laws to specifically include Violence Against Women and Girls, we will aim to improve reporting and conviction rates, remove the sexual focus of abuse against women, raise awareness of VAWG and send a clear message that gender based violence should not be tolerated in Scottish society.


Q2: What action would you take to improve female participation and representation within your party?

RL: I have argued the benefits of having our Holyrood lists topped by women and believe that if only the Scottish Parliament had been 50:50 since its opening, we would have been further down the road in building a more equal, fairer society.

As Scottish Labour leader I will:


  • Implement at least 50:50 gender balance in all marginal parliamentary and council selections
  • Deliver an annual women’s conference with policy making powers
  • Continue to support and promote All Women Shortlists
  • Invest in a talent academy which will focus on developing future candidates and activists who are women, BAME, LGBTQ+ and/or disabled not just when there is an election, but all year long.

AS: Labour should always be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality in society across Scotland.

I fully support the Women 50:50 campaign for equal representation of women in the Scottish Parliament, in our councils and on public boards, and I’d like to pay tribute to Kezia Dugdale for her work on this vital issue.

To ensure women are adequately represented in our party and the Scottish Labour leadership, I am proposing to deliver an additional deputy leadership role.

At least one deputy leader will always be a woman, regardless of the gender of the leader, and the two deputy leaders will play a key role in party campaigns and sit on the Scottish Executive Committee.

I support Scottish Labour Women’s Voice and wholeheartedly commit to the group’s five leadership election pledges.

That includes at least 50 per cent women candidates in all national and local elections, supporting and expanding the use of All Women Shortlists, ensuring there is a women’s representative on the Scottish Executive Committee, and holding a national Scottish Labour Women’s Conference every year.

We must also tackle sexism faced by women within the party and ensure there are real reporting mechanisms in place which take swift action. There must be a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, and the culture must change at both Westminster and Holyrood.


Q3: Recently women in the Scottish Labour Party launched ‘Scottish Labour Women’s Voice’ with 5 key asks for gender equality. In 2017, why is this still needed?

AS: Every progressive piece of equality legislation has only been delivered because of Labour. Our party introduced the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equality Act and the National Minimum Wage, securing rights for women across the UK.

The battle for gender equality continues. For as long as women are unequal and underrepresented in public life, then inequality will persist. That’s why campaigns like Women 50:50 matter - because that will lead to a gender-balanced parliament and therefore reflect the issues that impact on women in public life like access to lifelong learning, opportunities to return to work and playing a full role in the economy, the eradication of occupational segregation, and decent affordable and flexible childcare - among many others.


RL: Our party should be proud of what we have achieved on gender equality. It is Labour that implemented gender balance mechanisms, increased maternity pay and introduced the Equalities Act - but the fight is far from over, which is why I am fully committed to Scottish Women's Voice five key goals. We’ve heard from women across the world and across industries speak out about the misogyny, abuse and harassment they have faced. The Scottish Parliament must make clear it has zero tolerance for this kind of culture. So now more than ever, the fifth key ask from Scottish Labour Women’s Voice is vital to get right. We need to end this culture that has tolerated abuse for far too long and I would urge anyone in the Party to make use of the reporting mechanisms that have been set up to provide dedicated advice and reporting: 07595 432542 and email There should be no hiding place for harassment. This isn’t just about Hollywood or Holyrood, this is about all workplaces. No industry should be above the toughest of scrutiny and no one should go to work feeling unsafe, harassed or abused.


Quick fire Round (5 words max per answer):

Are you a feminist?

RL: Yes.

AS: Yes, and I’m bringing up my three sons to be feminists.

Do you support gender balancing mechanisms like quotas?

RL: Yes, and a culture change.

AS: Yes, including non-compliance penalties.

Should abortion be decriminalised in Scotland?

RL: Yes.

AS: I respect a woman’s right to choose. All women must have access to clinically-safe services and have control over their bodies and their treatment.

Who is your feminist hero?

RL: Both Mary Barbour + Jayaben Desai.

AS: My mother, for standing against society’s evils.

What shoes are you wearing?

RL: Black, shiny ones.

AS: That’s irrelevant, just like it was irrelevant when the media focused on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoes.


The results of the Scottish Labour leadership election will be announced on 18th November 2017.

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Equal Voice, Equal Power: The Case for Gender Quotas in ScotlandEqual Voice, Equal Power: The Case for Gender Quotas in Scotland Women have unequal access to power, decision-making and participation throughout all areas of public life in Scotland.

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