On female representation, one political party lets Scotland down | Autonomy Scotland

On female representation, one political party lets Scotland down

Female Party Leaders

Female Party Leaders

Three out of the five main political parties in Scotland have female leaders, but how does that translate to overall female representation in parliament?

The answer to that question is that despite some valiant efforts to increase female representation, the actual percentage of elected women is disappointingly low at 35%. This figure is the same as it was in the previous parliamentary term and lower than the record 39.5% figure from the 2003 elections. It is disappointing as many thought we would break through the 40% barrier this time. When you look behind the data it is clear the 40% barrier would have been broken if it wasn’t for the particularly poor performance of one party…

Scottish Parliament 2016 by party and gender

PartyFemaleMaleTotal% Female
Lib Dem0550%

The raw numbers look pretty good for Labour and the SNP and pretty bad for the other three parties but, as ever, numbers don’t tell the full story.  Here we assess how each party has performed in reverse order from worst to best.


The Tory party performed abysmally. Only 19.2% of their constituency candidates were female and a shocking 18.3% of list candidates. Most of the top places on the regional list were filled by men. If the Conservative party had performed as well as Labour and the SNP then Scotland would have broken the 40% female MSP barrier for the first time. They are by far the worst party in terms of gender balance due to the limited number of women they selected as candidates.

Lib Dems

In terms of giving women a chance to get elected the Lib Dem did do much better than the Tories. They had 38.4% female candidates on the constituency and 42.9% on the list. They did however de-select their one sitting female MSP. Worryingly they have no elected females in either Holyrood or Wesminster which is not very impressive in this day and age. To be fair, their figures are made worse by the fact that they got so few people elected. The smaller the sample the more likely the results will not represent the true picture. So they are not as bad as the Tories but could improve.


While the SNP have the most female MPs and the second highest percentage I have put them third overall as they had a lower ratio of female candidates than the Greens and Labour. They had 41.1% female constituency candidates and 45.2% on the list. They used all women shortlists to select candidates for 9 constituency seats and won 8 of those. They also placed many women high up on the regional lists. Overall a good performance but they could do better by increasing the percentage of female candidates to around 50%. No doubt it is harder for the SNP to do this due to being the dominant party which means they have a higher number of incumbent MSPs.  However, the overall balance of candidates could be improved in the future when bringing in new blood.


The Green party suffered the same fate as the Lib Dems in that a small sample makes them look worse than they actually are. To be fair, the Green party did attempt to get a 50/50 balance by making sure every second candidate on the list was female and by alternating the gender at the top of each list. So, even though the raw figures look bad for the Greens they just got a bit unlucky with the randomness of the results. Any large party that took the same approach as the Greens would expect to see close to a 50/50 split. So, the Greens come in second because in theory they got things right but in practice they were victims of chance.


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In a week where we have had a bash at Labour twice it is nice to be able to say they are the best performers in this respect. With 53.4% constituency candidates and 50% list candidates they ended up with close to a 50/50 split of MSPs. They used female only shortlists to select some constituency candidates and like the Greens they alternated between male and female candidates on each regional list.


Overall we still have a long way to go, with no improvement this year in terms of overall female representation. This is sad as our voting system is more representative but it doesn’t account for bias within the actual parties when selecting candidates. That said, most parties are heading in the right direction by increasing the number of female candidates and randomness can account for a portion of the stagnation. It should be noted that the Conservative party is lagging far behind. For the next elections, if the Tories reach the candidate benchmark set by Labour we will break through the 40 percent barrier. Over to you, Ruth Davidson.

If you want to learn more about this issue then check out this blog.

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