International report

Could the new Scottish Parliament turn out to be the most diverse ever?

Audio 06:57
Will we see more women, more Coloured, more disabled people on the Holyrood benches after the 6 May election?
Will we see more women, more Coloured, more disabled people on the Holyrood benches after the 6 May election? REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Since its creation in 1999, the Scottish Parliament has provided a forum to address issues like health, education and the environment, which directly affect the nation. However, as far as representation goes, there is room for improvement. Things could change dramatically in this year’s parliamentary elections, set to take place on 6 May. This is the second of four reports.

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With the most diverse set of candidates to date, those elected to Holyrood could look very different indeed, with more women, more people of colour, and more disabled people.

Fatima Joji, from Aberdeen, is one of the candidates hoping to be among Scotland’s new MSPs in May: she leads the Scottish National Party’s regional list in the northeast of Scotland.

The young woman works for an MP and has been interested in politics for years. But she had to be asked several times to stand for election.

“Politics isn’t really an environment that’s inclusive for women,” she says. “But then, if I consider my intersectionalities as a Black woman, and a woman who is visibly Muslim, I’ve never seen anyone like me. So, there was a lot of internalised imposter syndrome and fear that I don’t belong in this space.”

Watch out, the future is female

Rebecca Bell is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Edinburgh North and Leith constituency. After running to become an MP in the 2017 and 2019 UK general elections, she says that attending training and networking events especially designed for female politicians could give underrepresented citizens the extra nudge they need to get involved in national politics.

“I went on the Future Female MP weekend a few years ago and that was really instrumental for me. Last year we started doing the same weekend but for people of colour, because we really wanted to encourage our members who were thinking about it,” she says.

“I think more proactive things like that are absolutely necessary, because it’s a lot to ask a candidate to stand. If you’re a woman, you know you’re going to get sexist abuse online.”

Despite Scotland priding itself in being an open, diverse society, women in politics still have to face everyday sexism, according to Rebecca Bell.

“A lot of other female candidates got emails asking how old they were. I would be really surprised if a male candidate is asked how he’s juggling childcare and his job, whereas a woman will probably get asked how they can be good a good mother and a politician.”

Disabled people don't want pity

Unfortunately, other sections of Scotland’s society also face huge stigma: this is the case of disabled people. In Glasgow, Pam Duncan-Glancy is standing on the Scottish Labour Party’s regional list. She has spoken out for human rights and equality for as long as she can remember. Still, her legitimacy was questioned when she decided to get involved in public life.

“All sorts of accusations were thrown at me: you’re getting this far because people pity you,” she remembers. “This isn’t a pity vote. This is because I believe I’m the best person for the job. Disabled people get that constantly.”

Could more diversity in Scottish politics have happened without political parties making it a reality?

Fatima Joji believes that only by tackling this issue head on can real change take place. “The SNP has been proactive. Each electoral region has a BAME or disabled person at the top of the SNP’s list. That is pioneering, and that just shows how much power parties have over this.”

For Pam Duncan-Glancy, not only is this a matter for political parties, but for the country in general: to make politics better and more inclusive, the State has a duty to address the structural inequalities in society.

“We’re now in a situation where disabled people find it very difficult to do very basic things such as leaving their own home, never mind actually becoming an activist and getting involved in politics,” she explains.

“We need to address the underlying oppression of disabled people in Scotland in general”.

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