The Parliament Project: Edinburgh launch, 29th June 2016

Guest blogger, Ella Taylor-Smith, shares her experience of the launch event in the Scottish Parliament

In the midst of the fallout from the Brexit vote, over 100 women and several men gathered in the Scottish Parliament to launch the Parliament Project  – to inspire and begin to support women to stand for election to their local councils and parliaments.

Willie Rennie, MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Fife, welcomed us, as the Parliamentary sponsor of the event. He described how the Scottish Liberal Democrats had aimed for equal numbers of male and female MSPs, but not succeeded. An all-male team of 6 MSPs was elected in May and Rennie hoped the party would back more proactive processes to improve their gender balance.

Lee Chalmers, the Parliament Project’s Founder and Co-director, briefly explained the project’s to encourage and empower women to run for political office in the UK. The project will run events, provide information and support peer-networking to support women from interest to election.

The Scottish Green’s co-convener, Maggie Chapman, awakened, politically, as she grew up in Zimbabwe, both through the impact of events there and South Africa, where many of her family lived. By the time she moved to Scotland her politics centred on peace and environmental justice and she became increasingly active as she studied environmental management and ethics. Previously a City of Edinburgh Councillor, Chapman had encountered outright sexism from a Tory city councillor and was honest about the need for more action to support women into being elected Greens. Although equality was enshrined in the party’s constitution, out of 6 MSPs elected to the Scottish Parliament in May, only one is a woman.

Jeane Freeman OBE, SNP MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and Minister for Social Security, had grown up in her constituency and pursued a career in public service, including serving as a senior political adviser to First Minister Jack McConnell and, later, founding Women for Independence. Freeman made the crucial point that successful women politicians were led by their values and desire to change things for the better: “It’s not about you”.

The Centre for Women and Democracy’s Nan Sloane opened the panel talks, emphasising that women had essential roles to play in politics, and that politics was a noble, if much maligned calling. When politicians were prevented from working (discussing options, looking for solutions, managing the country’s affairs), the country was in trouble. When politicians could return to these tasks the country was on its way to health again. Sloane proposed that women were particularly suited to this, being solution-oriented, rather than conflict-oriented, and should support each other.

Kezia – Kez – Dugdale  described her journey from unemployed graduate, putting the world to rights over Kia Ora cocktails, to Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and MSP for the Lothian Region. Taking to politics – and the Labour Party – like a duck to water, she discovered a love of door-knocking, apparently shared by all the panel’s MSPs. Open the door a little wider. These folk are driven by a genuine interest in our lives. Dugdale advocated a strategic approach to getting things done as a politician; she had chosen to focus on a couple of big issues – children and poverty and payday lenders – to maximise her impact.

Finally, new MSP, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party’s Annie Wells described her very recent journey from working in Marks and Spencers to representing Glasgow in the Scottish Parliament. She reckoned she had received more grief for being a Tory than a woman, but praised the new MSPs for supporting each other.