Women still kept out of Parliament

Whichever party wins the election. it is already

clear who will lose. There will again be very few women MPs at Westminster. While the political

: parties are fielding considerably more female candidates than in 1987. most have been selected in unwinnable seats. In the closest-run election for decades. there has been precious little debate on the question ofequality for women. Proposals on health. education, housing and local authority provision are not targeted at women, the primary users or choosers of these services. The fact that pro-women policies aren’t seen as voteavinners is a clear symptom of how the UK‘s political agenda is overwhelmingly set by men, a situation unlikely to improve significantly after the election.

whatever the result.

‘Politics is currently run by people who are systematically sheltered from the realities of life, largely because they’re supported

by women.’

There are currently only four Scottish women MPs (5.5 per cent of the total) although women could hardly be called a minority group, forming 52 per cent of the population. While this adds up to a lot of votes. the chances of that bastion of gentlemen‘s-club tradition known as Westminster doing anything useful for women remain pretty ' slim. In Scotland, however, the home-rule factor makes it particularly important that female voters remind candidates oftheir existence; the possibility of a devolved parliament carries far-reaching implications for women.

Thanks to concerted lobbying by women‘s organisations, the model drawn up by the Scottish Constitutional Convention includes proposals of

Maria Fyie: one of only tour women MPsin Scotland

direct benefit to women. The most striking of these is the plan for each constituency to elect two MPs, a man and a woman. This would establish a 50:50 gender balance in the new parliament, giving Scotland the highest level ofwomen’s representation in the world. Other proposals

include a women’s ministry, fixed parliamentary terms scheduled around Scottish school holidays, childcare and dependents’ allowances for MP5 and a 10am—5pm working day.

‘Opponents of the 50:50 plan often claim that it will only help ‘elite’ women who are likely to stand as MPs,‘ says Isobel Lindsay, chair ofthe Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. ‘But with more women in parliament, issues which concern women in society would be pushed up the political agenda. The majority of pensioners are women (who are less likely to have an occupational pension), most low-paid workers and single parents are women. It’s women who bear the brunt if social services are weak or inadequate I believe these kinds of problems would receive far greater priority with more women in parliament.’ Maria Fyfe, Labour MP for Glasgow Maryhill agrees: ‘The 50:50 proposal is a radical one in the full sense ofthe word, in that it strikes at the roots of the system which allows men to control all our decision-making processes.’

At a conference on women and the Scottish parliament, held earlier this month in Glasgow’s City Chambers, it was felt that this realignment of the political agenda would make the business of politics much more relevant to the voters' lives. ‘Politics is currently run by people who are systematically sheltered from the realities of life, largely because they are supported by women wives, secretaries and so on,’ said journalist Joyce McMillan, reviewing the conference debate. ‘I think if issues like caring childcare, community care, welfare issues— are brought into the centre of public life it could be tremendously exciting. More women politicians would bring politics closer to reality which would bring a lot more life into I politics.’ (Sue Wilson)


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I Edinburgh International Science Festival: A debate on the effect of scientific discoveries on religious belief is set to be one of the highlights of this year‘s Science Festival. which runs from 11—25 April. The debate between the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood. and Dr Richard Dawkins, Oxford zoologist, takes place on Wed 15 April in the Royal College of Physicians. Other highlights include a series of talks on cancer. a day-long symposium on human genetics and a seminar on stress control. The full programme is available now from 1 Broughton

Market, Edinburgh, EH3 6NU, and more detailed coverage will appear in the next issue of The List.

I Wildcat Future: The future of Scottish theatre company Wildcat, faced with liquidation after its bank withdrew an arranged overdraft facility (List 170), appeared to be healthier after an emergency funding package was announced last week. The formula, dependent on formal acceptance by creditors, will see the Scottish Arts Council and Glasgow City Council making funds available to the company in advance. It is hoped that Wildcat will now be able to continue its planned programme of114 performances in 1992.

I Child Poverty: A study carried out by a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University has revealed child poverty to be 50 per cent higher in Scotland than in the UK as a whole. The report by Neil Fraser, commissioned by the Scottish Child and Family Alliance, showed that more than 440,000 Scottish children 38 per cent of those under 18 are living below the poverty line. In the country as a whole the equivalent figure is around the three million mark, just over a quarter of the population in that age group. The

discrepancy between Scotland and the rest of the UK is being blamed on higher unemployment and lower levels of household income north of the border. The report calls for increases in child benefit, job creation and better childcare facilities to enable parents to find work.

I Kitelly ’92: The skies above Britain will be filled with kites on Easter Monday (20 April) in an attempt to raise money for vital medical research. Kitefly ’92 hopes to help perfect a cure for paralysis due to spinal cord injury by encouraging the public to find sponsors for various kite events. The major Scottish venue will be Strathclyde Park, Glasgow, where the public will also be entertained by professional displays. Entry forms are available from British Gas showrooms or by calling the information line on 081 367 3555.

I Streetbiz: Streetbiz, the organisation behind Glasgow events such as Summer Fun for Kids and the International Street Performance Festival, is to close as of the beginning oprril1992. Due to insufficient proposed grant awards, the board of directors decided that it

could no longer operate a full time administration that would maintain the quality and diversity of past programmes.

I University Deficit: Edinburgh University is ahead of target for pulling itselfout of its financial crisis, according to principal Sir David

Smith. A statement on the . University‘s Recovery Plan claimed

that the University, at one time faced with a deficit ofover £5 million, will be in the black in the 1992/93 financial year and in surplus the year after that. Sir David said that the improved financial position was achieved by meeting a target of a 15 per cent increase in student numbers for the current year while shedding 120 staffjobs. Severe cuts in grants are still troubling the Student Association (List 167) despite the University’s decision to award a ‘special non-recurrent grant of£50k in 1991/92‘. EUSA pointed out that this one-off payment represented the final instalment ofa loan from the University for upgrading work done to Teviot Row Union and as such did not help secure the long-term future of Chambers Street Union or the Student Association‘s Publications Board.

4 The List 27 March 9 April 1992