What the parties say

Earlier this month we wrote to all the major parties represented in the Scottish Parliament and asked them what they are doing to increase the number of women candidates in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, as selections are currently taking place.

We have received responses from 4 out of 5 of the parties and here is a summary of what they plan (full responses are written below):


  • All-women shortlists in a constituency where the incumbent SNP MSP is standing down.
  • The ability to add additional candidates who are BAME, women or disabled to a constituency where two or more valid nominations are received.
  • Zipping mechanism to a regional list (alternating men/women)

Scottish Conservatives:

  • Engagement activities and networking through Women2Win
  • No voluntary balancing measures

Scottish Greens:

  • Zipping in regional lists
  • 50% of all winnable seats will be a woman candidate (through all women shortlists)

Scottish Liberal Democrats:

  • Candidates for the Scottish Parliament Election of 2021 for five of the ten most winnable seats (whether constituencies or top regional places) will be women (though all women shortlists).  A motion will be presented to the October 2016 Conference specifying which constituencies or regional lists would be affected by this change, taking into account the results of the May 2016 election.

Scottish Labour:

  • Zipping regional lists to achieve 50:50
  • Outreach and training activities for women, BAME and disabled candidates
  • 50% of winnable seats will have all women shortlists


Full response from the SNP:

Thank you for the email of 6 July and my apologies for the delay in responding as it seems to have been misdirected within our system.

You’ll be aware that the SNP had some success in increasing gender balance in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, and the 2017 local government elections, by introducing all-female shortlists, and indeed in 2017, ensuring a balance in wards where more than one SNP candidate was running.

The National Executive Committee want to continue that improvement in 2021, and the following resolution has been put to our Annual Conference in October (since the decision on specific mechanisms rests with Conference):


Conference agrees to open the candidate selection process for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections as soon as practicable with a view to having all constituency candidates in place in Spring 2020.

Conference reaffirms the requirement in the Constitution for an equality strategy which must aim for 50/50 gender-balanced representation and an increase in the number of candidates drawn from BAME and other under-represented groups.

Conference approves under Paragraph 7.4 of the Constitution the use, as the NEC considers appropriate, of the following specific mechanisms to meet the Party’s constitutional requirements at the 2021 elections:

  • All-women shortlists in a constituency where the incumbent SNP MSP is standing down. 
  • The ability to add additional candidates who are BAME, women or disabled to a constituency where two or more valid nominations are received.
  • The ability to apply a zipping mechanism to a regional list.

As mentioned in that resolution, our Constitution, adopted last October, makes clear that we are working towards 50/50 gender balance. Within that, we absolutely recognise the need to increase the number of women candidates who are BAME, disabled, or from other underrepresented groups. The following resolution will also be going to Conference in October in that respect:


Conference recognises the immense contribution made to Scotland by the many diverse communities who have chosen to make this nation their home. Conference believes that we are at our best as a country when that broad diversity of voices and perspectives is reflected at all levels of Government.

Conference recognises the improvement in the representation of women that has resulted from adopting gender balance mechanisms in our selection process but notes with concern that BAME and disabled people continue to be underrepresented in our national parliament. Conference believes it is unacceptable that in the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament there have been only four BAME representatives.

Conference believes we must do more to champion representation of all our communities. Conference notes with interest the use of reserved political positions which involves setting aside seats for minority communities who struggle to overcome barriers to political participation and calls on the National Executive Committee to investigate whether selection processes can be modified to improve representation with a specific focus on the use of reserved political positions on regional lists for the next Holyrood Election.

In addition to mechanisms around the selection process, we’ve long recognised that input is just as important as output. For a number of years the percentage of female candidates being elected closely correlated with the percentage of candidate applications coming from females. Through direct encouragement and networks, we have slowly managed to increase that, and undoubtedly the introduction of all-female shortlists has served as an incentive to come forward.

Through our Women’s Forum, our Disabled Members Group, BAME Network, Scots Asians for Independence, and others, we hope to encourage a broad spectrum of individuals to come forward, offering advice and support wherever we can.

I hope that is of some help, and of course, we welcome any thoughts that your campaign might have.


Full response from the Scottish Greens’s Women’s Network:

Thank you for asking this question and for all the work you do in this important area. Although the Scottish Greens were delighted to triple our number of MSPs in the last Holyrood elections, we were disappointed that despite 50% of our lead candidates being women, we ended up with a very un-gender-balanced parliamentary team. Although there were some people saying “That’s just how the chips fall”, we decided as a party that it simply wasn’t good enough. We know we can do better.

As a party, we have conducted a lengthy ‘lessons learned’ process, have changed our candidate selection procedures and have got new pro-active plans to support women candidates.

For candidate selection we previously used ‘zipped lists’ with 50% of our lists being lead by women. We have now tweaked the zipping process so that women cannot be ‘zipped down’ a list i.e. if the voting process, as it did for our European Election list, results in 3 women at the top of the list, we keep this result.

To build on our long-standing constitutional requirement that at least 50% of candidates in winnable seats should be women, and at least 40% overall, we have removed a previous requirement that 40% of candidates be men. Together with the change to the zipping process above, this means that there is no maximum ceiling on the number of women candidates who can be selected.

We have also made amendments to our selection rules which will ensure that every winnable candidate, aside from incumbent MSPs, will be a woman. This will mean that when we select our Scottish Parliament candidates in the months ahead, at least 10 of the 15 most winnable places will be filled by women.

Since the 2016 elections we have continued to strictly enforce our gender balancing requirements at all elections, and supported our party branches to identify and encourage women to stand as candidates. In the 2017 local elections, 45% of candidates were women, including 51% of target candidates, resulting in 47% of our elected Councillors being women. These were by far the highest proportions of women candidates and Councillors of any party.

Additionally, two-thirds of our candidates in the 2017 Westminster elections were women, and since 2017, 71% of our by-election candidates have been women – including the last 11 by-elections in a row. In several of these contests, the only woman on the ballot paper has been a Green.

The Scottish Green Party’s Women’s Network has the ambitious plan to have “more women standing on lists than we’ve ever had before”. This means we need 40+ women to win places on our Holyrood lists. To encourage women to stand we will be launching an internal campaign which will include information sessions with people who’ve stood before, ‘You’d be a great MSP’ sharing graphics and social media interactions with women who have already declared that they are standing. We want to normalise standing for elected roles, so that it doesn’t feel like you are ‘putting yourself forward’. The message is: “Look, we’re all ordinary women and we’re standing, please join us.”

And finally, we intend to do better at practical and emotional support for the women who do stand, which includes having an active women’s network and campaign teams in place early. We will be fundraising for a bursaries program to support our lead women candidates in regions where we don’t have sitting MSPs. The lead candidates can use this bursary to fund childcare, travel, time off work or training, whatever suits her best to support her campaigning. Other priority actions include producing equalities packs for branches, and establishing a mentor scheme. We have also strengthened our welfare and conduct policies to specifically support women candidates before, during and after the selection and election processes.

It is a very exciting time to be a Scottish Green. The Climate Emergency is now a mainstream concern and we’re the only party that has a positive vision for dealing with this and an inclusive, gender balanced, vision for the future. 


Full response from Scottish Conservatives:

We are working together to ensure the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party represents women at all levels of politics through organisations like Women2Win Scotland, and Scottish Conservative Women.

 Women2Win Scotland aims to promote the brightest and best women in the party through candidate training, networking and financial support. We believe that it is important that the gender balance of our candidates is relfective of modern Britain, and that’s why Women2Win holds regular events all around Scotland and is engaging with an increasing number of candidates as they go through selection. We are not only energising existing members of the Scottish Conservatives, but also attracting new talent.

 Scottish Conservative Women is the grassroots network that provides support and focus for women in the Conservative Party and ensures that the women’s perspective is always taken into account. SCW are reaching out to women in all parts of the community, campaigning on issues of particular concern to women both nationally and internationally and encouraging women to be politically active and to get elected at all levels.


Full response from the Scottish Liberal Democrats:

Our policies for selecting and promoting women candidates are based on the motion below passed at our Spring Conference in 2016.

Implementing that agreed programme led to a gender balanced Scot Lib Dems Westminster parliamentary party in 2017 (and came within two votes of being majority women) and a 100% female European Parliamentary Party in 2019.

The motion was as follows:

  1. the top candidate on our list in Scotland for the European Parliament Elections scheduled for June 2019 will be a woman and the second placed candidate will be a man.  The remaining places on the list will be filled without reference to the gender of the candidates. When the votes of the members are counted to determine the order in which the candidates are to be placed (in the process set out in Clause H7(b)(iii) of the Constitution), EITHER the last remaining woman will be placed first on the list and her votes redistributed among the remaining men (if more than one) to determine subsequent places; OR the last remaining man will be placed second on the list and his votes redistributed among the remaining women (if more than one) to determine the first and any other subsequent places. The same arrangements will be applied to select the man for second place.
  2. candidates for the General Election of 2020 in the five most winnable seats by percentage majority to be overcome to win the seat that do not have an incumbent Liberal Democrat MP at the time of selection should each be selected from a shortlist comprising only women members.  All the remaining 53 seats not currently held will be open contests.
  3. our candidates for the Scottish Parliament Election of 2021 for five of the ten most winnable seats (whether constituencies or top regional places) will be women.  A motion will be presented to the October 2016 Conference specifying which constituencies or regional lists would be affected by this change, taking into account the results of the May 2016 election.
  4. the Scottish Party Leader will have a responsibility to oversee the drive to select and secure more women and candidates from underrepresented groups are elected to Parliament.  The Leader will report twice a year to Conference on progress made.
  5. the Scottish Party Leader will appoint a group of party spokespeople from our councillors and candidates to speak for the party as well as parliamentarians .  At least half of that group will be women and it will include members who are from ethnic minorities and other underrepresented backgrounds.
  6. all members of the Scottish Executive will have a responsibility to support the drive to secure more women and candidates from underrepresented groups are elected to Parliament.  They will also encourage and support more women and candidates from underrepresented groups to be elected to Councils and Internal Committees in the Party.  The Executive will agree a plan to advance this objective and the effectiveness of the plan will be the subject of a debate at the Committee once a year.
  7. the job descriptions of party staff will be amended to include specific responsibilities for promoting diversity of candidate selection.  This will include monitoring, communications and campaigning.
  8. in parallel with their obligation to provide an annual PPRA return to Party Headquarters all local parties will be required to report annually on: the number of local party officeholders  who are women and from other underrepresented groups, the percentage of approved candidates locally who are women and from other underrepresented groups and the percentage of new members who attend local party meetings and join the local party committee.  This information will be reported by party staff to the Executive and by the Executive to Conference on an annual basis.
  9. a new model job description and specification for candidates will be agreed by the Party Executive Committee based on the model in England with input from the Campaigns and Candidates Committee, Women Liberal Democrats and other interested party organisations.  This will build on the Memorandum of Understanding agreed by the Scottish Executive in 2013.
  10. there will be a new Diversity Campaign Fund for use in supporting the winnable candidates from underrepresented groups for personal or campaign expenses. This fund will be used to reduce the practical barriers that stop people from underrepresented groups from standing for election, for example transport for people with mobility issues and BSL interpreters, as well as campaign expenditure.   It will be worth at least £10,000 per year in 2016 and index linked thereafter. The Fund will be managed by the Campaigns and Candidates Committee as delegated by the Executive Committee.
  11. a team of campaign mentors will be established by the Campaigns Department and Campaigns and Candidates Committee to support winnable candidates from underrepresented groups..
  12. between autumn 2016 late 2017 there will be a programme of information and training events to provide support and information for aspiring candidates.  Local parties, parliamentarians, councillors and members of party committees will be asked to encourage those members who have not previously sought approval to attend these events.  The numbers of members who attend these events and the local parties from which they arise will be reported to the Executive and annually to Conference. The team and training will be managed by the Campaign and Candidates Convener with the support of party campaign staff in Scotland.
  13. communications to members will include positive promotion to women and people from diverse backgrounds.  The work of candidates and spokespersons who are not yet elected parliamentarians will be promoted widely to members.
  14. in interpreting this motion any approved candidate who does not identify as male or as female shall be able to access the same arrangements as are proposed for women.


Full response from the Scottish Labour Party:

Scottish Labour is determined to build on our proven record of taking bold steps to increase women’s representation in Holyrood: From our commitment to gender balance in the 1999 election, to being the only major party in 2016 to have over 50% women candidates on both the list and constituency ballots, we have demonstrated our values through action.

Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard, has been leading on this since his election, when he committed to: unapologetic support for all women shortlists; all future elections to have 50% women candidates; a women’s representative on the party’s Scottish Executive Committee; and a root-and-branch review of sexism in the party with real and proactive reporting mechanisms to support women experiencing discrimination.

After selecting 16 women in our 20 most winnable Westminster seats for the next General Election using all women shortlists (AWS), we are already on track to have at least 50:50 candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. Selections are underway in the 34 most winnable Scottish Parliament seats for Labour and following a party-wide consultation with our members, 17 of these seats are AWS and the others are open to both women and men applicants. We have a commitment to ensuring women are not just candidates, but candidates in the seats where they stand the best chance of becoming MSPs. Our first confirmed candidate for 2021 is Jackie Baillie, MSP, one of the first women elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Today (01 August 2019) our first non-sitting candidate to be selected for the upcoming election in Glasgow Shettleston will be a woman. In open candidate selections, we require an equal number of men and women candidates, and ensure our affiliated organisations (trade unions and socialist societies) have the opportunity to provide supporting nominations for both men and women, as well as culturally diverse candidates, where they have self-nominated.

While our final procedures for selecting candidates for the Scottish Parliamentary regional lists have yet to be agreed, we will ensure at least 50:50 representation. We achieved this in 2016 by zipping the lists by gender, ensuring there were ultimately more women, than male candidates.

In addition to having AWS, we recognise the need to develop and encourage women to stand. Towards this aim, we have introduced a number of initiatives to encourage candidates from marginalised communities, specifically our culturally diverse, disabled and LGBT+ members, and equip them with the skills and confidence to stand for election. At our conference this year, we launched a Candidate Diversity Programme and one of the first groups we are working with to break down barriers to candidacy is Muslim women. Our candidates in 2021 should reflect the society they want to represent and this needs an intersectional approach. Over the last few years, we have run the Gordon Aikman Leadership Programme, and every year, at least 50% of participants have been women. From this programme alone, two women participants are already in elected office and five have applied for ongoing selections for 2021.

This year’s candidate diversity and development programmes have a particular focus on encouraging participants from culturally diverse, disabled, and LGBT+ communities, while we have worked with our trade unions to ensure continued working class representation. This partnership working with our unions, and organisations like LGBT Labour Scotland and BAME Labour Scotland, ensure our guiding principal on activating members in these communities, is that we do not wait for them to come to us, we go to them.

In 2018, we established an elected Scottish Labour Women’s Committee and policy-making Women’s Conference to help women organise and influence the direction of our party. We also have 2 positions on our governing Executive Committee, directly representing women members, to help us break down barriers that exist in our policies and procedures. The Women’s Committee and Executive representatives have rolled out an inclusion toolkit to all of our local parties to highlight the barriers women face even engaging at meeting level, and have trained over 50 Women’s Officers across the country in how to engage and develop women in the party.

These constitutional and procedural actions, as well as our determination to break down barriers for women, and change the candidate developmental processes of our Party to be more inclusive and reflective of our diversity, will help ensure that we are taking positive action on women’s political equality as we move towards the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election campaign.