Along with many in this chamber, I have been asked over the past few weeks—as a woman in elected politics—to talk and to write about the centenary celebrations of women receiving the vote and what it means to me. Every time, I, like others, have been keen to point out that the Representation of the People Act 1918 did not, as the shorthand would have it, grant women the vote, but granted some women—and almost all men—the vote. The newly enfranchised—women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, or graduates voting in university constituencies—were those who were considered to be responsible enough to vote, which amounted to about 8.5 million women.
My great-grandmother, Bessie Ritchie, would not have been among them. Despite hurdling the age barrier and raising five sons to adulthood and a daughter who died young, she did not qualify. Because she left school at 14 and lived in a Glasgow Corporation tenement in Tradeston, she had neither the means nor the education to be deemed worthy of political decision making.
Voting was not a universal right, but a value judgment given only to those who were thought up to the task. It took another 10 years before universal suffrage was achieved—equal voting rights between men and women that were offered to all who were over 21, irrespective of property. Therefore, this centenary is not necessarily a celebration in itself but a celebration of a staging post to a better system. However, staging posts are worth marking, too. Like the First Minister, I commend all those across the country who are supporting or attending the programme of events, the talks, the marches and the exhibitions that are bringing together the stories of our grandparents and great-grandparents for the next generation.
I say “great-grandparents” rather than great-grandmothers for a reason: men are part of this story, too. It was men who passed the law—and men who objected to its passing. An argument that was employed by those who stood against it was that women would simply want more. The right to vote would not quench women’s thirst for equality, they thundered. Rather, it would encourage women to do things like enter politics and become MPs or even—shock, horror!—cabinet ministers.
I wonder whether those unenlightened souls could have imagined a time in UK politics when, simultaneously, women would hold the offices of Prime Minister, First Minister of Scotland and First Minister of Northern Ireland, plus the leaderships of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Conservatives, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, along with the co-convenerships of the UK and Scottish Green parties. In every part of the United Kingdom, young girls growing up can look at politics, see that women can make it to the top and conclude that they, too, can do that.
We have come a long way in 100 years, right enough. However, when it comes to parity, equality and representation, we are still not there. As proud as I am to be a member of the first political party to admit women members, the party that saw the first female MP take her seat and the first and second female Prime Ministers, and, in a devolved context, the only party represented in this chamber that has had more female leaders than male ones—long may that continue; my party is on an unbroken run of more than 13 years of female leadership in Holyrood—I know that we have a lot more to do if we want to see parity.
That is why, along with other parties, we have established an organisation—ours is Women2Win—to help to identify, recruit, train, mentor, support and advance women into elected positions at all levels of Parliament and local government. It is why I, along with other members, support campaigns such as #AskHerToStand, which encourage more women to consider coming forward as candidates.
I am pleased that last year’s general election returned more women than ever before, but it is telling that if we add up all the women who have been elected to the House of Commons in the 100 years since the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, we are still 165 shy of filling the green benches. There are 650 members returned every election; only 485 women have been returned in the whole of history.
It is not just in politics that we see equality in law but disadvantage in practice. We need only look at the world of work to see that women are more likely to be paid less than men, more likely to be harassed in the workplace, less likely to be promoted, irrespective of qualifications and experience, and more likely to have their career progression hampered by having children.
According to the Fawcett Society, the gender pay gap in the UK is 14.1 per cent for women in full-time employment, and it has sat at that level for the past three years. I currently share my birthday, 10 November, with equal pay day. That is the day when women stop earning, relative to men, because of the gender pay gap.
Rectifying that is not just morally right. Equality between men and women in the workplace is proven to lead to better outcomes for companies. The idea of equality exists only if a woman is given the same opportunity to make progress, the same rewards for hard work and the same treatment in the job as the man who stands next to her. That is the next fight.
Closing the gender pay gap, gender-blind recruitment and promotion, confronting sexual harassment and cracking down on real-life and online misogynistic attacks are the next frontiers in a war that is not yet won. There is much more for us all to do, and anniversaries such as today’s focus our attention on that work and prompt us to action.
More than 1,000 women were imprisoned during the battle for equality prior to the passing of the 1918 act. Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, says today that it would be a fitting tribute to pardon them now. I agree. That would, of course, be a symbolic step, but symbols matter, and 100 years on from the battle to win equality, we should recall the women and men who fought, not as criminals but as righteous trailblazers.
I am indebted to Chris Deerin, columnist at
, who used a recent article to recall some of those forgotten names, which I can add to those that the First Minister mentioned. There were fearsome Scots women, such as Flora “the General” Drummond, who was born in 1878 and died in 1949. She qualified as a postmistress but was refused entry because she was too short, and she campaigned for equal rights on the back of a huge charger—hence the nickname. She was imprisoned nine times, and while she was in prison she taught fellow suffragettes Morse code so that they could communicate. She was a 5-feet 2-inches tall reminder that those of us who live in luckier times stand on the shoulders of giants.
Today we give thanks to those women of courage and bloody-mindedness and we recommit ourselves to finishing their work. There is much still to do.
I move amendment S5M-10285.2, to insert after second “100 years”:
“recognises that the country is still far from achieving equal representation at any level of politics; welcomes campaigns such as #AskHerToStand, which encourage women to consider a career in politics”.
Today we commemorate an important milestone on an important journey. We celebrate a crucial victory in the fight for equality and we remember that those things worth fighting for the most demand struggle and sacrifice—and what sacrifice there was. Many paid with their health and some even paid with their lives to secure women’s suffrage, yet we cannot say today in this Parliament or outside it that this long march to equality is over. The path that those campaigners first trod at the beginning of the last century still has many miles to run. While this afternoon we look back, we must also face the future. We must face the future with a renewed commitment and a renewed purpose to deliver real equality in our society and in our time.
The women’s suffrage movement had many members and martyrs. The Pankhurst sisters, Emily Davison and Millicent Fawcett are just some of the women whose tireless fight for equality has seen their names written into the history books, but many others remain hidden from history, such as Janie Allan, a member of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland, the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Tax Resistance League, who, addressing the courts in 1913, while refusing to pay taxation, said:
“Government rests upon the consent of the governed, and that consent I consider women are justified in refusing until they are enfranchised.
I object to pay this tax, my Lord, because I hold that taxation without representation is tyranny, and so long as women are denied any voice in the expenditure of the money derived from taxation, so long are they perfectly justified in refusing to pay taxes.”
The first leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, was also one of those who valiantly took up the cause of a woman’s right to vote. For the prophetic Hardie, equality was paramount to improving both society and the economy, yet he was one of just a handful of men in Parliament who stood four-square behind the women’s suffrage movement. Hardie believed emphatically, as his 1905 pamphlet on this topic attested, that it was
“Only by removing the disabilities and restraints imposed upon women; and permitting her to enter freely into competition with man in every sphere of human activity, that her true position and function in the economy of life will ultimately be settled.”
While Hardie’s detractors accused him of focusing on the wrong idea—of trying to prevent universal suffrage for all men—Hardie knew that if women were not given the franchise in their own right, any further extension of adult voting rights would continue to exclude women.
That message should be our continued calling today, because when just one woman is paid less than a man for the same day’s work, all society is short changed. When just one woman suffers abuse or discrimination, all society is degraded. When just one woman is denied the same rights as a man, all society is unequal.
The scale of the struggle before us is huge but, just as it did for those women and men a century and more ago, the magnitude of our task should serve not as an excuse for inaction but as a motivation for action—not as a reason to back away, but as a cause to move forward with renewed vitality. While we may have a female First Minister, only 45 of our 129 MSPs are women; while we may have a female Prime Minister, just 208 of our 650 MPs are women; and while the Equal Pay Act 1970 may be on the statute book—introduced by a Labour Government and driven by Barbara Castle—we know that pay inequality remains stubbornly widespread.
Let us today commemorate and celebrate, but let us also continue that work. Let us harness the spirit of the suffragists and the suffragettes to fight on for equality and to fight on for justice in our society. A century has passed since some women won the right to vote; we should not let another century go by before women and men are equal in all things.
I move amendment S5M-10285.1, to leave out from “, and welcomes” to end and insert:
“; commends the many organisations and individuals that continue to work to realise women’s equal representation in public office as parliamentarians, local councillors and across society, and accepts that there is more work to be done to achieve equal representation for women.”
It is a pleasure and a privilege to move today’s motion, as we mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918—the landmark law that gave not all but some women the right to vote for the first time. Today, above all, we pay tribute to the people whose sacrifices secured a fundamental right that we all now take for granted.
There is an old Scots proverb that was often used on suffragist and suffragette banners—indeed, its first part later provided the title for a history of the movement. The proverb says simply:
“A guid cause makes a strong arm”.
The guid cause that we honour today was given strength by the commitment of tens of thousands of women, and many men, from right across our country. By 1914, there were suffrage associations in every part of Scotland, from Orkney and Shetland to Kirkcudbright and North Berwick.
If we look for them, we can see reminders of the suffrage campaign all over Scotland. When I was a student at the University of Glasgow, I must on countless occasions have walked past the famous suffragette oak in Kelvingrove park. The First Minister’s residence, Bute house, overlooks Charlotte Square, which was the starting point for the Scottish suffragists’ march to London in 1912. I occasionally look out of the window across Charlotte Square and wish that I could spend a few moments with those women, to pay tribute to their courage and sacrifice and to thank them for enabling a woman like me to occupy the office that I occupy today. Charlotte Square is also where Elsie Inglis, one of the very greatest of Scottish suffragists, went to school.
This morning, with the suffragette flag flying outside, I chaired a meeting of our gender-balanced Scottish Cabinet in St Andrew’s House, which stands on the site of the old
Calton jail, where many suffragettes were imprisoned in the years before the first world war.
That poignant fact is a reminder that many of the women who campaigned for the right to vote made immense sacrifices that are beyond our imagination today. Some—especially those who adopted militant tactics in response to Government intransigence—were not just jailed, but were horribly mistreated and even force fed. Many more devoted their energies and countless hours of their time to the cause. All too often, they encountered public ridicule, disapproval, anger and contempt.
We in this generation know that, even today, it is not always easy for women to speak up in public life, but whatever the challenges that we face now, it was far more difficult then. The Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women’s Suffrage described what women often went through. It said:
“she defies convention and throws aside that much-prized virtue—respectability. She gives up friendships that she values; often she renounces all her past life.”
As I stand in the chamber as a female First Minister to be followed by a female leader of the Opposition, my overriding emotion today is deep gratitude. All of us—women in particular—owe an immeasurable debt to the suffragettes and suffragists whom we are honouring today.
For that reason, the centenary is being marked not just by this parliamentary debate, but by events and commemorations across the country. Yesterday, the Scottish Government confirmed that we will provide funding for local projects that will mark the anniversary. We will support the Glasgow Women’s Library, which is developing a programme of commemorative events, we are organising a cross-party event for young people in our Parliament, and we will fund projects to improve women’s representation and participation in public life.
Those final two strands to the programme are important. The commemorations should not simply be about marking our past; they should also look to our future. After all, although some women secured the parliamentary vote a century ago and women have had voting rights equal to those of men for 90 years, the uncomfortable truth is that gender equality is still an unwon cause, which it is the duty of our generation to win.
The gender pay gap still stands at 9 per cent in the United Kingdom and at almost 7 per cent in Scotland. Women are more than half of the population, but make up just 27 per cent of the members of the boards of the UK’s largest companies. We still need to address the gender stereotyping that means that just 6 per cent of our engineering modern apprentices are women and only 4 per cent of our childcare modern apprentices are men. It is worth thinking deeply about all that.
A key reason why women secured the vote, of course, was the contribution that they had made to the war effort, from the munitions factories of Clydeside to the field hospitals of the Balkans. They demonstrated quite irrefutably that women’s competence and capability are equal to those of men. However, 100 years later, that equal capability is still not reflected in equal pay or equal status. In addition, as we have been reminded all too recently, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexist behaviour are still far too widespread across our society.
Inequality also persists in political representation. When members of the Scottish Parliament were first elected in 1999, more women were chosen to represent Scottish constituencies than had been elected at Westminster in the previous 80 years. However, the hard reality is that there has been little progress since then—in fact, we have gone backwards. In 1999, the proportion of women MSPs in Parliament was 37 per cent; that proportion now stands at just 35 per cent. In my party, the figure is 43 per cent, which represents progress since 2011, but it also means that we, as all parties do, need to do more.
However, there are areas in which Parliament has genuine grounds for pride. Just last week, every single member supported the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which has been acclaimed as setting a new gold standard in protecting women from coercive and controlling behaviour. We also approved legislation last week to ensure 50 per cent female representation on public boards, and that the public sector will lead by example in appointing women to leadership positions. There will be a massive expansion of childcare during this parliamentary session, which will help parents—especially mothers—to return to work and pursue careers. Much of Scotland’s international development work in Africa and Pakistan prioritises empowerment of women.
We still need to do far more, but we can—and we should—draw strength from those significant recent accomplishments. When we look at some of the wider social developments of the past year, such as the public response to stories of harassment and unequal pay, and the development of the #metoo and time’s up movements, there is a chance to achieve even more significant and rapid change. After all, public scrutiny of discrimination has never been higher and public tolerance of it has never been lower. That gives us all not just an obligation, but a huge opportunity to make much greater progress towards true gender equality. It is an opportunity that we must all work together to seize.
When I was first elected as First Minister by Parliament in 2014, I commented on the fact that my niece—who was then just eight years old—was in the gallery. I said then that my fervent hope was that she would, by the time she is a young woman, have no need to know about issues such as the gender pay gap or underrepresentation, or about the barriers, such as high childcare costs, that make it so hard for so many women to work and to pursue careers. I hope that this Parliament will play a vital role in consigning those issues to history. I want young people in the future to be able to see those issues in the same way that we see voting rights for women—as causes that were argued for, and won, by earlier generations.
We are here today to honour the perseverance, courage and self-sacrifice of the suffragists and the suffragettes. Ultimately, the best way of doing that is not through parliamentary debates or commemorative events—important as thy are—but by renewing our resolve to use the powers that we have, which in so many ways we owe to the brave women of the suffrage movement, to make the world a better place for the girls and young women who are growing up today. If we can add our strength to that guid cause, we will pay a fitting tribute in this centenary year.
It falls on us and our generation through deeds, not words, to complete the work that the suffrage movement started, in order that we ensure that no longer is gender a barrier to any woman achieving her dreams. That, in my view, is the only truly appropriate way for us to repay our enormous debt to the heroic movement that we celebrate and honour today.
That the Parliament recognises that it is 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918, which finally gave some women the right to vote, and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which allowed women to stand for the UK Parliament; welcomes the activity taking place in Scotland and across the UK to celebrate and commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage; further welcomes the considerable progress that has been made in women’s political representation over the last 100 years; pays tribute to the suffragettes and suffragists who fought to ensure women’s right to vote, in some cases at considerable personal sacrifice, and welcomes the work of many organisations and individuals seeking equal representation for women.
The House of Commons passed the Representation of the People Bill in June 1917. It was the House of Lords that held the bill up until February the next year. The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 finally corrected the injustice of women not getting a mention in the original long title—they had not been mentioned before—so there was progress indeed.
From February 1918, it took Parliament another 10 months to enact the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which allowed women to be elected to the House of Commons as MPs. Technically, it took nine months—how apt—for some women, who could vote for an MP, to be able to stand as an MP.
Some 50 years later, when Dr Winifred Ewing was elected to the UK Parliament in the Hamilton by-election, she recounted many times the way in which she was treated in the House of Commons with misogynist disrespect. She was treated very well by a few good men, and I will come back to those allies later. Let us hope that, now that another 50 years have passed since that by-election, the treatment of women parliamentarians is better—I am sure that we can all live in hope.
The women’s suffrage movement grew from a sense of frustration, with militant women pledging to argue at every by-election at which the Liberal party stood, because the Liberal party kept refusing to give them the vote. With Prime Minister Asquith in Fife and Churchill in Dundee, Scottish suffragists had clear targets in their fight for the right to vote. While campaigning in Dundee in 1908, Irish suffragette Mary Maloney followed Churchill for a week, ringing a large bell every time that he started to speak. That would be an interesting tactic to deploy in this Parliament, but I fear that the Presiding Officer would not be too happy.
We look back now and wonder how it could ever have been the case that women had fewer rights than men, but we need only look at the serious inequalities of today to see that that difference still exists.
Many suffragettes were imprisoned, beaten and, more importantly, taken home to their husbands who were encouraged to discipline them physically. It was with great pride that last week we passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill in our Parliament. In Edinburgh, the suffragette Ethel Moorhead became the first in Scotland to be force fed. Let that sink in.
The Pankhursts, the Davisons, our grandmothers and my grandmother, my great-grandmother and our great-grandmothers were perhaps a regimen of monstrous women, but they were women who were brave, who had conviction, who stood up against the patriarchy and won—using some of that patriarchy along the way. Those women deserve their legacy to be honoured by a new generation of monstrous women: those who wear pink pussy hats, the women against state pension inequality, those who call out that “time’s up”, and those who stand and are counted every day in every way for that good cause.
Our sisters call out to us from 100 years ago and they say “deeds not words”, and I am sure that they would welcome the funding that was announced today by the First Minister. I say to our male allies here and across Scotland that men of quality do not fear equality, and I ask them, too, to stand with us in our fight.
I will finish with the words of Emmeline Pankhurst. She said:
“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”
Every woman in our Parliament should remember that. We are here to become those lawmakers and we are here to stay.
Today, we celebrate 100 years of women’s, or at least some women’s, right to vote. In the great scheme of things, that is a relatively short period of time and, in family terms for me, it represents just one generation, as my mother was born in 1911. That was almost seven years before the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote in general elections if they met certain conditions. Ten years later, the Representation of the People Act 1928 extended that right to women aged 21 and over. Therefore, my mother’s first opportunity to vote in a general election was in 1935, and the war meant that she had to wait 10 years to vote in another. Thereafter, she voted in every election, be it local, national or European, and she insisted on going to the poll in person to exercise women’s hard-fought and hard-earned democratic right.
Politics mattered to my mother. As a young girl, she was a junior imp—short for imperialist—and she was a lifelong supporter of the union and the Conservative Party. She was born in Coatbridge, where she lived all her life. Times were hard and, as part of a large family, there was no possibility of her enjoying the educational opportunities that we easily take for granted today, because money had to be earned to contribute to the household income.
T wo world wars saw her generation of women taking on roles that, previously, were exclusively male occupations. They worked in munitions factories or as engineers, mechanics or land girls or, like my mother, they were in the timber corps in Tighnabruaich in Argyll. All played their part in the war effort as our democratic freedoms hung in the balance.
After the war ended in 1945, men returned home and resumed their previous occupations. When women such as my mother married, many employers prohibited them from working. Housework was labour intensive as it was the time of gas power, which pre-dated electricity as a household commodity. Clothes and bedding were washed by hand on a board, fed through a ringer and hung out to dry. Coal fires were cleaned daily. The absence of fridges or freezers meant frequent trips to the local butcher, fishmonger, baker and grocer, and the nearest thing to online shopping was the grocer boy’s weekly bicycle delivery.
In the 60s and 70s, technological change introduced the labour-saving gadgets that we rely on today. Coupled with the widespread availability of the pill, they further increased women’s emancipation, which brought new freedoms but also new pressures. Although women’s earning power increased, the same gender prejudices remained. I discovered that for myself when applying for a loan for my first car and, despite being employed full time as a teacher and having my own current and savings bank accounts, being told that the loan would not be approved unless my husband was guarantor. It still rankles that he had to fix that.
In 2003, four years after the Scottish Parliament was established, my mother completed a journey from gaining the right to vote to watching proudly from the gallery as many women, including her daughter, were sworn in as MSPs.
Huge challenges lie ahead to achieve equal pay and to crack the glass ceiling. Although domestic abuse is being tackled, much more needs to be done. Here in Scotland, women are being trafficked and subjected to sexual exploitation and forced marriage. Globally, in war and conflict areas, rape is being used as a weapon of war against women.
However, on this significant anniversary, it is good to pause to acknowledge and pay tribute to another generation of women, whose tenacity and courage made it possible for us to exercise our democratic right to vote and to be here as legislators, addressing the challenges of the future.
Presiding Officer, 1918 marked a huge step forward for women’s equality, but it is important to bear it in mind that we are celebrating 100 years of the right to vote for some, not all, women. Only a select group of women were deemed worthy of the right to vote in 1918, including those over the age of 30 who were also either householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates voting in university constituencies. In other words, they were well-off and well-educated women, so the ancestors of many members would not have benefited from the extension of the franchise.
I do not know whether my great-grandmothers took an interest in politics. In 1918, Isabella Walker was gutting fish in Torry, Aberdeen and 19-year-old Sarah Thomas worked mixing creams in her uncle’s pharmacy in London. However, I know this: they did not yet have the right to vote. It was to be another decade until universal suffrage was achieved, so this centenary is less a celebration of an end goal than an important marker on the path towards equal voting rights for women.
We could say that we are in the same position today. Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. All women now have the vote and we have women as First Minister and as Prime Minister. Despite that, women remain stubbornly underrepresented in politics and in public life. In 2016, I was one of only 45 women MSPs elected to serve in the Parliament. Women make up only 35 per cent of MSPs. That is the exact same proportion as in 2011 and a smaller proportion than in 1999, when our Parliament was first created.
Just as there was more to do in 1918, there remains a power of work to be done today, before we have real equality. It is not enough for women in positions of power just to say, “Well, I’m here, so that’ll do.” Neither is it enough to say that women just need to have a little more confidence and be encouraged a little more. We need to break down the structural barriers that are in their way. Deeds not words.
That is why, as a councillor, along with my colleague Mairi Gougeon and Labour and Lib Dem councillors, I argued for and won a change to the constitution of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure gender balance in the leadership team. All of us who want our council and parliamentary chambers to reflect the country that we serve must vigorously support action to make it happen. Deeds not words.
That is also why I was proud to vote for the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill last week. As has often been said, including by our own First Minister, it is not enough simply to be a woman in politics; we have to use our power and influence to benefit other women. Although we still have work to do, the Scottish National Party’s action on all-women shortlists in constituencies with retiring MSPs had a clear and positive impact on the number of women MSPs. Scottish Labour’s action on quotas also ensured a strong representation on its benches. The overall figures in Holyrood have stagnated in large part due to the increased number of Conservative MSPs, of whom not even 20 per cent are women. The representatives of that party all voted against increasing women’s representation on public boards last week. Deeds not words.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the great Ayrshire suffragette, Flora Drummond. Flora grew up on Arran and became known as “the general”. She led the great procession and women’s demonstration in Edinburgh in 1909 on top of a horse and dressed in military uniform. She was known for her daring and headline-grabbing stunts, including slipping inside the open door of 10 Downing Street. She was pregnant when she was imprisoned for her campaigning and, as with many other brave suffragettes, the torture of force feeding took its toll on her health.
As we celebrate the step forward for women in 1918, we should never forget just how much brave women such as Flora sacrificed and suffered for our rights and we should resolve to do all that we can to continue to further women’s rights. Deeds not words.
The proudest day of granny’s life was when the vote was won.
The papers said it’s over; but gran had just begun.
Her women’s committee went on to organise,
And challenged the union, the council and their lies.
Granny was a suffragette—only five feet tall;
Granny was a suffragette—took on city hall,
Singing: votes for women is just the beginning,
You haven’t seen anything yet
Granny was a suffragette.
Now here I stand so proudly with my college degree,
And my daughters have more options than granny could foresee,
But if you think we’re satisfied, take a look around,
There’s lots of angry women who won’t let their granny down.
Granny was a suffragette—it’s as if she’s still alive;
Granny was a suffragette—their voices still survive,
Singing: votes for women is just the beginning,
You haven’t seen anything yet
Granny was a suffragette.
It is right that we come together to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage, although I struggle a little with the words that we use. Is it a celebration, when the right to vote is so fundamental?
Is it a commemoration? We commemorate the start and end of wars, and I suppose that this is a war of sorts. Commemorations remember sacrifice and service, and we are certainly doing that. They also serve as opportunities to learn the lessons of history and apply them to the present.
What did we learn from the suffragettes? In the simplest terms, we learned that the path to equality is full of obstacles and that those obstacles can be overcome. We have also learned that not only can we find a way over those obstacles, but we must remove them to ensure that the path of the people who follow is easier. The suffragettes removed the obstacles that would have prevented us from standing in this chamber, so it follows that, in this chamber, we must remove the obstacles that women outside it face, many of which have been named by colleagues across the chamber already.
Commemorations are also moments of reflection. What would Emily Davison, the Pankhursts and Mona Geddes have made of the past 100 years? I suspect that they would have been proud but far from satisfied. Would they believe that women are still underpaid for the work that they do? Could they believe that, 100 years on, two women would die every week at the hands of their violent partners, that 80,000 women a year would be raped, that 400,000 women would be sexually assaulted and countless more harassed? Would they rally against 21st century workhouses? Could they comprehend that they would still see low pay and insecure work and that, 100 years on, women could still work for a full week and struggle to put food on the table? Would they believe that we still have to argue every single day that the unequal distribution of wealth and power holds women back? Commemorate, yes. Celebrate, no. I am too angry and I am still marching.
Looking at Twitter this morning, I was struck by how many people were wearing ribbons of white, green and purple, the colours of the movement, and how many of those ribbons were tied to statues and monuments across London that are connected to the suffragettes. We cannot do that here because, as I have said before in this chamber, there are more statues for dogs in this capital city than there are for women. We still teach too little about women’s history and the fight for equality; if it is not taught, how will we ever learn?
I cannot and I will not wait 100 more years for gender equality. I will not wait 10. I want it now and I strive for it with every breath of my working life. Its absence is a natural injustice and a block to economic progress. That is as true of our country today as it is of every other country around the world.
We should look at the world beyond our shores. The first place in the world to give women the vote was New Zealand in 1893. It is no coincidence that that same country barely blinked when its 37-year-old Prime Minister announced that she will give birth while in office and that her husband will take extended leave.
At the other end of the scale, as recently as 2015, Saudi Arabia was debating the merits of universal suffrage. One planet, the same debate, 125 years apart.
Richard Leonard asked us to consider where we will be in 100 years’ time. I will ponder on what that generation will make of us and what we did in our time. In 100 years’ time, might there be statues for Malala, who history remembers as championing the rights of women to an education, first in Pakistan and then across the globe? Might they remember Gina Miller, who took the Government to court and won Parliament’s right to vote on article 50? Might history tell us that that was the day that the path of Brexit was altered? Might we see statues for women such as Fadumo Dayib, who fled the violence of Somalia in the 90s, only to return to stand for the presidency in her own country, doing so solely to champion the rights of women and the end of female genital mutilation? The stories of those women, and those of many others, will be known only if they are taught and told.
There is more to do here, at home. In the first six weeks of this centennial year, we have had the #MeToo campaign, the time’s up movement, the gender pay gap crisis at the BBC, millionaires flaunting their cash in front of scantily clad women at the President’s Club, and the debate over Formula 1 grid girls. God, even Doritos felt the need to produce a crisp that is more ladylike and less crunchy—just yesterday.
The evidence that women remain unequal can be seen everywhere we turn, so we must redouble our efforts to deliver that gender equality. Commemorate, yes. Celebrate, no. I am too angry and I am still marching.
On Friday, I was privileged to host, here in the chamber, young women from Leith academy who are working with the Amina Muslim Women Resource Centre and Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre on a fabulous project called my big beating voice. It aims to give ethnic minority women and Muslim women a safe space to explore issues to do with gender inequality.
It seeks to help them amplify their voices and express their views, and from my experience on Friday I can assure members that it is working.
Their visit could not have been more timely. We discussed the underrepresentation of women in our Parliaments and local authorities and we asked how political parties here in Scotland could help to attract more black and minority ethnic women to join us. We need to do that, because their absence in our politics means that we are all losing out. Then we played a game—an educational one, of course. The young women had photographs of BME women’s rights campaigners who were active in the fight for votes for women. My colleague Andy Wightman and I had to match the photographs with slips of paper containing text summarising the life stories of those truly remarkable women, one of whom—Ida B Wells—is widely known for her relentless work on behalf of the anti-lynching movement. She marched in the first suffrage march in Washington DC with the other 21 founders of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which was the only African American women’s organisation to participate.
Mary Church Terrell, a sorority member, marched too. Like Ida, she was the daughter of former slaves. Mary was determined, despite calls to the contrary, that African American women would be represented on the march, saying that they were
“the only group in this country that has two such ... obstacles to surmount ... both sex and race”.
“My sisters of the dominant race, stand up not only for the oppressed sex, but also for the oppressed race!”
They were asked to march at the back to avoid upsetting any white delegates from the southern United States. Ida said:
“Either I go with you or not at all. I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.”
She characteristically took matters into her own hands and joined the Illinois unit in the body of the march as it progressed, walking with white co-suffragists, Belle Squire and Virginia Brooks. Ida Wells famously said:
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”, and she was commemorated on a US postage stamp in 1990.
On the 15th of this month, the Royal Mail will issue a stamp featuring Sophia Duleep Singh. It is a photograph of her selling the suffragette newspaper—outside Hampton Court, I believe, where she lived. Thanks to my wonderful visitors on Friday, I know more of Sophia’s story. Born in England in 1876, she was the daughter of a maharaja and therefore a princess. Her godmother was Queen Victoria.
Sophia Duleep Singh could have chosen a life of luxury. Instead, she became actively involved in the movement for women’s suffrage, campaigning on the streets, selling and auctioning some of her fashionable belongings to raise money for the cause, and occasionally attracting police attention. She knew that because of her elegant clothing—her expensive coat and hat—no one would suspect her, so she hid a banner underneath her coat, threw herself at the Prime Minister’s car and revealed the banner, which said “Votes for Women”. She became a princess with a criminal record. King George V was so astonished by her behaviour that he exclaimed, “Have we no hold on her?”
She was active in the women’s tax resistance league. She withheld payment of taxes and, when defending herself in court, said:
“I am unable conscientiously to pay money to the state, as I am not allowed to exercise any control over its expenditure; neither am I allowed any voice in the choosing of members of Parliament, whose salaries I have to help to pay ... If I am not a fit person for the purpose of representation, why should I be a fit person for taxation?”
Women—even those under 30—now have the vote, but progress is not linear. The number of women in this chamber proves that. As the struggles of those women—and those my colleagues have so eloquently spoken of—highlight, progress in this area has not been easy to achieve. It has been hard won. Cuts have an impact on the ability of women affected to get involved in politics to the degree that they might wish to.
When I was born, women aged 21 and over had been allowed to vote for only 37 years. This is such recent history. I warmly welcome the First Minister’s announcement today. Women in Scotland were incredibly active in campaigning for the vote. Their actions were widespread, varied and brave. Read the account by Fanny Parker—alias Janet Arthur—of her brutal force feeding by a doctor when imprisoned. Women endured being assaulted, tripped and verbally abused, merely for marching for the right to be involved in the democratic process.
I was heartened to find that information about Fanny in the Scottish archive for schools. I would ask the Government what it might do to make the curriculum as inclusive as possible to ensure that the young women to whom I spoke have an opportunity to learn about role models from their own and different backgrounds.
I thank Engender, the Fawcett Society, Women 50:50, and each and every organisation still working for equal representation for women. It is 2018. Women have the vote but we are far from equally represented. The job is not yet done. Let us honour the memory and legacy of all those remarkable campaigners and let us work to close the gap.
Robert, Alexander, John, David, James, James, James, John, James, Robert, John, Robert, William, William, Robert, William, James, James, James, John, James, Robert, Robert, John, Henry, Alexander, James, Archibald, James, James, John, Barry, Menzies and Stephen. East Fife, which today is North East Fife, is the seat in which I grew up and it has only ever been represented by men, both in Holyrood and in Westminster.
It was the constituency of Herbert Henry Asquith, who was the first Earl of Oxford and Asquith and a Prime Minister. In 1913, Asquith bestowed on his constituents a visit to the town of Leven, which is in my constituency. I am extremely grateful to the Glasgow Women’s Library for providing me with the following information from the book, “A Guid Cause: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland” by Leah Leneman.
Leneman describes how a group of suffragettes attempted to rush a public meeting that Asquith was addressing. One individual threw pepper in the face of a policeman. She was later arrested and taken to Methil police station, whereupon she smashed all the windows, turned on the water, flooded the jail and then threw a bucket of water over another policeman. The day after, at her trial in Cupar sheriff court, the
“Miss Morrison’s enthusiasm for the cause is probably sincere. Her sense of the injustices under which women labour is possibly strong and deep. But the actions which spring from these quite legitimate foundations fail lamentably to impress.”
Talking of failing to impress, it beggars belief that not just one, but two men from my party thought it appropriate to comment on the 2016 Holyrood intake in the national press yesterday. One described us as
“a group of political lightweights”.
That is important in the context of today’s debate, because my party’s Holyrood 2016 intake included 17 new elected members, 13 of whom were women. I hope those men will think carefully in future before bandying about gendered stereotypes of what constitutes an effective politician.
I digress. Going back to Miss Morrison, it would later transpire that she was in fact Ethel Moorhead, a huge figure in the suffragette movement in Scotland, as we have already heard. In her home city of Dundee, she once threw an egg at Winston Churchill, and it was due to Churchill’s actions as Home Secretary that Moorhead became the first suffragette in Scotland to be force fed in Edinburgh’s Calton jail, as my colleague Christina McKelvie mentioned earlier.
The suffragettes are rightly lauded for winning voting rights for the majority of the population, but we are not there yet. Deeds, not words. We all have a responsibility to ensure that this Parliament is reflective of civic Scotland. After all, let us remember that Gail Ross is the only woman on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. She sits on that committee with 10 male MSPs and it looks awful for our Parliament and our country. It is time that every party in this place looked at the gender make-up of our parliamentary committees, particularly in the current climate.
I read the amendments from Labour and the Tories last night, and I cannot understand why Labour made no reference to its own deeds, which helped to ensure that this place became one of the most gender-balanced Parliaments in the world at the time. Conversely, my party held back at that time and our numbers of female MSPs dropped. We quickly realised that taking such action was not only the right thing to do, but the politically expedient thing to do in order to become a group that more accurately reflected our country.
The Tory amendment calls for us to welcome “campaigns such as #AskHerToStand”. In November 2013, the group that started that campaign submitted a petition calling on the UK Parliament and political leaders to do something to ensure a better gender balance in Westminster. I had never heard of the #AskHerToStand campaign before, although I had heard of Women 50:50—the cross-party campaign in Scotland, to which I am aware that no Conservative member has yet signed up. I had also heard of the Tories’ Women2Win campaign, which was, of course, started by Ruth Davidson’s boss, Theresa May, back in 2005.
In 2003, four of the 18 Tory MSPs—or 22 per cent—were women. By 2011, that had rocketed to 40 per cent, making the Tories the second best party in this place in terms of their representation of women. Where stands Scotland’s Opposition now? Women now make up 19 per cent of its MSPs, which is the worst level of women’s representation for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party since 1999. “Deeds, not words”, said Pankhurst.
As Ruth Maguire said, last week, the Conservative group voted against the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill. Last week, a male Tory MSP thought his own political point of order was more important than passing the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, and last year, the female leader of the Opposition whipped her MSPs not to take a single intervention during the rape clause debate.
The #AskHerToStand campaign sounds like a well-meaning initiative. From the website, it sounds like its premise is that filling in forms is the real impediment to change, but the impediment to greater numbers of women in Holyrood is clear: it is the Conservatives’ consistent refusal to enact measures to increase their number of female MSPs. Until they do, this Parliament will be held back.
Scotland’s women need every political party to take action to ensure that we get more women into politics. We can pass all the progressive legislation that we want to in this place, but it matters not one bit if we do not live by the standards that we set others.
Deeds, not words.
Listening to the excellent speech by Jenny Gilruth, it would be too easy to think that women being denied the vote is of a different age. However, even though the events that we are talking about were 100 years ago, the era when women did not have the vote is still of the current world. Everyone has been talking about their grannies this afternoon, and I am going to do so, too.
My granny, Jean Rennie, was one of the first women to earn the right to vote on an equal basis with men. Born and brought up in the miners rows called the Happylands in Lochgelly in Fife, she knew and talked of Jennie Lee. The life paths of my grandmother and Jennie Lee could hardly have been more different. Both were from mining stock, both were intelligent women and both faced the gender barriers of the time. However, Jennie Lee won a scholarship to university, thanks to the Andrew Carnegie Trust in Dunfermline, and escaped the circumstances of her birth. She became a radical Labour MP and, during a long parliamentary career, established the Open University, which created a ladder of opportunity for many women just like her.
What was remarkable was that Jennie Lee became a member of Parliament just one year after equal voting rights were introduced in 1928, and she did so at the tender age of just 25 years old. What an inspiration it must have been to women, to the people of Lochgelly and to those mining communities to see such a young woman breaking that glass ceiling and getting into Parliament just after equal rights for women were introduced. She was clearly an inspiration to my granny, who often talked about her.
My grandmother was pressed into service in a home in Cupar. She was intelligent and, if she were a young woman today, she would probably be studying at one of our best universities. She had a happy and fulfilling life and may well have chosen the same route if she had had her time again—but that is the point; she did not really have the choice. However, I have a choice—a choice to make change.
I am sure that it has not gone unnoticed that I am a white male leader of an all-male parliamentary group. I am impressed by the contribution that my colleagues make to this Parliament, but that does not stop me being determined to use my leadership to change the composition of this parliamentary group for the future.
I think that we would all do things differently if we had the power of time travel. The decisions that were made at that time were of an age, and we are now in an age in which we can make a difference. That is why I persuaded my party to change its selection rules for candidates, so that we can achieve that 50:50 representation.
The first test was last year, at the general election. We increased the number of our members of Parliament, and half of those elected were women. I say to Jenny Gilruth that, with two more votes in North East Fife, a majority of our group would have been women. It was a modest change, but I am determined for it to signal a long-term change.
There will be change for 2021, too. For the next Scottish parliamentary elections, Liberal Democrats will have a number of all-women shortlists. That is action, not just words. We have dedicated funds to help women win and have instituted improved training and support.
My ambition is that the Liberal Democrats will more accurately reflect the people whom we seek to represent and that we will remove the barrier to getting good women elected.
For a young woman even contemplating a life in Parliament and in politics, I cannot imagine that the thought of being the only woman in a room full of white men for five years is particularly attractive. That is why I want the change. Even if all those men are charming and welcoming, I want it guaranteed that that woman will not be the only woman in the room and that she can sit alongside other quality women who can make a quality contribution to the wellbeing of our society.
That is why we need to guarantee that change, and it is my ambition that we will deliver that change. When I think of the battles of my grandmother’s generation and the sacrifices that they made, I believe that there is a responsibility on all of us—men and women—to change the world for the better.
The motto of the suffragettes—“deeds not words”—was born of frustration. Peaceful attempts to extend the parliamentary franchise to include women began in the 1860s with John Stuart Mill, a Liberal member of Parliament—they were not all dinosaurs—who tried to change both the English and Scottish reform acts to include women getting the vote. That failed. Two million people signed petitions demanding the reform and that failed, too. So arrived the age of direct action—the age of the suffragette.
I will devote my speech to remembering the Scottish suffragettes who, unlike the Pankhursts, are not household names but surely changed the course of history through their courage. The Scottish artist Marion Wallace Dunlop was the first to go on hunger strike in Holloway prison and, as others have said, there were many women across Scotland who took direct action. The movement was strong here because of their organisation, as the First Minister said, and also because of the presence of high-profile members of the Cabinet in Scottish seats—Winston Churchill and Herbert Asquith, in particular.
Those women included Maude Edwards, who was jailed for damaging a portrait of King George V at the Royal Scottish Academy, and Frances—or Fanny—Parker, who has already been mentioned, of the Scottish University Women’s Suffrage Union, who attempted to set fire to Burns’s cottage to draw attention to the rights of women. Helen Crawford, from the Gorbals in Glasgow, was a red Clydesider who left the Women’s Social and Political Union in protest at its support for the first world war and focused her attention on the Glasgow rent strikes in 1915, which was another important civil disobedience movement that was led by women.
Ethel Moorhead, who has been mentioned for throwing an egg at Churchill in Dundee, was the first suffragette in Scotland to be force fed. As a result of her treatment in Calton jail, she contracted aspiration pneumonia, as the vaseline-coated tube that was forced down her throat entered her lungs. That was very serious at a time when there were no antibiotics. Other women lost teeth or sustained permanent damage to their vocal chords. Moorhead’s case was raised in Parliament, along with that of suffragette Frances Gordon, who was jailed in Perth. Perth jail became known as the King’s torture chamber because of the mistreatment of the women there.
The Irish nationalist MP Timothy Michael Healy asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, Thomas McKinnon Wood, about the way that those women were treated. Mr Healy asked whether it was
“by the doctor’s orders that Miss Gordon was held down by the assistant doctor and wardresses for an hour and a half after the forcible feeding”, whether a hand or a towel was
“held over her mouth to prevent vomiting” and whether the Secretary of State for Scotland would
“state why the doctor found it necessary to administer three enemas daily to Miss Gordon”.—[
, 27 July 1914; Vol 65, c 914.]
That graphic description of the barbaric practice of force feeding through the rectum, which left many women horribly injured, is not widely known, although it was reported in
. The popular portrayal of suffragettes as jolly posh ladies in hats chaining themselves to railings does a great disservice to the women from all walks of life who, like Miss Gordon, were abused in prisons such as Perth and Calton.
There were lighter moments as well as tragedy. I particularly like the account of Prime Minister Asquith and the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, being accosted at the golf in Dornoch by Lilias Mitchell from Leith and Elsie Howie, who was one of the first female graduates of St Andrews University. One newspaper report at the time said:
“The ministerial golfers were halfway through a pleasant game and were putting on the tenth green when the advocates of Votes for Women appeared, Miss Mitchell at once shouting out: ‘Mr Asquith, you are responsible for forcibly feeding and torturing our women!’”
The Home Secretary unsuccessfully attempted to push Miss Mitchell away and then began struggling with both women. A detective who ran to help the politicians appealed to the caddies for help but, according to the report:
“The caddies were evidently finding some enjoyment in this departure from the routine of their work and failed to make any response.”
I rather prefer to think that that was a gesture of solidarity from local working-class men who probably did not have the vote either.
I have used the debate to remember the women behind the demonstrations—some destructive, some mischievous, none causing any loss of life or physical injury. I suggest that it is time to consider pardoning such women, who broke the law so that we could make the law. We have praised them today in word, but the time has come for deeds: to use the power of lawmaking that they gave us to clear their names.
“go home and sit still”, because commanding officers did not want to be
“troubled by hysterical women”.
In just four years, women went from being told to go home and sit still to being enrolled in the armed services, marking the beginning of the end of gender inequality.
We have all seen the films and heard the stories. We know the history of the women’s suffrage movement and the events that led up to the Representation of the People Act 1918. The sacrifices that those women were willing to make afforded us freedoms that many of us now take for granted. They gained us rights that enabled us to stand here today and that directly determined our futures as women. They made sure that we would no longer be governed by laws that we had no say in making, and they were willing to challenge the status quo when many dared not. That courage to question and to pursue what one believes in is a legacy of the suffrage movement that cannot be overrated. It is a legacy that led us all to this chamber, where we stand free to question and to pursue our beliefs.
The centenary marks a change in attitudes. Politics would no longer be just for the elite and the privileged. The move towards equality across class as well as gender was an indication of a radical shift in societal perceptions following the first world war. I believe that the significance of the debate extends beyond women’s right to vote and is an opportunity to celebrate our progress over the past century towards universal equality.
We have continued to see that equality evolve over generations. For example, the number of women who are in work has risen by 67 per cent since the 1970s. However, as we have heard, more can still be done. The fact that just 6 per cent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics apprenticeship starts in Scotland are women suggests that we all still need to find ways to encourage more girls to see that as a career path.
Promoting the rights of women does not mean reducing the rights of men. The focus must be on creating real parity. Issues such as equal pay remain a fundamental stumbling block to equality, and although the continued empowerment of young girls has greatly increased the prospects for women in work, the creation of more flexible working conditions would go a long way towards increasing the equality of opportunity in this country.
That being said, the majority of young girls today do not suffer the inequality of opportunity that those in previous generations did. Girls are no longer told that their vision should be limited. Today, our daughters are encouraged to achieve just as much as the boys they grow up with. When H H Asquith replaced Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908, the suffrage movement claimed that it had
“lost a weak friend and gained a determined enemy”.
Today, I believe that we must see ourselves as surrounded by determined friends and with very few enemies who would stand in the way of equality in this country.
The most important aim for the anniversary should be to re-engage people in politics. Between 1906 and 1914, more than 1,300 women were imprisoned for their work in the suffrage movement. Some were force fed up to 200 times. However, between 1992 and 2010, the number of women who voted fell by 18 per cent, and in the 2017 general election just 62 per cent of women who were eligible chose to cast their vote on polling day.
We must do more to reach out to those women and understand what will re-engage them in our society and why they feel that their voice does not matter. This year, we have the opportunity to inspire women’s participation in politics and to make people remember the significance of their right to vote and the value of universal suffrage in Britain. If we cannot convince more women of the importance of voting, this anniversary will have lost its meaning. We can honour the suffrage movement only by using the right to vote that those women’s bravery gave us.
First Minister thanked those who sacrificed their freedom, their comfort and their names for our votes, which were first granted to certain women in 1918. However, the four years before 1918 were marked by other sacrifices too: men and women dying in the bloody conflict of the first world war—a war that they were led into by leaders for whom they had not voted and in which they fought for a cause over which they had no vote, no say and no influence. They gave their lives without representation and they returned home to rebuild society without influence. That is what sticks in my throat—that anybody should bear the brunt of decisions over which they are powerless when it is their lives, their families and their homes that bear the impact. Today, decisions are still made by elected members of whom only 34 per cent are female that shape the lives of all women, who represent 50 per cent of the population.
As other members have reminded us, in 1918, only women over a certain age could vote. Women of 27—my age—would have had to wait another 10 years, until 1928, to be able to vote. After 1918, only two in five women—8.5 million women—could vote. The other women could not vote—not for lack of resolve, ability or desire, and not for lack of hard work, determination and integrity, but simply because they were women. They worked, lived and loved, but without any say over the decisions that were made and the laws that were passed that would change their lives.
I come from a long line of strong and able women. We have all been mentioning our grannies, and I will continue the theme by mentioning my two grandmothers, who came from utterly impoverished backgrounds, one of whom put herself through university while her father was an unemployed ship’s carpenter in Clydebank and walked every day over 5 miles to university and 5 miles back home to save the bus fare. That is determination. She continued to work as a primary school teacher near Inverness even when five sons came along and the chores of keeping home and helping with the farm remained the same. I have no idea when she slept. She did not change the world, see her name in lights or write sell-out memoirs. She was a very ordinary lady—competent, wise and compassionate—but she had a say: she had a vote. However, without the Representation of the People Act 1918, she could never have used those qualities to shape society, elect wise leaders and have a say over her own future, her family’s future and her work and home.
That is the past, but the past leaves a legacy of determination. It is the same determination as that of the 27 women who, as Christina McKelvie mentioned, followed Churchill during the 1908 campaign and forced him to hide in a shed during one meeting—campaign meetings in sheds are not all that novel. Nevertheless, it took decades for women to get the vote, 86 years after the first petition for women’s votes was presented to Parliament by Henry Hunt, in 1832, although changes to the law in favour of women getting the vote were presented in Parliament almost every year from 1870 onwards. It is that determination that I hear in the chamber today and that keeps fighting against injustice, supports other women to stand for Parliament and opens up opportunities—not just in Scotland and in other prosperous parts of the world. Last year, I met a female MP from another country who regularly faces down machetes outside her surgeries. Her immense bravery and determination get her back on the road every single morning to represent the women who would otherwise be unrepresented in that Parliament.
At every crossroads on my own political journey, what kept me marching forward was the support of other women and men, and it is still the sheer talent of all my female colleagues across these benches, the determination of my parents, who never let me take the easy road and waste my time or ability, and the memory of the women who were willing to break laws and suffer the horrors of prison, hunger strikes and forcible feeding so that I might stand here with my female colleagues and make the law.
If we speak to young girls in primary school and tell them that, just 100 years ago, they and their mothers, grandmothers, aunties and female friends and family would not have been allowed to vote, they are rightly astonished. That is a real testament to the work of the pioneers of the campaign for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century and the continued campaigning of countless women between then and now. It is because of their efforts that so many women are represented in this Parliament—women of all parties and political persuasions.
However, we have some way to go to reach genuine equal representation.
The suffragettes fought—quite literally at times—against the ugly face of bigotry and against accusations of hysteria and insanity. They endured violent oppression, imprisonment and degrading treatment by the authorities, and some gave their lives. Their unwillingness to give up against the might of the state and their radical direct action and sacrifices paved the way for progress; they gave confidence and showed leadership to those who followed in their footsteps.
However, as members have mentioned, the
Representation of the People Act
1918 was only the first step. Its scope was limited to women who were property owning or graduates over the age of 30. The establishment worked against extending the franchise to working-class women and minorities. The divide-and-rule tactics of the ruling class was as strong then as it is now. Gender equality is a class issue: women are disproportionately on low pay and in insecure work and suffer exploitation in the workplace.
We have been sharing our granny stories, and I will share mine. Her job title was “domestic servant”, and that is how women like her were viewed—as servants.
The campaign for women’s rights and the labour movement have gone hand in hand over history. Great socialist women have shaped the work of the labour movement, changing history and changing the lives of many who came after them. The Labour Party has always been the party that drove new and radical change that would benefit women, and all of us, across society. Some of the great figures who achieved that were Margaret Bondfield, the first Labour woman Cabinet minister; Ellen Wilkinson, the Minister of Education in the 1945 Government; Jennie Lee—mentioned by Willie Rennie—who fought for equal access to education and created the Open University; Barbara Castle, who brought in the Equal Pay Act 1970; Maria Fyfe, in Scotland, who was the only woman out of 50 Labour MPs who were elected in the 1990s; and Diane Abbott, who was the first black woman MP. The experience of those women showed why we had to move to positive discrimination.
We should not forget those outwith Parliament, particularly in the trade union movement, from the match girls in the late 1800s to the Grunwick strikers, the women at Ford Dagenham, Lee Jeans and Plessey, the women against pit closures movement, and trade union leaders such as Brenda Dean, Mary Turner, Frances O’Grady and, in Scotland, Lynn Henderson and Denise Christie.
The Labour movement’s history is one of women who have worked together in the interests of equality, justice and solidarity.
After nearly 90 years of so-called universal suffrage, we would like to think that all problems of disenfranchisement would be solved by now, but, sadly, that is not the case.
Women and men who are aged 16 or 17 are still denied the right to vote in UK elections. We should harness the energy in the new wave of youth political engagement that we have seen in recent years by giving the youngest and brightest in our society the right to vote. It does not make sense that young women and men who contribute to society in many ways and are able to pay taxes are still denied the chance to have a meaningful say. Taxation without representation still exists for some.
Furthermore, many disabled women and men are still unable to vote because of inaccessible polling places or a lack of accessible information. People are still being disenfranchised.
It is now more important than ever that we extend the franchise as much as we possibly can, remove barriers to voting, continue what the suffragettes started, and ensure that the right to vote extends to everyone so that democracy and debate truly reflect our diverse society and can thrive and flourish in the future.
I pay tribute to and thank the many women who have given everything—including, in some instances, their lives—for women’s rights. I wear my “Votes for Women” brooch with pride, and I thank the person who gave it to me many years ago.
Janie Allan was born into a wealthy Glasgow family, which owned the Allan Line shipping company. She was an early member of the Independent Labour Party and edited a column that covered women’s suffrage issues for the socialist newspaper “Forward”.
In May 1902, Allan was instrumental in refounding the Glasgow branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage as the Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women’s Suffrage and was a member of its executive committee. She was a significant financial supporter of the association and, as one of its vice-presidents, took up a position on a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies committee in 1903 in order to represent the association following its affiliation.
In March 1912, with more than 100 others, Allan participated in a window-smashing protest in central London. We have heard about direct action: those women certainly took direct action as well as doing among many other things. As in an example given by Joan McAlpine, no one was injured. Allan took part in that protest along with many of her associates, and was arrested, tried and sentenced to four months in Holloway prison. Her imprisonment was widely publicised, and around 10,500 people from Glasgow signed a petition to protest for her freedom.
Margaret McPhun, a fellow suffragette who was imprisoned in Holloway prison for two months in 1912 after breaking a Government office window, composed a poem entitled “To A Fellow Prisoner (Miss Janie Allan)”. That poem was included in the “Holloway Jingles” anthology, which was published by the Glasgow branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union later that year.
When she was in Holloway prison, Janie Allan was force fed—Christina McKelvie mentioned force feeding—for a full week. We all know about forcible feeding; it was a terrible ordeal. Emmeline Pankhurst described it as a “horrible outrage”. It has been likened by the women’s history scholar June Purvis to a form of rape. In a letter to a friend, Allan said:
“I did not resist at all ... yet the effect on my health was most disastrous. I am a very strong woman and absolutely sound in heart and lungs, but it was not till 5 months after, that I was able to take any exercise or begin to feel in my usual health again—the nerves of my heart were affected and I was fit for nothing ... There can be no doubt that it simply ruins the health.”
Allan was back in court in 1913. I think that Richard Leonard mentioned the Women’s Tax Resistance League, which she supported. She died aged 100 in April 1968. She therefore lived well into her later years to see exactly what happened.
The other lady I want to mention is Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. I should probably declare an interest: she was the great-great-grandmother of my granddaughter in Edinburgh—I think that I got that right.
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who was born on 24 May 1877, was one of Ireland’s most ardent promoters of women’s rights. She was an influential figure during the suffragette movement, tirelessly campaigning for the equal status of men and women in Ireland. She founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 with her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, and Margaret Cousins. The league was a militant suffrage organisation that played a very important role in the pursuit of human rights.
In 1911, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington became one of the founding members of the Irish Women Workers Union, an autonomous branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. She threw rocks at the windows of Dublin castle in reaction to the third Home Rule Bill, which led to her losing her teaching job. She was one of many who risked arrest to fight against the curbs placed on women’s freedom.
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was a pioneering force for the cause of women’s rights in Ireland. I will leave members with this quote from her:
“Until the women of Ireland are free, the men will not achieve emancipation.”
That sentiment applies to any country in the world.
I t has been 100 years since women got the vote. It was won through hard work and sacrifice by the suffragists, who were led by Millicent Fawcett, and the suffragettes, who were led by Emmeline Pankhurst. This day should rightly be celebrated: it is a huge landmark in our history that resulted in women being elected into politics and becoming Prime Ministers.
Our party has much to be proud of. The Conservative Government gave some women the vote in 1918 and gave all women the vote in 1928. In 1979, the first-ever female Prime Minister was Conservative and, in 2016, Theresa May was elected as the second female Conservative Prime Minister. Those statistics are all well and good, and this day must be a time to reflect on what has been achieved, but we have a long way to go.
All parties are working towards getting more women into politics—to get closer to equal representation in our Parliaments—because the more women there are in politics, the more women’s concerns and issues can be voiced and fought for.
To mark the centenary of voting rights for women, the UK Government has allocated £5 million to fund projects to raise awareness of the milestone and to inspire people to play their part in the political system across the UK.
I have been listening very carefully to what has so far been an excellent debate. Does Rachael Hamilton agree that, for all the barriers that all women face, black and minority ethnic women face some of the highest hurdles and most difficult barriers? Does she agree that it is a shame on us all across the chamber that, after 19 years of devolution, not a single ethnic minority woman has been elected to this Parliament? Given that, we must all redouble our efforts; we must have them at the forefront of our minds.
I was privileged to be elected first in 2016, and then re-elected in 2017 on an all-women shortlist. That was not by design: it just so happened that, in 2017, the best candidates for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire by-election were all women. It was only the third time in the history of the Scottish Parliament that that had happened—it happened in Edinburgh Central in 2007 and in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse in 2016.
I am honoured to be the first woman to be elected for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire. The man whom I replaced, John Lamont, was a driving force who supported me during my election campaign. The point is that if women are to succeed in politics they cannot do so alone.
I am also proud to be part of Women2Win, which was set up by Prime Minister Theresa May and Baroness Jenkins. Women2Win works to help female candidates to knock down barriers and obstacles, and aims to encourage more women into politics. The first part of doing that is standing for election: I refer members to #AskHerToStand.
Many women are reluctant to stand because of the vile abuse that candidates receive online. The sole aim of that abuse against female candidates is to intimidate them. It is simply unacceptable and is a practice that all parties must work to stamp out. Any form of abuse, threats or intimidation against women by men or, indeed, by women should end. We must call it out and bring an end to trolling.
We must not ignore the impact of such public abuse on candidates and on the young people who witness it. If the behaviour goes unchallenged, the message is that it is acceptable not only that someone should be treated in such an abhorrent way, but that one should treat other people that way. The abuse has the potential to turn young girls and boys off politics or, worse, to lead them to regard abuse as being an acceptable part of political discourse.
If we are to bring an end to such behaviour, we must do more at grass-roots level. Young people need to grow up in a world in which women have an equal role in politics. Just yesterday, I visited Selkirk high school to speak with the national 5 modern studies group, which was particularly interested in discussing democracy and freedom of speech. Last week, I welcomed an engaging group from the primary 5 class of Eyemouth primary school, and members might remember that pupils from Kelso high school took prime seats at First Minister’s question time two Thursdays ago. It is really important for politicians to work at grass-roots level to encourage young people to engage in politics and healthy debate, in order to enable them to shape an inclusive future and to change perceptions, unconscious bias and prejudice.
I thank and pay tribute to Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst, and I acknowledge the work that has been done by all women in public life and the people who helped to get them there. A lot has happened in the past 100 years, but there is still a lot to do. In marking the centenary, we must commit to changing women’s lives for the better for the next 100 years.
I nor any of my fellow women MSPs would be here in the chamber if not for the bravery, dedication and determination of the diverse sisterhood across these islands who took part in the suffrage movement.
As we celebrate the Representation of the People Act 1918, it is important that we remember that, as many members have said, not all women got the vote. Just like Ruth Maguire’s great-gran, who was at the fish in Torry, Isabella and Agnes McKenzie, my great-gran and my great-aunt, who worked in the Broadford mill in Aberdeen, did not get the vote in 1918. Electoral equality was not achieved through the 1918 act, and progress did not begin with it.
By 1918, women had spent many decades campaigning. Isabella Fyvie Mayo was one of the most prominent activists and suffragettes in Aberdeen at the time of the 1918 act, but 66 years before her birth, the Aberdeen Female Radical Association, which was led by another Isabella—Isabella Wilson Legge—began campaigning for the vote for women. We should always pay tribute to the many women who campaigned but never lived to experience putting their vote in a ballot box
Isabella Fyvie Mayo was an anti-imperialist, a pacifist and an anti-racism campaigner. She was truly ahead of her time, but had to publish her novels and poems under the name Edward Garrett in order to be taken seriously. Records of her activities are kept in the archives of the University of Aberdeen. I enjoyed reading that while she was presiding over a meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union during an Aberdeen by-election campaign in 1907, she admonished a group of boisterous men in the audience to “behave like gentlemen”. Perhaps our Deputy Presiding Officer can relate to that; I know that I can.
Mrs Fyvie Mayo was also the first woman to be elected to a public board—she was elected to the Aberdeen school board in 1894. At that time, school board elections were the only means by which women could involve themselves in the public sphere. I reckon that Mrs Fyvie Mayo would be delighted with our Parliament’s decision last week to legislate for gender parity on all public boards—although, on reflection, I think that she might be astonished that society has not moved on enough in 120 years and that there is still a pressing need to legislate on gender parity. Who knows?
I want to speak about another north-east suffragette and women’s rights pioneer, Caroline Phillips. She risked her job to campaign with the Women’s Social and Political Union. There were not many female journalists from Kintore at the start of the previous century, but Caroline worked for the
Aberdeen Daily Journal
. When she was not smashing the glass ceiling in journalism, she was chaining herself to railings, smashing windows and organising trips to suffragette rallies. Her activism riled her bosses at the very conservative
. It was a paper whose editor had written:
“when Suffragettes, or women generally, try to compete with men on their own ground they are not only unequal, but, as a rule, they become mere imitations of third-rate men.”
It was no surprise, therefore, when Caroline received a letter from management at the paper threatening that her suffragette activity was putting her job at risk. However, Caroline just got smarter about her campaigning activity. She continued to use the newspaper offices and stationery for her campaigning, and she carried out covert acts of protest, including traipsing round Balmoral golf course, anonymously and under the cover of darkness, replacing the flag in each hole with the colours of the WSPU.
Another significant figure in women’s representation is Mrs Trail, who was the first female bailie in Fraserburgh, in my colleague Stewart Stevenson’s constituency. She was elected in 1920 and held the role until she died.
It has been an absolute joy to hear stories of all the Scottish women who have campaigned for our right to vote, and I am pleased to have added just a few names of north-east women to the
We can use our voices to honour those women today, but I reckon that if we could hear their voices, they would be asking us why women make up 35 per cent of MSPs and not at least 50 per cent.
The original suffragettes and suffragists campaigned for the vote because they wanted change. To them, voting was about more than just the privilege of going to the polling booth; it was about seeing a tangible difference in the lives of women. They wanted equality and fairness, not just on the face of it but in how wives, mothers and female workers were treated by the law.
The suffragettes and suffragists felt not just that they were equally qualified and capable, but that they had something else to add that was valuable. They had experiences and opinions that were missing from Parliament and the democratic process, and which could inform better laws, which could in turn make society function much better.
This is the centenary of votes for women but, as Neil Findlay pointed out, initially women were able to vote only if they were over 30 and owned property or had a degree. Therefore, only 40 per cent of women became entitled to vote 100 years ago today: the rest needed to wait 10 years to get the vote. Ruth Davidson said that we are celebrating
“a staging post to a better system”, but how many more staging posts will we have to celebrate before we are truly equal?
A number of members talked about what the suffragettes and suffragists suffered. The most stark account was probably from Joan McAlpine, who described their being force fed, jailed, cast out and assaulted. It is grim, but people were treated that way just because they tried to get the right to vote.
Kezia Dugdale pointed out that women are still suffering today due to inequality, poverty and violence. When I read the papers, I sometimes wonder whether we are going backward rather than forward. We lack equality in Parliament and on boards and, with a 14.1 per cent gender pay gap, we lack equality in pay. There is also gendered pay, in which jobs that are done predominantly by women are paid much less, even though they need the same levels of skills and qualifications as much better-paid jobs that are done predominantly by men. We need to value the work that women do.
Christina McKelvie talked about the need for men in our cause: we need male feminists who support equality. Richard Leonard spoke about Keir Hardie’s commitment to votes for women. Hardie was told that that was the wrong thing to pursue, but he recognised that to build a fair society it was essential to give votes and equality to women.
I am proud of my party’s decision to take positive action to encourage women into politics, but we cannot take any of our achievements for granted because, as we all know, we can slip back quickly. However, I encourage other parties to join us, and to stand up and make a firm commitment to women’s equal representation in public life—not only to ask her to stand, but to make it possible for her to stand.
The Scottish Labour Party has the highest proportion of women here, at 46 per cent. In the first parliamentary session in 1999, the Scottish Labour Party had 50:50 representation, and we were absolutely derided for it. How times change. I wonder whether, had it not been for those women, we would have made the progress that we have made in Scotland on equal pay, domestic violence and the like. If those women had not been fighting the cause, would those changes be happening now?
A number of members talked about women in history who have fought for the vote. Many members quoted people from their own areas, but just as many talked about women who are making a difference now; those who are still fighting the fight—trade unionists and women in other countries who face death in order to express their vote. When I am on the doorstep, I often say that people, especially women, must use their vote, because people are still dying today in order that people can do so.
There is something very humbling in recognising that I would not, were it not for the struggle of those women 100 years ago, be standing here addressing Parliament today. I wonder what those women would say if they could see us. Would they be proud of their achievement, or would they be disappointed that we are still fighting for equality? Let us together create a truly equal society of which they would be proud. Let us not wait another 100 years; let us do it today.
When Emily Davison was fatally injured at the Epsom derby on 4 June 1913, it was one of the most contentious moments in the history of political protest. Even to this day, the details are not clear and exactly what happened is still a matter of dispute. What is clear is that there was no dispute whatsoever about the reaction. There was a complete divide between those who saw Emily Davison as a brave martyr and those who saw her as an irresponsible anarchist. One spectator was heard to say on the day that women should never have the right to vote because, “They know not what they do.” He said that the country was too dignified to be held to ransom by an uncultured and uneducated mob of women who did not know their place in society. How wrong he was—not just because Emily Davison was in fact a highly educated woman, but because he had no understanding of what the rest of the country was up against. Women dared to believe in themselves and would marshal their cause with courage and determination that knew no bounds.
That incident was, of course, 10 years on from the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Two years later, in 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted Winston Churchill—perhaps in the manner that Christina McKelvie suggested—to ask him and Sir Edward Grey whether they believed that women had the right to have the vote. When neither replied, the women unfurled their banner and were thrown out of the room. They refused to pay the fine and ended up in prison.
As many members have said, very movingly, women refused to bow to that intimidation. Instead, they chose to burn down churches that were against their cause, they vandalised Oxford Street, they chained themselves to the railings at Buckingham palace, they sailed up the Thames to hurl abuse at Westminster, they refused to pay their tax and they attacked MPs as they made their way to work. They attacked anything that was a physical reminder of the structures of power from which they were excluded—they did whatever it took to shake the prejudice out of the establishment.
That prejudice has been described in the debate by many members: that a woman’s place was only in the home; that going out into the rough world of politics would change a woman’s caring nature; that most women did not want the vote and would not use it if they got it; that women did not fight in wars; that the vast majority of women were too ignorant of political issues; and that if women were given the vote, it would not be the intelligent ones who would stand for Parliament. Those are attitudes that we find reprehensible today, but they were sincerely believed at the time. Those attitudes, of course, were to change.
The biographies of Churchill by Roy Jenkins and Martin Gilbert make it clear that Churchill felt provoked by the early suffragette manifestations, particularly in terms of the violence that they were perpetrating. He worried greatly about the addition of 8 million women to the electorate, but he changed his mind because of the huge respect that he had for the women’s war effort between 1914 and 1918, which the First Minister spoke about. That changed Churchill’s view and those of the people in this country.
It is perhaps difficult for us to imagine Britain without universal suffrage, but it was a very different world at the time. A world war was taking place, some Governments were suspicious of democracy and others were watching the rise of Bolshevism from afar. There were many conflicting views and much uncertainty in the world, and it was against that backdrop that the suffragettes managed to persuade the country that their cause was rational and just. There began the long road to universal suffrage.
What message does the legacy of the suffragette movement have for us today? There are three messages that have been most prominent in today’s debate. There has been nothing inevitable about women getting the vote. It did not happen in Switzerland until 1971, and it was 2015 when women were first allowed to vote in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. The message from that must be that there is nothing inevitable about our ability to resolve on-going issues unless we show the same courage, determination and reason as the suffragettes. On that point, I agree whole-heartedly with Humza Yousaf, as would my colleague Nosheena Mobarik, in his plea about BME, as there is a lot of work still to do in that area.
This morning, Helen Pankhurst said in her BBC interview that the biggest concern is how many women still feel abused, including by the pernicious effects of social media, and how many still feel vulnerable and unable to have their voice heard, and that the necessary changes do not come about just because of legislation. Last week in this Parliament, we took a further step forward by passing the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, but there is still much to do to change attitudes.
We salute the suffragettes, but we recognise that their legacy is not complete. Rightly, there has been much talk in recent weeks about the power of words but, if we are to honour the suffragettes, the power of deeds matters even more.
Members from parties across the chamber have made fitting tributes to some of the many tenacious women of the suffrage movement, without whom we would not have the rights that we enjoy today. There has been much reflection in the debate on women’s place in history. I somewhat enjoy the ironies of history, such as that the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, Countess Constance Markievicz, was an Irish nationalist and that, as has been mentioned before, the first woman to represent a Scottish seat, the Duchess of Atholl, was a Conservative who was not in favour of women’s suffrage but who stood for Parliament because she believed that it was the best way to get Tory men used to women being in politics.
Christina McKelvie and Joan McAlpine spoke powerfully about the treatment of women in prison, which included force feeding and physical and mental abuse, and how that compounded the sense of powerlessness that Kate Forbes eloquently spoke about.
The First Minister and Michelle Ballantyne spoke of Elsie Inglis, who attended a girls’ school in Charlotte Square. The girls were not allowed to play in the gardens in Charlotte Square, but young Elsie was told that, if she persuaded all the householders in the square to agree, the girls could play in the gardens. She was obviously given that challenge under the presumption that not everybody would agree, but she got everybody to agree and the girls were allowed to play in the Charlotte Square gardens. That is a reminder to us all that, through education, we need to bring up our children—our girls in particular, but also our boys—to challenge the status quo. That is part of the work that the First Minister’s advisory council on women and girls will do. The children who have the audacity to challenge that status quo will change the world that they inherit.
I am glad that Gillian Martin mentioned women in local government. We have spoken a lot about women parliamentarians, but I pay tribute to Lavinia Malcolm, who was the first woman town councillor in 1907. In 1913, she became the provost of Dollar because all the men councillors fell out over something to do with the purchase of the village hall. She held that post until 1919. I hope that George Adam is listening, because I also pay tribute to Jane Arthur, who in 1873 was the first woman elected to public office in Scotland when she was elected to Paisley school board.
All those women and many more had a vision of a different society: one where women were valued and had the same opportunities and equality as men. They had the spirit to keep fighting for what they believed in—sometimes at great personal sacrifice—when the rest of society, including some women, was against them.
The past always speaks to the present. I urge members, if they have not had the opportunity to do so, to look at the anti-suffrage postcards that were made by companies in the early 20th century. They send a clear message to women to stop nagging, shut up and know their place. The women depicted on those postcards are silenced with violence. They are shown with their tongues nailed to a table or cut out, their mouths bolted and padlocked shut and with rhymes or words to reinforce their silence—rhymes that amount to words of abuse.
The shocking thing is that, 100 years on, women still hear such abuse not on a postcard but in social media. I am thinking about the verbal attacks and threats that Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to for daring to suggest that Jane Austen should be the face of the new £10 note. Indeed, I am also thinking of the despicable daily barrage of abuse faced by Diane Abbott who, according to Amnesty International, received almost half of the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the six weeks before the most recent general election. That is not 100 years ago; it is today. Every man and woman should be united in condemning that abuse in all its forms.
Members have reflected that, in many areas, women’s lives are now unrecognisable compared with what they were 100 years ago. However, in far too many areas, the pace of change has been remarkably slow. Ruth Maguire and Kezia Dugdale are absolutely right that we are still marching. We are still marching for equal pay, to challenge occupational segregation, finally to smash the glass ceiling and to end violence against women and girls and sexual harassment.
It has also been reflected that it took until the most recent UK general election for the total number of women MPs in the past century to surpass the number of men who are currently MPs in the House of Commons. As Humza Yousaf said, equal representation and diversity are important because Parliaments should feel, look and sound like the folk that they seek to represent. It widens their horizons and their understanding of the society that they seek to serve. It also leads to better decision making.
Although the Scottish Parliament has a good record on female leadership and representation, we must remember that it is not an equal record. We have fewer elected women now than in 1999. The lesson of that is how progress must be protected if it is to survive. That is why the passing of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill last week was important. It shows that the Parliament is about not just defending progress, but building on it.
Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, fittingly said:
“The Centenary is a moment of celebration and a time to reflect on the great strides made towards gender equality. However while politicians and those in power celebrate the Centenary they must not just pay lip service to the principle of equal representation; we need urgent action from politicians, not overtures.”
That is why this Government will, with the support of others, continue our massive expansion of childcare, continue with our work on the STEM strategy to ensure that women are well placed in the jobs of the future, continue to promote the living wage and fair pay, and continue to promote flexible working and the value of unpaid care. That is why the Government funding that has been announced by the First Minister will support activity to celebrate and commemorate 100 years of women’s right to vote and look to the future to see how best we can ensure equal representation of women in politics, Parliaments and public life.
I am all for statues of Malala and other pioneering women, but the best tribute to those who have sacrificed so much will be through our deeds and our ensuring that, in the next 10 years, perhaps as we celebrate the 1928 act of universal suffrage, we make as much progress or indeed more progress than has been made in the past 100 years.
Presiding Officer, there is a time to reflect and a time to act, and the time to act is now.