In the wake of Alex Salmond’s resignation, his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, has launched her campaign to succeed him as leader of the Scottish National Party. Should she be successful (she is expected to stand unopposed), Scotland will join a very small minority of countries; those whose political leadership is dominated by women. Sturgeon’s election would see her join Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, as the female leader of one of Holyrood’s three main parties.
Amidst the political cacophony of Scotland’s ‘No’ vote, and the general lack of interest by the London media in anything short of political cataclysm happening further north than Barnet, this quiet victory for gender equality has gone mostly unnoticed.
Sturgeon, Lamont and Davidson are remarkable candidates for modern British political leaders. In contrast with their Westminster counterparts, all three are state-educated, did not attend Oxbridge, and had careers in other fields before turning to politics. As aspiring politicians, they had very few trailblazers to look to for reassurance that the attainment of top-level posts was not just for people who looked like those who already had them.
Davidson has spoken out before about the benefits of descriptive representation.
“When I became leader, I got so many emails,” Davidson told The Guardian in September. “Mainly from gay, male, teenagers who said, ‘I’m interested in politics, but thought I could never get on because I am gay.’ It never struck me before that it mattered who the leader was to people who weren’t in your party, but … it does.” Sturgeon has also spoken about the pressures facing women who enter politics in an interview for Radio 4 “Particularly being a young woman in politics… you feel a pressure to be taken seriously.”
As the woman who, as a young MSP was patronisingly named ‘Nippy Sweetie’ for being “too serious”, takes the reigns of the SNP, young female political hopefuls in Scotland can perhaps worry a little less about not being taken seriously.
[Kate Shaw Nelson]