Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Scottish Labour - Party of [IN]equality

The Labour Party operates a system of positive discrimination when deciding who to select as a prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC).  This system is designed to increase the number of women PPCs being selected by local parties and then elected to seats in Holyrood or at Westminster. 

However, the system is not without criticism and is open to abuse, as recent Holyrood and Westminster selections have demonstrated in Scotland.  Additionally, no parallel system of positive discrimination exists for PPCs who have a disability or come from a particular minority ethnic background.  

This article explores the institutional failures of the Labour Party to address the inequality experienced by PPCs and highlights the abuses that can take place, when a system of positive discrimination is not properly regulated or controlled.  

Recruitment of PPCs within the Labour Party

All PPCs are required to apply to the Party centrally first.  If the application meets the required criteria, the applicant is invited for interview.  Assuming there is no legal barrier, the majority of applicants who have met the criteria, succeeded at interview and attended a compulsory training day, receive the necessary accreditation to seek selection at a local level.  

Disability Discrimination 

Although the above system bears resemblance to any recruitment exercise for employment, all the classic hallmarks disability discrimination begin to emerge.  Throughout the process, the Party neglects to offer reasonable adjustments to facilitate the participation of applicants with a disability.  

This is an important legal requirement that applies to any job application.  Disabled people face many barriers to participation in the workforce, and likewise, disabled PPCs also face barriers to becoming PPCs.     

Even after interview, the discrimination against disabled applicants continues.  At the training events, no question was asked of applicants about reasonable adjustments.  In the author's experience, the problem of disability discrimination was made worse when the Party staff compounded the issue by setting "ground rules" which also discriminated.  

One of the ground rules for the training, to turn off all electronic devices, directly discriminated against candidates who required the use of assisted technology to participate.  This meant that disabled candidates, who required the use of technology, were forced not only to disclose their disability but also to raise their concerns in front of other non disabled candidates.  

Positive Discrimination - Women Only

The Party uses positive discrimination measurers to exclusively promote the selection of PPCs who are women.  This system is referred to as an all women shortlist.  In other cases, the Party twins two local constituencies with a guarantee that one constituency must select a female candidate and the other constituency a male or female candidate.  

This system of positive discrimination is meant to increase the number of female candidates being elected to Parliament.  However, no other political party has adopted this approach to selecting candidates and the system is open to abuse, when not carefully monitored or applied consistently.   

The abuse of the positive discrimination system is discussed below.  

Edinburgh West - Identified as a Key Seat but did not use Positive Discrimination

When the Party moved to select Cllr Cameron Day for the Edinburgh West UK parliamentary constituency, the selection committee was composed of individuals - including fellow Councillors - who had already declared their support for this candidate.  

Additionally, even though the Party had identified this as a Key seat, the Party chose not to deploy either an all women short list or a twinning arrangement to select a candidate.  

The selection timetable was also rushed through and objections concerning the arrangements were ignored.  The Party refused to accept or acknowledge any complaints.

It is important to remember that discrimination can be both direct and indirect.  The discrimination in this case was indirect, because while it did not directly exclude female PPCs from seeking selection, the selection process as a whole placed women at a particular disadvantage.     

It is common knowledge that the majority of carers, part time workers and stay at home parents are women.  The arrangements in this selection, had been set in such a way - over the school holidays - that would make it difficult, if at all possible, to successfully apply for selection, contact members, attend hustings and finally a selection meeting.  

In fact, the chair of the selection committee and one of the key proponents of the rushed timetable, was Cllr. Lesley Hinds, whom had made no secret of her support for candidature of Cllr. Day.

In this case, the Party specifically chose not to deploy an all women short list or a twinning arrangement.  If the Party wished to promote equality for women and enable greater participation, and increase the number of female MPs returned to Westminster, why did it not do so here?

Dunfermline by-election - an Open Selection Turns into an All Women Shortlist

The Party announced the selection of candidates for the Dunfermline by-election.  At this stage, the Party invited applications from all PPCs whom had been approved.  This was to be an open selection.  
However, during the course of this selection, the Party switched from an open selection to a closed, all women short list selection procedure.  This meant that the two male candidates were purposely removed from the selection procedure.  

The Party claimed, that they wished to emphasise the issue of "domestic abuse" and hence chose to deploy an all women short list.  

The Party here not only discriminated against the two male candidates - by bumping them from the selection process - but also belittled the experience of male victims of domestic abuse.  

The use of domestic abuse, as a reason for creating an all women shortlist, is unlawful.  

This constituted a direct act of discrimination on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, disability, gender recognition, race, religion and age.  Whether on their own or in concert, people with each of these legally protected characteristics also experience abuse, which is why an all women short list cannot be justified.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith - One Candidate for the All Women Shortlist

The Party received an announcement that the male MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith was to retire.  Accordingly, the Party began the search for a new candidate.  Following consultation with the local Party, it was decided to create an all women short list.  However, what was the Party's motivation for doing so?  

As the selection process begins, it emerged, at close of nominations, that there was only one candidate.  

That candidate, a leading proponent of the all women short list system, was Cllr. Lesley Hinds.  

Cllr Hinds and Cllr Day (the PPC for Edinburgh West) had agreed to mutually support one another, to ensure their respective nominations.  

As you recall from above, it was Cllr Hinds who lead the selection process for Edinburgh West and now, having ensured Cllr Day's selection was free to pursue Edinburgh Northern and Leith.  

In order to cement this relationship, Cllr Day began an active lobby on Cllr Hinds behalf.  For example, at a Labour fundraising event, he introduced Cllr Hinds to the assembled gathering from the floor as, "the next Labour MSP for Northern and Leith".  

This constituted a personal canvass on behalf of Cllr. Hinds.  This was not only against the Party rules, but no selection process had begun and no potential candidate was meant to solicit support, in advance of an announced selection process.   

In this case, the decision to use an all women shortlist was not about promoting women in politics.  It was not about addressing inequality either.  The system was abused to select one candidate in particular, who just happened to be a woman.  The lack of opposition at the selection meeting, speaks for itself.  

Edinburgh Local Government Selection

Prior to the European Election, the Party again decided to discriminate unlawfully.  

In this case, the local Edinburgh membership, was informed that only women members would be invited to apply to the local government list - this is an internal list from which the Party selects local government candidates.

The Party had hoped, that they would be able to nominate an all women shortlist in the event of a by-election.  

When this was pointed out as unlawful discrimination, the Party said that they would open the list to everyone at a later stage.  However, there was no reason why the list could no be opened up to everyone immediately.

The correct approach, if the Party wished to increase the prevalence of women on the list, would have been to welcome, encourage and support more women to come forward.      

Edinburgh Western Scottish Parliament Selection - Discrimination Against Minority Ethnic Candidates

In Labour's selection for Edinburgh Western, two male candidates from a minority ethnic background, one other male candidate and one white female candidate all sought selection for the twinned constituencies of Edinburgh Western and Edinburgh Pentlands.

It is important to remember that there was no suggestion of racism in this particular selection or that the Party behaved in a racist manner.  However, the problem of indirect discrimination was not addressed.  

The female candidate would automatically be selected because the two constituencies were twinned. This meant that the three male PPCs had to compete for the remaining constituency.  In this case, the successful male candidate happened to be a Party insider as an aide to the leader of Labour in Scotland.

The Labour Party's Point of View

In recent commentary, the Party has described it's selection processes as fair and transparent. Additionally, the Party also considers the use of both all women shortlists and the twinning procedure as a progressive measure.

The author agrees that it is a progressive to seek increased representation and participation from women in politics.  The difficulty here arises where a hierarchy of competing priorities is created, to the exclusion of others.   

The Party does not support candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds, candidates who are disabled or posses any other protected characteristic, unless they are female.  This is where the problems with both direct and indirect discrimination arise.   

The Party also advocates both a "fair and transparent" selection system, placing all candidates on an equal footing, under one set of rules.  However, the rules are, more often than not, ignored.  The selection process is neither fair nor transparent, it is open to abuse, and it discriminates both directly and indirectly.  

Selecting the Few, not the Many

In the Edinburgh Western example, the successful male candidate worked as a party insider.  The two minority ethnic candidates stood no realistic chance of being selected for this reason.  Additionally, because a twinned arrangement was put in place, the only female candidate was automatically selected.  

No positive action measures are deployed to support minority ethnic candidates.

In years gone by, Party staff, including the staff of MSPs or the Party leader, would have been barred from taking part in any selection process.  The reason for this rule, was simple - party staffers are already inside the system - they are already known, have access to the mass membership and automatically carry endorsement.  Local membership at party meetings are not going to move against that endorsement, nor would the Party permit an insider to fail.  It would be too embarrassing.

If this selection were to be considered fair, the Party should have taken a wider view, in order to eliminate any direct or indirect discrimination.  This was not done.   


Contrary, to the Party's stated position of equality, fairness and transparency, the Party does discriminate and does not operate fair procedures.

The Party does not fulfil its legal obligations to eliminate both direct an indirect discrimination.   

The non-discrimination provisions of the Equality Act are abused by the Party and decisions are made not to emancipate female PPCs but to promote certain candidates who just happen to be women.  

There is no support for disabled or minority ethnic candidates who also face significant barriers to participation, and candidates who are either disabled or represent a minority ethnic community are routinely discriminated against.  

The Party machine lacks sufficient understanding of it's legal obligations - and refuses offers of help - to improve its practices.  

While it is a legitimate aim to increase the number of female politicians in both Holyrood and Westminster, the single minded, positive discrimination approaches deployed by Labour are open to abuse.  

If the current status quo is not altered and core behaviour changed, the Public will once again decline to return a Labour Government come 2016.