THE Scottish Liberal Democrats are under pressure to explain why one of the Scottish Parliament’s most high-profile women MSPs is likely to lose her seat next year. Liberal Democrat members voted Alison McInnes off the top spot on one of the party’s regional lists – in favour of a male former MSP.
Six of the seven top spots for candidates on the LibDems regional lists – the only likely path to election – have gone to men.
McInnes, right, the LibDems’ justice spokeswoman, was placed second behind Mike Rumbles on the list for North East Scotland. During his previous career at Holyrood his stance on domestic abuse led to a rift with Labour, his party’s then coalition partner.
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McInnes is the LibDems’ only female MSP and carved out a prominent position tackling Police Scotland’s policy on stop and search and supported a range of penal reform causes.
Her relegation to second position would probably mean she will not get re-elected on the list.
She has not yet decided whether she will stand in a constituency seat.
Last night justice and women’s groups reacted with dismay to McInnes losing the top list ranking, urging party leader Willie Rennie to introduce measures to ensure a better gender balance among his party’s MSPs.
“This is very disappointing on a number of levels,” said the feminist activist and former Scottish Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie.
“It just shows that without proper democratic mechanism to ensure gender equality among candidates the status quo reverts and men will be more successful.”
She added: “It is particularly galling that the person who has got first place ahead of her is Mike Rumbles. I remember his record in the parliament when I was there and he was anti-feminist.
“It is very bad that a woman who has a good record on [gender] issues is being replaced by a man with a poor record on gender issues. While I’m not in favour of party leaders issuing edicts I think if the LibDems were serious about gender equality they would have done something internally to reform their party rules.
“The LibDems do have a track record of espousing formal equality without actually being prepared to take any anti-discriminatory action. [LibDem leader] Willie Rennie could have been setting an example, and could have been arguing for gender equality mechanisms in his party. The fact he hasn’t maybe means he doesn’t believe in them and is quite happy with men being over-represented.”
Maggie Mellon, a member of Women for Independence, said: “I can hardly believe the LibDems have done this. Alison McInnes has been a very effective justice spokesperson for the LibDems and an ally of people who want criminal justice reform.
“Although I’m not a LibDem supporter, I think she is a great advert for the Liberal Democrats. It seems crazy to act in a way which looks like they will end up losing one of their most effective parliamentarians. Why on earth did they do this?”
Lisa Mackenzie, spokeswoman for the penal reform group the Howard League for Penal Reform, said McInnes was a key supporter of her organisation’s successful campaign against the new women’s super prison and a consistent advocate of penal reform.
“Alison has been a consistent supporter of many of our causes, whether it’s been on the women offenders, prisoner voting or the retention of independent monitoring. She has been prepared to stick her neck out and take up unpopular causes, such as prisoner voting. To lose a consistent supporter of penal reform will be a big loss to the parliament,” she said.
Academic Dr Kath Murray, of Edinburgh University, added: “Alison was quick to challenge the high-volume approach to stop and search adopted by Police Scotland, as well as the extensive use of non-statutory stop and search. She’s consistently highlighted human rights concerns in this area and has put forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Scotland Bill which effectively mark the first serious democratic engagement with the wider use and regulation of stop and search in Scotland. In light of this significant contribution, it’s disappointing that she will go into the Holyrood election second on the party’s regional list.”
Rumbles, 59, is the former LibDem MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine who was defeated at the 2011 election in the successor constituency of Aberdeenshire West.
He stood for party leader against Tavish Scott in 2008, but lost.
With the SNP likely to win a large majority of first-past-the-post seats, competition among opposition party candidates for high places on their parties’ regional list has been intense.
Candidates are ranked one to three by party members in the area and elected in terms of the proportion of votes their party gets across the region.
But given the low expectation of support for the LibDems – the most recent poll predicted the party would poll just five per cent – only those candidates ranked first place have a reasonable chance of getting a Holyrood seat through the list route.
As well as Rumbles, the top-ranked candidates include former minister Robert Brown and former MSP Jamie Stone.
In 2004 Rumbles caused a rift between the LibDems and Labour over how best to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women.
The LibDems demanded that domestic violence be seen as affecting men as well as women. But Labour hit back, saying their coalition partners were “out of touch” on the issue.
The row went onto the floor of the parliament when MSPs debated the issues as part of the United Nations international day of action to eliminate violence against women.
Rumbles was leading the LibDem argument at the time and tried to block the debate being only about women, saying the parliament debate should “acknowledge that violence in all its forms and against any victim is wrong, and we need a less exclusive approach”.
Neither he or McInnes were available last night, but a spokesman for the LibDems said: “Our list candidates offer a mix of youth and experience that gives people right across Scotland the opportunity to elect a strong liberal voice to represent them at Holyrood. The devolution of more powers to the Scottish Parliament means it is more important than ever that we have a team of MSPs who will always stand up for their local area.”
He added: “Jo Swinson [the former LibDem MP] and other Liberal Democrats worked hard to tackle gender inequalities in government and as a party, we want to see more women have the opportunity to make a contribution in public life. There is always more to be done, but we selected excellent women candidates for the last three Scottish Parliament by-elections and provide specific training and support for women and other under-represented groups who are interested in standing for election.
“Alison McInnes has been a fantastic MSP for the North East and will have a substantial role to play as we work towards the Holyrood elections.”