THE Scottish Parliament won plaudits in 1999 when 48 women were elected among its 129 MSPs, making up 37.2 per cent of the total. Since then, however, that percentage has fallen, indicating that the stance Labour took to balance the winnable seats between men and women in that first election was neither replicated by the other parties, nor was there a consistent application of the principle of gender balance in the subsequent elections and selection processes.

Of late, this complacency has been challenged. Women’s representation has become a talking point again, with the election of Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first woman First Minister, her strong commitment to gender equality from the outset, the fact we also have women leading the two main opposition parties, and the SNP and Labour’s appointment of a 50:50 cabinet.

Before this election, the only party using positive measures to achieve gender balance in every selection process was the Scottish Green Party. Labour’s 1999 efforts had been allowed to wither and the SNP, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were sticking with “soft” measures such as mentoring. But Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale made positive measures part of the 2016 selection process. The constituencies of retiring SNP MSPs were all subject to all-women shortlists.

Labour have “zipped” their regional lists. And even the Liberal Democrats’ Willie Rennie has conceded the party should use positive measures. In the latter case this is perhaps too little, too late as it looks as if Holyrood will be mirroring Westminster with an all-male Liberal Democrat group after former MSP Mike Rumbles managed to top the LibDem list in the North East, pushing sitting MSP (and sole woman LibDem) Alison McInnes into second place.

The crux of the matter, though, is whether these measures have put women in a position to actually be elected today. Of the 73 constituency seats, 30 look to be winnable by women candidates. They either have women standing for more than one of the major parties or the result is so predictable that a woman is all but guaranteed to be elected. The regional lists are harder to predict, but there are about 24 possible women winners. A total of 54 women MSPs which would be a high water mark of 42 per cent is still eight per cent short of 50:50 and 10 per cent short of reflecting the make-up of the Scottish population.

But this does show that positive measures work. The SNP candidates in the 10 per cent of constituency seats subject to all-women shortlists all look very likely to win. In doing so, some constituencies will return their first woman MSP ever. Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch will both have a first woman MSP or MP with the SNP’s Gail Ross and Kate Forbes likely to be elected in the respective constituencies.

The same is for true for the SNP’s Mairi Evans and Donna Heddle in Angus North and Mearns and in Orkney, which have previously only been represented by men at Westminster or Holyrood.

Labour’s predicted reliance on the list means their consistent zipping of their regional candidates (alternating women and men and ensuring that women lead the list in half the regions) should ensure an increase in the number of women elected.

The Greens, too, have zipped their regional lists, with women at the top in three of the eight regions. Rise have also ensured gender balance on their regional lists and women lead the list in four regions.

The only region where a woman leads the LibDem list is West Scotland, where Katy Gordon is seeking election. She will hope to win back the list seat lost by Ross Finnie in 2011, but on current polling that seems unlikely. The party can only hope that future action can redress the shocking situation where the entire Liberal Democrat group of MPs and MSPs is male.

The Conservatives have consistently opposed positive measures to achieve gender balance, and it shows in their candidates. In Highlands and Islands they have an all-male slate in the constituencies and on the regional list. In the North East their two women candidates are at seven and nine. In West Scotland they have a female in 10th place, and the second-placed woman behind Ruth Davidson in Lothian is ninth.

Just for contrast, men look certain to win 42 constituencies. In 11 of those, there is a choice only of men, compared to just one seat where voters can only choose a woman.

Juliet Swann is an associate consultant at McNeill and Stone