VERY few people will have been surprised at the revelation that a couple of Masonic lodges are currently operating at Westminster. Discovering that Jacob Rees-Mogg was a frequent flyer on Grindr, now that would be a surprise. Similarly if it was revealed that Gordon Ramsay was a vegan. But not that an assortment of white male MPs, perhaps addicted to all the pantomime elements of Westminster, have sought to extend their furtive predisposition to extreme male bonding by bearing their nipples and wearing their trousers at half-mast.

What was surprising about the disclosure of Masonic activity at the mother of all parliaments was that it extended to journalists. It has emerged that running alongside the politicians’ lodges is one for Westminster lobby reporters. Thus, down through the years a shadowy assortment of journalists, whose job it is to expose the secrets of power, have actually established a secret wee chamber of their own. It’s like discovering that the Green Party holds shares in BP or that Jeremy Clarkson is in Friends of the Earth.

Any newspaper editor worthy of such an exalted status would surely be aghast on learning that one of his or her top political operatives was in a secret society with journalists from other newspapers and that they had all pledged loyalty to each other. Why, they might even begin to wonder why their star reporter’s best stories are very often identical in content to those of selected others on rival publications.

Several years ago while working as an executive on a Scottish national title I was somewhat taken aback to be informed that one of our sports reporters had a reciprocal agreement with a chum on a rival paper. Whenever either was favoured with an exclusive story they immediately shared it with their pal in what was a mutual exercise in covering each other’s back.

We all know people who are Masons and, by and large, they are inoffensive and amiable chaps who strive to tell you about the craft’s charitable activities and its efforts to encourage upstanding conduct among its worshipful members. Often they have inadvertently given the game away with a dodgy handshake at an unguarded moment when perhaps a swalette has been taken. Of course, you are never offended because, well … it’s just the Masons and we do indeed all know one or two. But you are also a little disappointed because immediately you begin to wonder how much of your friend’s achievements and success have all been down to his own ability and application and how much is due to his knowing what age his granny is.

In some West of Scotland communities there exists an entirely healthy suspicion of the police and judiciary stemming from endless tales of Masonic collusion between these two pillars of civic control to defeat the ends of natural justice. These were given some credence recently by the retiring chairman of the Police Federation, Steve White, that Freemasonry was blocking reform within the force. Often this was manifest in the prevention of women and black officers making progress on the police career ladder.

David Staples, the chief executive of the United Grand Lodge of England, insists that more members of the brotherhood would declare their membership of it if they did not fear prejudice and discrimination. Aye, right.

In Scotland a certain type of chap will always be attracted to the Masons and not because it gives him a chance to recite exotic incantations while in a state of partial deshabille. They join because they have been assured that by doing so they will gain advantages in employment, promotions and contracts. There is no other reason.

Yet, it would be unfair to call out the Masonic brotherhood as the sole organisation that feeds such quiet nepotism and the promotion of mediocrity. On the day that we celebrate the centenary of votes for women it needs to be acknowledged that in a society still replete with organisations which are the exclusive preserve of rich and powerful white men there can be no true equality of the sexes.

And we are miles away from equality when Scotland in Union, the main fundraising arm of Scottish Unionism, offers an auction prize of a chalet in the Swiss Alps and adds “although the chalet does not come with a chalet girl, we will provide one for you”. This was at a £250-a-head dinner attended by luminaries such as Alistair Darling, former Chancellor in a Labour government; Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish LibDems and Andrew Dunlop, under-secretary of state for Scotland.

Don’t kid yourself that male-only golf clubs are simply gathering places where the chaps can swear their heads off and tell each other dodgy jokes in a secure environment. These are places where deals are made; jobs handed out and promotions agreed. I’m pointing this out not as a male white knight seeking to curry favour with feminists but merely to illustrate how unfairness and inequality is sewn insidiously into the fabric of our culture and to its detriment.

The revelations in the Financial Times last week about the distressing conduct on open display at the President’s Club in London only pointed at one half of the story: that of sexual harassment of and violence against women. There was another untold story: that the President’s Club and many other such associations are established to promote and maintain the idea of white, male hegemony and control in our most important financial and political offices.

In recent UK history the most catastrophic stratagems and the decisions which accompanied them were the war in Iraq; the choices of financiers prior to the banking collapse and Brexit. These were all hatched and planned in gentleman’s clubs; male-only golf clubs and Masonic lodges. The culture which permits these clubs and associations is a strong presence in modern British life. And while they are permitted to exist discrimination against women in the workplace will continue. And not just against women but against Muslims; against Catholics and against LGBTI people, but principally against women.

There is a reason why I favour all-women shortlists in some political constituencies and again, it’s not from a desire to be a faux feminist.

If these are what it takes to counter the ingrained privileges enjoyed by white males of uncertain ability then so be it. Those who reject all-women shortlists on the basis that they aren’t meritorious fail to understand an important point here. The influence and power deployed in all-male establishments – both open and secret – have ensured that many great offices and vital jobs have fallen into the hands of mediocre and incompetent men for generations and often with catastrophic results.

Along with fee-paying schools and the recruitment policies of our top universities they are part of a pattern of privilege which disfigures Scotland and the UK. In those places where they prevail, you will often get the wrong man for the job and seldom the right woman.