LAST Saturday, as reported in The National, 400 women from across Scotland gathered at the Scottish Parliament for a friendly but purposeful takeover of the chamber. They were joined by hundreds tuning in on livestreams and at regional events. Women from all parties and none came together for a common cause – to declare that Scotland’s women are ready, willing, able and preparing to stand for election, and to stake their claim for politics which is truly representative of our nation, in all its glorious and messy diversity.

When the new Scottish Parliament sat for the first time on May 12, 1999, Sue Innes, the pioneer feminist journalist and historian, described the occasion as “quietly thrilling”. She wrote: “Although 37.2% [of MSPs who were women] is not 50%, there are nevertheless enough women for their participation to seem not exceptional but normal … it looks like the rest of life.”

While that Parliament and its successors have not looked enough like the rest of life to reflect our increasingly multicultural society, Sue certainly had a point: 49 female MSPs took their seats that day. That was 20 more women at one fell swoop than the 21 Scottish women who had served as Westminster MPs during the 80 years since 1918, when women first acquired rights as voters and candidates in General Elections.

Women have fought long and hard for the common cause of our democratic rights. In the 1990s, we campaigned for equal representation in the new Scottish Parliament, and a new generation of Women 50:50 has taken that claim back to the top of the political agenda, calling for legal quotas. What difference have formal political rights made during the last century? Do women’s votes translate into voices being heard, budgets being informed and policies being shaped in response to the gendered inequalities that still blight and limit too many women’s lives?

Despite the hopes and aspirations of the suffrage movement, despite the efforts of women as MPs, MSPs and councillors, political representation, structures and ways of working have been largely “male, pale and stale”. Yet women in Scotland have always engaged with “the system” in order to protest and campaign for social change, developing bold critiques, groundbreaking policies and expertise on everything from workplace rights, equal pay, domestic abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, to land ownership, housing, transport and justice for asylum seekers and refugees.

In recent years, Women for Independence has been a political game-changer, encouraging members into political engagement and leadership at all levels. But we know that we stand on the shoulders of our forebears who created the paths on which we now walk, and whose voices have so often broken into the silencing complacency of the strange notion that politics is a man’s game.

That’s why we want to commemorate a century of women and politics in Scotland at the Women for Independence national council meeting in Dundee this Saturday. Historians, scholars, politicians and activists will lead workshops on doing politics differently; representation, active citizenship and feminist influence; inclusion, democracy and creating a constitution; grassroots feminist movements and strategies against men’s violence. We’ll hear about the 50:50 campaigns for equal representation and there will be a cross-party panel of women in politics sharing their experiences.

A new film, Versailles 1919 – Return of the Dangerous Women, about the remarkable suffrage campaigners who crossed borders to resist war and challenged world leaders with an alternative vision of peace-building, will have its first Scottish screening. There will be lively roundtable conversations and an open mic session. Contributors include Carolyn Leckie, Maggie Chapman, Alys Mumford and councillors Michelle Campbell and Julie Bell. Why not come and join us? All women welcome. For more see

Lesley Orr is a Women for Independence national committee member