Monday, 15 December 2014

Boom

Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale make a phenomenal leadership team for Scottish Labour.

It's what most folk in Scottish Labour had been hoping for throughout the leadership campaign, and what most folk in Scottish Labour voted for in the end. A fresh start, with a clear focus on a future Labour government delivering social and economic justice for all Scots.

Today's announcement of a "Clause Four moment", as the leadership asks the membership to endorse a constitutional renewal, is the clearest demonstration yet that business as usual is over. Scottish Labour will be revitalised, re-energised, and relentlessly focused on fair pay, fair tax and fair work.

It is time we moved on from the arguments of the referendum. That issue has been settled, and the Smith Commission process is delivering powers that mean the Scottish Parliament can reshape spending and policy to suit Scotland's needs. The question now is how we use those powers, and as I re-read Jim's speech from Saturday I find it hard to see how anyone could disagree:
"If we are honest, Scotland is one country but two nations. Divided not by how we voted in the referendum, but by circumstances. One, the majority: fulfilled, doing well, getting by or getting on. The other, a minority: falling behind, denied opportunity, struggling to escape the hardship of their upbringing. This inequality is wrong. And Scottish Labour’s mission is to end it."
I was on Good Morning Scotland this morning, debating with a member of Radical Independence about what Jim's election means for Labour's relationship with the trade unions. I fear it was largely a dialogue of the deaf. No heed was paid to the fact that Jim won 40% of the union vote despite 90% of union leaders backing other candidates. No acknowledgement was made of the fact that, for all the spin and bluster, all three candidates were actually backing the same core Labour principles - fair pay, equality and fair taxation. The arguments against Jim were arguments against a caricature, a straw man. What Jim is actually standing for was being ignored.

For too many people, the politics of division has taken such deep root that we are struggling to set it aside even when we find common cause. But there is great common cause here: between those who voted No and those who voted Yes; between the trade union movement and the Labour movement; between all parts of Scotland.

It's about building a fairer Scotland. Jim and Kez have got it. For the first time in a while, the cause of social justice is on the front foot. I'm excited, and ready. Let's go.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guest post from Andy Maciver: "I'll not be signing the pledge"

A rare guest post today. Andy Maciver asked to respond to my Pledge to end all-male panels. Here's what he has to say:


A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged by Kezia Dugdale to refuse to participate in all-male panels on political TV shows following the opening of a pledge by Duncan Hothersall. I am by no means a prolific commentator, but every month or so I’ll pop up on Scotland Tonight or Scotland 2014 to throw in my tuppenceworth. Indeed, I’m doing so tonight.

Most of the TV appearances I have made have been alongside women, as tonight’s will be, and I generally find that those segments provide a better viewer experience than an all-male or indeed all-female panel.

But I’ll not be signing the pledge.

Now, I think that politics and political commentary would benefit hugely from more female involvement. Back in the days of Newsnight Scotland, the tedious, old, male commentariat was relatively unchanging throughout the first decade of this century. It was, in truth, fairly boring; partly because they were all men, and partly because they had no new ideas.

STV’s Scotland Tonight took a different approach, and the BBC’s Scotland 2014, as well as having a better set-up and production, appears to me to have a significantly better gender balance, and a better age balance, amongst its commentators than its predecessor.

I don’t bow to anyone in how much I want the make-up of Scottish politics and the Scottish commentariat to change, with a big part of that change being the increasing influence of women. But I think change is happening already in the media (to a degree) and especially in politics.

Kezia is an outstanding talent. She was the best Unionist performer in the referendum, closely followed by Ruth Davidson. On the other side, Nicola Sturgeon outshone all others. If Labour has any sense left they’ll make Kezia their Deputy Leader, and with Ruth and Nicola as Leaders the three main parties will have women at or near the top. But these individuals are not outstanding because they are women. They are outstanding because they are outstanding.

And, fundamentally, I would consider it condescending and chauvinistic of me if I ‘gave up’ my slot for a woman. Many women I know would be horrified to think that they needed this sort of help from a man to get on TV.

I fully understand that type change will be too slow and too organic for some, and furthermore I know that the ‘merit’ argument does not find universal favour.

But they are not the only reasons I won’t sign the pledge.

Most of the panels I sit on consist of only two people plus a presenter (usually a woman - Sarah Smith - on Scotland 2014 and a woman - Rona Dougall - half the time on Scotland Tonight). A two-person panel, in theory, provides an obvious gender-balance opportunity, but behind the scenes there is often more to it than meets the eye.

Firstly, the broadcasters do not always get their first choice people to appear as commentators. Both shows tend to finalise their agenda late in the afternoon, then find commentators to fill the slots. Last week, Scotland Tonight faced criticism on Twitter because of its all-male panel (John McTernan and Iain Macwhirter) discussing Ed Miliband’s woes. It retorted that it had tried to get a woman commentator but was unsuccessful. What would we have them do? Pull the segment? If John McTernan or Iain Macwhirter had signed the pledge, they may very well have had to do so. It’s unfair on our broadcasters to tie their hands in this way.

Secondly, I have no problem accepting that in some circumstances single-gender panels are acceptable and indeed appropriate. I am aware that the pledge was changed to accommodate this, but I foresee problems in justifying the justification, so to speak. Fundamentally, I would not support shoehorning a man into an all-female panel if he wasn’t able to make as insightful a contribution, so I see little merit in supporting the reverse.

Thirdly, I do have a concern at why we are singling out gender. I don’t see a campaign for ideological balance on panels. Similarly, we do not demand geographical balance, or class balance. We do not demand balance between heterosexuals and homosexuals, nor between whites and ethnic minorities or between Protestants and Catholics. What is so different about men and women?

For what it’s worth, I think debates over this issue are healthy. I think they help to raise the profile of the issue, and for that reason I’m glad that Duncan and others are pushing this. The broadcasters, I’m quite sure, will be aware of it and it will inevitably have an impact on the way they put together their shows.

But I think we are already seeing more female commentators, and women of major political influence, and I think that’s largely happening organically. I prefer organic change to enforced change. So I’m afraid this pledge is not for me. Sorry about that.


You can follow the story of the pledge, from the initial attempt, to the discussion of how to make it more workable, through to the current pledge, which is still open to signatories until the end of the year. Even if Andy isn't going to be one of them. ;-)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wanted: 20 like-minded men for a serious commitment

I'm pledging to take action against all-male political panels in Scotland. Will you join me?


The updated wording in the pledge above takes into account the very helpful feedback after I posted my initial pledge last month. I hope the new wording and explanation means it can be more widely adopted.

For background, please see previous blogs here and here. Thanks!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ending all-male panels - version two

UPDATE:

New Pledgebank pledge now live. Please consider signing if you can.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about ending all-male TV panels.

As part of it, I set up a PledgeBank pledge to try to gain support for collective action. Huge thanks to Paul Cairney, Malcolm Harvey, Gerry Hassan and James Mackenzie for quickly signing up.

However, I also had some constructive conversations with other folk who, while sharing the aim, felt unable to sign the pledge as written for a number of different reasons.
  1. Broadcasters often change the line-up at the last minute, so meeting the pledge may simply be beyond an individual's control.
  2. The definition of a "TV panel" is not immediately obvious.
  3. Restricting the pledge to the TV isn't really necessary.
  4. Even if representation were truly equal, there is a reasonable likelihood that occasionally all-male panels would occur, so they shouldn't be stopped from happening.
I'm going to dismiss the fourth argument. The point of this sort of exercise is to redress the balance and end the status quo. So our aim here is to stop all-male panels from happening until the status quo is fair.

The first three arguments do seem fair. So here's a proposal to deal with them. The pledge becomes:
  • I will refuse to participate in all-male political discussion panels, and make that clear to organisers up-front when asked.
  • If last-minute changes mean I end up on an all-male panel, I will call attention to that fact during the discussion, and make reference to this pledge.
  • A political discussion panel is defined as two or more people plus an interviewer/chair discussing politics or current affairs at a public meeting or on a broadcast network. 
  • The all-male test applies to those participants there to express opinions, not to an interviewer/chair who is not contributing opinion.
That final point is designed to make clear that two men being interviewed by a woman is still an all-male panel.

So, your feedback is requested. Let's try to tweak this into a proposal more men can agree to. Once we've done that, I'll set up a new pledgebank pledge with the new construction, and we'll see if we can make this a reality.

Comments below please, or find me on Twitter at @dhothersall to give your thoughts. Thanks very much.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ending all-male TV panels


UPDATE: PLEASE SEE THIS POST.


It happened again.

Last night I was on Scotland Tonight as part of a panel discussion and everyone involved in the conversation was male.

Men make up a minority of the Scottish population, but a majority of the talking heads we see on TV. And too often that majority is 100%.

Friends of mine rightly challenged this, and while I explained that I didn't know who was going to be on the panel beforehand, that doesn't help solve this problem. There are things that can.

At the 2013 Lib Dem conference, Mark Pack and Mark Thompson cooked up an idea for a simple pledge for their party colleagues. At 2013 Labour conference, Kirstin Hay called for a boycott of all-male fringe events. And earlier this year, Caron Lindsay called for Scottish political commentators to refuse to participate in all-male TV panels. Some folk, including Gerry Hassan, did so.

I think this can help, but it isn't the whole picture. We need a strategy that includes signing folk up to a pledge, but goes further.
  • Parties need to encourage and support women to participate, and if possible help to maintain lists of women participants so that those who are refusing a request are able to suggest an alternative.
  • Broadcasters need to find a way to balance their absolute right to choose their preferred person for the job with the undeniable fact that unless they do improve women's representation they are failing a majority of their audience.
But at this point there is something I can do, and I should have done it already. So I'm doing it now.

"I will refuse to participate in all-male TV panels but only if 20 other Scottish political pundits will do the same."

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Three things

Johann Lamont deserves the gratitude of the whole of the Labour Party for her work as leader in Scotland since 2011. She will be missed.

Her attempt in 2012 to ignite a debate around how limited funds can best be spent to focus on those who need the most help was the right thing to do. Our subsequent collective failure to follow through on that lead with concrete action turned it from an opportunity for us into an opportunity for our opponents. It is clear that we have significant work to do to overhaul our policy and communications functions.

I'd like to see three things happen now.

  • First, the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party, meeting this afternoon, should define and run the process which will select a new leadership team for Scottish Labour. Such a process should be open to all parts of the party, with MPs and MSPs equally able to make their case to be part of the party's leadership. Should she decide to run, I would strongly support Kezia Dugdale MSP as Deputy Leader.
  • Second, we need to radically overhaul our party's central campaigning and communication function. It needs to start afresh, be based where our Parliament sits in Edinburgh, and be under the complete control of the Scottish leadership.
  • Third, we need to rapidly move to a relentless focus on policy. There is no party better placed to deliver what we know the Scottish people want - social and economic justice within the strength of the United Kingdom. Let the SNP get mired in attempts to re-run the referendum. We have the right policy platform, from fair pay, to fair energy prices, to fair taxation. Let's deliver it.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Seriously, the referendum was about independence

There are many fault lines running through Scottish politics in the aftermath of the independence referendum debate. There is still a great deal of anger, mistrust and dogmatic assertion flying around. It is perhaps still too early to make sense of much of it.

But one theme keeps recurring, and it is the notion that the referendum was about a lot more than independence. And I think this betrays a genuine misunderstanding, indeed schism, between those on the left of Scottish politics, half of whom supported independence as a method of delivering social justice, and half of whom supported remaining part of the UK as a method of delivering social justice.

Here's the thing: the referendum vote was only about independence.

Of course both campaigns predicted different outcomes from their preferred votes. Of course the No campaign believed that the economic problems a Yes would have caused would have damaged the most vulnerable. Of course the Yes campaign believed the economic opportunities a Yes would have offered would have improved life for the poorest. And of course these were factors in people's decision-making when it came to the vote.

But the vote was still an answer to the single question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" And that was all it was.

This isn't me misunderstanding the fact that the Yes campaign galvanised a coalition of people who were and are genuinely working to improve lives. It's me pointing out that the No campaign wasn't against those outcomes. It was against independence. That is all.

I have a feeling that some people won't be able to move on from demanding more and more referenda until they have understood this. The No campaign was against independence. So, it turns out, were the majority of Scottish voters.

We still can, and must, make and win the argument that government policies should deliver for those who most need help. But if we're going to do that together we need to recognise where we disagreed. It was about independence.