Two weeks ago a Wings scoop caused quite a furore to erupt around the SNP’s ham-fisted and corruptly-motivated attempts to increase BAME and disabled representation at this year’s Holyrood election.
We’ve always been opposed to what were until recently known as “quotas”, and prior to that “positive discrimination”, but have now been cunningly rebranded as “diversity and inclusion” because that’s a much more difficult thing to say you object to.
It’s easy to make an honourable-sounding case against any form of “discrimination”, because decent and civilised people are taught to automatically think of discrimination as a bad thing, even if you put “positive” in front of it.
So the word “quotas” was adopted to move the concept from a pejorative term to a neutral noun – objecting to “quotas” doesn’t sound intolerant, any more than objecting to (say) “procedures” does. So that’s fine, because you can still discuss it like adults without too much unpleasantness.
But those pushing the agenda got smarter still by changing the name again. If you say you object to “diversity and inclusion”, you sound like a monster and a racist, because diversity and inclusion are plainly good things – no decent person wants to live in a monoculture, or to exclude anybody from society – and so the debate is immediately drowned out by self-righteous tossers screaming “BIGOT!” and “NAZI!” at everyone.
And yet in the context of social policy the three phrases mean the exact same thing. They’re all systems for overriding raw democracy so as to increase the representation of selected groups at the expense of other groups, for one reason or another.
(Sometimes it’s ostensibly just penance for historical wrongs, while at other times it’s supposedly for economic benefits, and so on.)
And while the proponents of those systems will openly argue that the only group being disadvantaged is straight white men so it’s all fine (because nobody likes straight white men and anyone standing up for them can be easily dismissed as a “gammon” for lots of woke points and Twitter likes), it isn’t even remotely close to the truth.
Because in “diversity and inclusion”, some groups are a lot more included than others.
By far the most well-established form of “positive discrimination” in recent decades has been that based around sex. In Scotland it’s most prominently led by Women 50:50, a cross-party group which enjoys the enthusiastic patronage of the First Minister, who since taking the role has made a point of employing “gender-balanced” Cabinets.
The use of “at least” in the group’s banner is a fascinating one. Presumably it means that only 35% of Scotland’s MSPs being female is unacceptable, but 65% would be fine (and logically also 75%, 85% or 100% – no upper limit is specified), even though that would then be under-representing men.
That one fact tells us that despite how it habitually bills itself, the “inclusion” movement has nothing to do with “equality” – it’s simply a collection of particular pressure groups all demanding more representation for THEM, and to hell with everyone else.
Which is a perfectly respectable position to take, and also basic human nature – we live in a capitalist “look out for yourself first” society, and who doesn’t want a louder voice for their own tribe? – but it probably shouldn’t be dressed up as something that it isn’t. Because that picture of naked self-interest hidden behind a nice social-justice veneer only gets more and more stark the further you probe into the principle.
Because who decides which groups get quotas and which don’t?
If 50% of MSPs (or MPs or company directors or whatever) should be women on the basis that half of the population is, that’s all fine and dandy. But where do you stop with that logic? Let’s take a random selection, and for the sake of argument – and for the obvious direct pertinence – let’s use the Scottish Parliament as our test bed.
(Stats are from the most recent census (2011) unless noted otherwise.)
Scotland’s population is split almost down the middle by sex, with women slightly more numerous at 51.5% than men at 48.5%. So that’s pretty easily dealt with – if we want to accurately reflect the population we should ideally have 66 female MSPs and 64 men, and should take some sort of steps to achieve that goal.
It theoretically ought to be relatively easy to do in a PR parliament, although the current Holyrood system isn’t up to the job and would need significant reform. But basically you just zip lists boy-girl-boy-girl and skip a few as and when required.
(Just for now let’s swerve the issue of whether there are actually more than two sexes, because, y’know. And also whether men who identify as women should count towards female numbers.)
Now hold on, because everything’s about to get a lot more complicated.
Even this shouldn’t be TOO tricky in theory, because Scotland is an exceptionally white country. 96% of its population is white, with the next biggest group being the fairly tiny Asian demographic at 2.6% – just 140,000 or so people. Only 0.6% of Scots – a mere 32,400 citizens – are classed as African, Caribbean or black (a group most people would probably just refer to collectively as “black”).
Immediately we have a huge problem. To proportionately represent BAME people at Holyrood, we’d need 4% of the 129 MSPs, which is five – three more than the current number, made up of Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar.
That doesn’t seem like an insurmountable goal. But how do you achieve it? Is it okay if they’re all from one party, because that party was the only one that took “inclusion” measures? Is it okay if they’re all the same sex, or do you have to subdivide it so that BAME women are represented as well as BAME men?
And what about the subdivisions within BAME? There’s a reason there are four letters in it, after all. Are African, black and Caribbean people (let’s say “AbC” for simplicity from now on) adequately represented by Asian people? Do we just lump them all in together as “a bit brown”?
A proportionate representation of AbC people, combined, would only come to 0.77 of an MSP. If Scotland had just a single black MSP, that whole group would instantly be overrepresented at the expense of everyone else.
You’d need to bump the number of MSPs up to a minimum of 167 just so that you could accomodate a single AbC MSP without breaking the proportionality, and if you wanted both men and women represented in each group (because why don’t AbC women get a voice?) you’d need to go to 333 MSPs. We’re going to need a bigger Parliament building.
It’s already chaos and we’ve only done two “minorities” so far (one of which isn’t a minority). What about the defining historical and cultural identifier of Scottish society?
Oh please not this. We surrender. (“NO SURRENDER!” – a particular religious group.) It depends how you measure it, but at least 60% of Scots are atheists, while 16% are Catholic and 1.5% are Muslim and most of the rest are Protestant.
Dear Christ or Allah or Mohammed or Buddha or Obi-Wan Kenobi or whoever, this is going to be messy.
Why shouldn’t Catholics – who were persecuted and discriminated against for decades in Scotland, but aren’t in any real sense any more – get quotas too. to make up for all their years of suffering and ensure it doesn’t happen again? Why shouldn’t we have all-Catholic shortlists for MSP contests, just like we have all-women ones?
We need 21 Catholics (presumably 11 women and 10 men) if Holyrood is going to properly reflect our society. Have we got that many now? Does anyone know? We don’t and we’re sure as hell not going to start asking because in Scotland that rarely ends well and you find yourself talking about Partick Thistle a lot.
(NB Kingsley is a diverse and inclusive terroriser of small children. See below.)
And what of the most famously persecuted religious minority of all – the Jews? As far as we know just 0.1% of Scots are Jewish. That only gets you 0.13% of an MSP. Any more than that, by the credo of “fair representation”, is Too Many Jews.
Our arithmetic skills are at breaking point here, but we think that those figures mean you’d need at least 769 MSPs at Holyrood before having even a single Jewish MSP would be a proper reflection of Scottish society. If you want a breeding pair then it’s 1,538. And if you don’t, WHY DO YOU HATE JEWISH WOMEN, YOU MISOGYNIST ANTI-SEMITIC FASCIST?
(Are there any black Jewish people? Is that a thing? We don’t know that either and we don’t want to think about it because pretty soon we’re going to need to use Hampden Park for the Parliament.)
Now, the supporters of “positive discrimination” always howl and attack the point this article is making, but only because they have no counter-argument to it. Because why AREN’T religion or ethnicity valid characteristics deserving of equal status to sex when it comes to representation? There’s no possible justification to exclude them – they’re treated the same in most equalities legislation, after all.
(We’d honestly love it if someone constructed a coherent rebuttal, but we know all we’re actually going to get is lazy abuse and brainless smears about being “white supremacists” and whatnot from people who haven’t actually read this article. In fact, let’s prove it: my favourite animal is the cheetah. If anyone attacking this piece doesn’t know that, they haven’t read it.)
In fact there are nine explicitly protected factors in UK and Scottish law:
We’ve only addressed three of them so far and we’re already in a world of hurt. What if we also throw the most fashionable one into the mix? Alternatively, someone please just shoot us.
On the best available figures, 2.6% of the population of Scotland is LGBT. That should proportionately mean three MSPs. Yet we already have (at least) three times that many – Ruth Davidson, Joe Fitzpatrick, Jeane Freeman, Jenny Gilruth, Jamie Greene, Patrick Harvie, Derek Mackay, Kevin Stewart and Annie Wells.
Who knows if there are any more? If you’re in the closet does it still count? What we can say for sure is that statistically LGBT people are massively over-represented at Holyrood, which means that straight people are correspondingly under-represented. Should they get a quota? If not, why not? Are 97.4% of Scots undeserving of respect and equality because of their sexual orientation? Don’t straight people’s rights count?
And again, what about the subdivisions within the category? It looks like we’re doing well at the moment – four lesbians, four gay men and a bisexual sounds about right – but what if a lesbian got voted out for a gay dude?
Should that even be allowed, or should it be one-in-one-out? What if someone shakes it all about? (For which we gather the correct current term is “pansexual”, presumably as opposed to “plainsexual”.) Do we have to do the Wokey-Cokey?
We’re really sorry.
A whopping 21% of the SNP’s Westminster cohort, meanwhile, are LGBT: ten out of 48, with seven gay men and three lesbians, and seven times the proportion of the general population. Do we need to reduce their numbers to compensate for this massive over-representation, or just balance the sexes, or what?
And what about class? Half the population is working-class, or to use the fancy psephological term, “C2DE”. They’re vastly under-represented in most professional fields like politics. Why don’t they get a quota? Why don’t they get included? Why doesn’t class diversity matter? Are working-class people less different to upper-class people than men are different to women, or any less disadvantaged?
One of the biggest minorities in Scotland is actually English people, at around 10%. That ought to be worth 13 MSPs, but we don’t think there are anything like that many. Do we need English-only shortlists for the Scottish Parliament, or are all the Unionist jibes true and we’re just a big bunch of Anglophobes? Surely in that case at least THEY should have quotas for English MSPs?
How many MSPs are home-owners and how many are tenants? Those are distinct groups of people with different and often directly conflicting interests, so how do we make sure they both get their voices heard?What about married people and single people? Marriage status is another of the nine protected characteristics, so surely it’s important enough to get guaranteed representation?
What about families and childless people, whose demands for resources are also often in conflict? And if a childless single MSP suddenly gets married and has a child, do they have to stand down if they got elected through a quota?
And why isn’t Parliament quota-ed for age groups? Most MSPs retire in their 60s, so who speaks for the 20% of Scots who are over pension age? Why aren’t there 26 pensioner MSPs, including some in their 70s and 80s and 90s?
The law in Scotland was changed last year to give some prisoners the vote. But if it’s important for their voices to be heard in a democracy, why shouldn’t ex-cons get a guaranteed number of seats in Parliament too? And so on, forever.
At this point we were going to try to construct a league table of who were the most under- and over-represented groups (and therefore most deserving of priority quotas) at this point, but to be honest we’re taking regular breaks to go and curl up in a corner and cry as it is.
The only true way to make Holyrood representative is if EVERYONE is an MSP. But that’s clearly a stupid idea, so the next-best thing is to just give everyone an equal vote and let democracy sort it out, ideally via some sort of fair and proportionate electoral system (which Holyrood very broadly has, unlike the UK parliament).
Anything else creates more problems and unfairness and inequality than it can ever hope to solve, as we’ve hopefully just demonstrated. Because by the logic of the woke, if you only support special treatment for women, or only for women and disabled people and BAME people, then you’re a bigot who hates every other minority.
Johann Lamont, in a comment regularly and unfairly misrepresented even to this day, once said Scottish people weren’t genetically programmed to make political decisions:
Some of the tackier pro-independence voices at the time – not Wings – pretended that she’d meant Scots were in some way intrinsically inferior in that regard. But in fact she was saying pretty much the opposite: that we’re no more and no less capable of it than anyone else. We’re not special and we’re not different. We’re just normal.
And that applies to demographics too. Women aren’t better at politics (or business) than men. Straight people aren’t better than gay people. Old people aren’t better than young people. There are clever people and absolute idiots in every category.
And what that means is that the minute you start using anything other than merit to decide who your politicians are (or your doctors or your police or your teachers or your scientists or your shop assistants or anything else), you’re just storing up trouble for yourself. And the more you prioritise “diversity and inclusion” over democracy the more trouble you’ll have, and the more victims you’ll create.
Soapbox is a weekend column designed to provoke debate on (usually) non-party-political issues. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Wings Over Scotland, except when we write them ourselves, obviously.
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