Campaigners have called for a new law to ensure half of all political candidates in Scotland are women
Laws should be introduced to ensure half of all political candidates are women, electoral reform campaigners have said.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has placed gender equality in local and central government as key to democratic renewal in Scotland.
The body backed calls from campaign group Women 50:50 for the introduction of legislation that would ensure all political parties put forward as many female candidates as male candidates for each election.
Despite the issue of equal female representation in politics gaining momentum over the last few years, just 36% of Scotland’s MSPs are women and 29% of its local councillors.
Campaigners say voluntary programmes to support gender equality in politics haven’t worked.
Willie Sullivan, ERS senior director, said: “We know that equality guarantees are the most effective way to ensure gender balance, and therefore we back Women 50:50’s call for new legislation ensuring all parties have to put forward at least 50% women candidates in the Scottish Parliament and council elections.
“We also encourage continued efforts to ensure the devolution of electoral and equalities law to the Scottish Parliament. Should this happen we would urge the Scottish Government to explore the introduction of gender quotas for the Parliament.”
It also rejected UK government proposals to impose mandatory voter ID, and called for radical changes in the way people are able to vote, such as weekend voting and enabling people to vote at any polling station.
Sullivan added: “Participation should be the cornerstone of electoral reform and it is vital we make elections as accessible as possible while ensuring security.
“The changes we have proposed in our response to the consultation seek to make Scottish democracy fit for the 21st century – and end the injustice of citizens being underrepresented, unheard and alienated from our politics.”
Talat Yaqoob from Women 50:50 said: "I am delighted that Electoral Reform Scotland has backed our call for legislated candidate quotas in the Scottish Parliament and local council elections.
"Currently in Scotland there are 103 wards with no women represented in them, the number of women in the Scottish Parliament has decreased from 40% in 2007 to 35% today. It is clear that progress is not guaranteed, to ensure we have politicians who reflect the society they are seeking to represent, we need real action to increase women's representation in politics"
The SNP has introduced all female candidate lists when an MSP is standing down and has gender-balanced regional list candidates. The SNP led Scottish Government also has an gender equal cabinet.
A total of 49% of Scottish Labour candidates for last year’s snap UK election were women and 52% of candidates for the 2016 Holyrood election were women.
The Scottish Conservatives are opposed to quotas but have created the Women2Win programme to identify, recruit, assess and support female political candidates.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, whose five MSPs are all men, has said it is determined to change this in future.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring access to democratic participation for all. Scotland led the way internationally by lowering the voting age to 16 – however we want to go further to ensure we make the democratic process and participation as fair and inclusive as possible.”