“The National Labour Women’s Committee is now up and running, and we will be keen to see how the rest of the UK gets on with building up Women’s Branches and strengthening women’s voices across the Party.”
Ann Henderson, Member of Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee, Scottish Labour Women’s Committee and UK National Labour Women’s Committee looks back at the Scottish Labour Women’s Conference and forward to the National Labour Women’s Conference.
As Labour women start to get organised for Labour’s National Women’s Conference in March 2022 – recently notified as once again being held online –recent experience shows that the left will need to be more organised than ever to win the policy and elect the candidates that women need to take the Labour women’s organisation forward.
Labour women from across Scotland met in Glasgow on Saturday 20th November, for the first in-person Scottish Labour event since the start of the pandemic. The last time we were able to meet together as a policy making, delegate based, Women’s conference was in November 2018 in Dunfermline.
Over the last three years, the women elected to the Women’s Committee have met 21 times, hosted various online calls, supported women in applying to be candidates, drafted a Women’s manifesto for 2021, established — with staff support — a regular e-newsletter to women members, and successfully applied for Labour NEC funding to pilot some work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women members to address the under-representation in Party membership in Scotland, and improve engagement with women in BAME communities.
The atmosphere in Glasgow was very positive, with over two thirds of CLPs represented, along with the citywide Glasgow Labour Women’s Forum/Branch, and the newly formed Dundee City Women’s Branch. Trade union delegations also participated fully. A wide range of motions were brought forward, on topics including: Women and Girls in Afghanistan; workplace support for perimenopausal and menopausal women; support for the recommendations of the Dorrian Review (for a new specialist court dealing with serious sexual offences); funding of women’s services and community interventions outside the criminal justice system; Care service, and care workers; child poverty; public toilet facilities; cervical cancer screening for the physically disabled; and a call for the Party to campaign on a number of the policies that were in the Scottish Labour Women’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections May 2021. One amendment was accepted to one of the motions.
A short film tribute to Maria Fyfe (1938 -2020) moved us all, and a commitment was given by the Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie MSP to a new mentoring scheme for women candidates, in Maria’s memory. Johann Lamont, former MSP, was our first guest speaker, on the Conference theme of ‘Strong Women’, encouraging women in the Party to speak up, to challenge misogyny, and to support each other too. Johann reflected on the importance of the previous Labour Women’s organisation, including local Women’s Sections, in building up women’s voices in the Party and broader labour movement.
The speeches on motions were great, and delegates really appreciated being able to be in the same room, not on a screen. The venue had social distancing requirements in place, so we were unable to run workshops or fringe events, minimising movement around the building. The lunchbreak allowed some face to face smaller groups, and there were a few surprises as women met each other in person for the first time, as height is much more noticeable than when everyone is on a screen!
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch CLP had submitted a motion calling for greater use of technology, and online engagement, to increase participation opportunities from rural constituencies. Although the delegate was unable to attend Conference and the motion therefore not spoken to, this issue had been raised earlier in the year, and the incoming Women’s Committee will take it up.
A composite motion from Linlithgow CLP and the Glasgow Women’s Forum addressed the ongoing discussions over the Scottish Government’s proposed Gender Recognition Reform Bill, and called for the Labour Party in Scotland to lead on finding a route forward that respects the rights of women and trans people through empathetic and respectful dialogue. The motion was agreed by Conference, and the Women’s Committee is tasked with undertaking consultation with members, workplaces, and community groups, before reporting back to the Scottish Exec and Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party. Delegates in their majority welcomed this approach and it is hoped that CLPs and affiliates will all get their members involved.
Powerful contributions in a panel session on climate change gave delegates much to think about. Monica Lennon MSP, Shadow Cabinet lead on Climate change at that time, Councillor Eva Murray from Glasgow, and Roz Foyer General Secretary STUC, all reflected on the recent COP26 decisions and activities in Glasgow. The message ‘climate justice is social justice’ was clear, and we will be looking at how to incorporate this into Labour’s forthcoming local government election manifestos.
There were a number of ballots at conference, most of which were counted after the event, due to staffing and COVID requirements. The Conference directly elects two women onto the Scottish Executive (SEC). The CLP section place was contested by Tricia Duncan and Monique McAdams, with Monique, the incumbent, being successful. The trade union seat was filled by Lorna Robertson from Unite, also re-elected the SEC.
A Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee has now been elected, initially for a one year term. Anna Dyer, Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, and CLPD member, contested this election but was unsuccessful.
The incoming Scottish Labour Women’s Committee results were not known until after the Conference and saw a shift towards the right of the Party. The CLP section had eight candidates running for four places. Disappointingly, none of the sitting left members in that section were re-elected. The four new Committee members elected, by a sizeable majority and in a block although without publicly declaring a slate, are Taibah Khan, Elaine McDougall, Louise Roarty, and Kirsteen Sullivan. This has also shifted to a much narrower geographical representation. The affiliate seats were uncontested and are now filled by Cathy Peattie from CWU, Agnes Tolmie from Unite, Eleanor Haggett from Unison, Gwen Wall from LGBT Labour. Other positions on the Committee are still to be confirmed.
Scottish Women’s Conference rules may vary from those for the UK Annual Women’s Conference. For example, each CLP or Women’s Branch may send two delegates and another place for a young woman (under 27) too. This year a number of CLPs took this place up. However, Equalities monitoring has not yet been completed or reported on, so there may still be work to do, where there continues to be under-representation.
Our Women’s Conference will be sending four motions to the Scottish Party spring conference (to be held in Glasgow, 4-6 March), and one motion to the UK Labour Women’s Conference in the Spring. The topic overwhelmingly supported for the UK Women’s Conference is on Violence Against Women and Girls.
The National Labour Women’s Committee is now up and running, and we will be keen to see how the rest of the UK gets on with building up Women’s Branches and strengthening women’s voices across the Party. Following on from some confusion at the 2021 UK Labour women’s Conference over the procedure for taking one motion from Scotland and one from Wales, as in the national rules, I was able to get this clarified at the first meeting of the new National Women’s Committee. These two motions will stand alone, allowing women from Scotland and from Wales to speak to their priorities.
As the current representative from the Scottish Labour Women’s Committee on the UK Labour Women’s Committee, I have also raised issues such as the consideration in the future of hybrid conferences and other measures to increase opportunities for women from rural areas, those with caring responsibilities, and those with lower incomes and from CLPs with little resource. It is agreed that we need to do much more effective equalities monitoring to then address any under-representation.
At the recent meeting of the National Women’s Committee, members confirmed that the criteria for delegates to the 2022 Annual Women’s Conference should be based on the Rules as agreed at Labour’s Annual Conference in September 2021, and as published online. Equalities monitoring has been inadequate at both the 2019 and 2021 Women’s conferences, and more work needs to be done to ensure any positive action measures are effective and appropriate.
The UK Democracy Review placed establishing equality structures high on its priorities. Whilst the progress has been slow, it is good news that BAME structures will now be set up as agreed at Annual Conference. There are serious questions over resources at local, regional and national levels, and members are encouraged to press for the support we need to build accountable and democratic structures at all levels. The UK Women’s Committee has a working group looking at the new Women’s Branches. This met for the first time recently – so if you have any experiences to report, good or bad, please email to email@example.com or contact me direct on firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Scotland we moved more quickly to establish a Women’s Committee, with an active membership and staff support. Some multi-CLP Women’s Forums (now Branches) have been set up, but not without difficulties, including the problem of not having access to the data which would allow direct contact with women members in the relevant area.
The National Labour Women’s Committee elected in June 2021 is beginning to find its feet but there is much work to do. We are looking forward to meeting with women from across England, Scotland and Wales again in March. Deadlines are tight and motions and rule changes must be submitted by 11 February. The left must be organised if we are to avoid some of the setbacks in elections experienced in Scotland. To keep in touch with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Women in the run-up to the Conference please complete the form here.
- Ann Henderson is a Member of Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee, Scottish Labour Women’s Committee and UK National Labour Women’s Committee. You can follow her on twitter here.
- Stay in touch with the the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Women in the run-up to the Conference here.