Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick gives series of talks in honour of bicentenary

Links Sir John A. Macdonald, Scotland with importance of women in politics

The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, left, gave a Principal’s Forum speech on Scotland’s constitutional journey at Grant Hall last Saturday.
The Rt. Hon. Tricia Marwick, left, gave a Principal’s Forum speech on Scotland’s constitutional journey at Grant Hall last Saturday.

The Right Honourable Tricia Marwick, in the spirit of Sir John A. Macdonald’s work for representative government and political reform, gave a series of lectures at Queen’s on Friday and Saturday regarding the constitutional journey of Scotland and the importance of bringing young women into politics.

In 2011, Marwick was appointed Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, a non-partisan position similar to the Speaker of the House of Commons in the Canadian parliamentary system. She’s the first woman in that position since the devolution to home rule in Scotland in 1999.

“I was born in a mining community, my father was a miner. I was one of seven [children] — I didn’t go to university,” Marwick said.

“I got involved in politics not until I was 30.”

After Scotland’s 2011 election, the percentage of women in the Scottish Parliament was close to 1999 levels of 37 per cent. While this is a markedly higher percentage than in many parliaments, Marwick said, “we shouldn’t settle for 37 per cent”.

There’s a distinct gap between men and women in politics not only in Macdonald’s and Marwick’s Scotlands, but globally, she said. Only Rwanda and Andorra have parliaments with at least 50 per cent of seats held by women.

Lack of representation not only damages the functions of parliament, Marwick said, but also reflects a deficit between the social upbringing of boys and girls.

She added that the greatest barriers to women entering politics start in adolescence, where boys are more often encouraged to participate politically. Young girls often suffer from a confidence gap in part thanks to a lack of female role models in politics, which thereby deters women from pursuing political endeavours.

“We need to rebalance the political system,” Marwick said.

She said there’s a deep structural disadvantage to women who are in politics, and towards those who would like to be in politics. She added that the structure disadvantages women, that the political system is in need of repair and that “we need to put in mechanisms to do so.” In Scotland, there’s a cross-party coalition working to establish a 50/50 male-female quota system to encourage the inclusion of women in Parliament.

Sir John A. Macdonald looked to the union between Scotland and England for inspiration on how he wanted Canadian Confederation and the relationship between Canada and the United Kingdom to look. Like Macdonald, Marwick has a vision to create a more equal and representative political system — through gender equality.

“If we don’t address the gender imbalance in politics, then it’s not just politics that suffers from that — it’s society,” she said.

— With files from Natasa Bansagi

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