Election 2021 Guide

Voters will go to the polls on 6th May to elect Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

A total of 129 MSPs are elected and they debate and pass laws on devolved issues, which include health, education, transport, as well as some of the laws regarding tax and welfare – and the Gender Recognition Act. The UK Parliament at Westminster retains control over reserved issues such as defence, foreign policy, immigration, and equality legislation.

How Does Voting Work?
Everyone who is eligible to vote in Scotland has two votes – one for a Constituency MSP, and one for the Regional ballot.

There are 73 constituencies and an MSP for each is elected on a first-past-the-post system – the winner is simply the candidate who receives the the most votes in each constituency.

There are 8 regions and 7 MSPs for each are elected on a proportional system. People vote for a party who are then allocated a number of MSPs once a formula has been applied to the results. This is sometimes known as the “list vote” as each party will publish a list of their preferred candidates.

This means that everyone in Scotland is represented by eight MSPs – one representing their constituency and the other seven representing their region.

Who Can I Vote For?
Enter your postcode at Who Can I Vote For to find out who your constituency candidates are, and their contact details. The details of the parties standing in each region and their ranked list of candidates is also given.

Who Should I Vote For?
Obviously people will have all sorts of priorities when deciding who to vote for but we would encourage everyone to contact their candidates and ask where they stand on women’s rights. We think it is vitally important that anyone we vote for recognises the difference between sex and gender, and will commit to upholding the single-sex provisions in the Equality Act.

We have written to each constituency candidate, and the top three list candidates of each party in every region to ask them to sign up to our Women’s Pledge, and would appreciate if you could ask your candidates too.

Women’s Rights – What’s Happened and What Do the Parties Propose?
There are numerous parties standing in this election but we will concentrate on the six who are most likely to make up the new Parliament, and examine their track record and see what promises are being made to women in the manifestos:

The SNP operate a “transwomen are women” policy which was only disclosed during our judicial review hearing, and later confirmed by a Freedom of Information response. This means that, unless prohibited by law, they treat any man who claims to be a woman, as a woman – even if they have not obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate. And as the party of Government making the laws, this has led to new legislation that reflects that policy, including the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act, which redefined women as nothing more than a female name on a gas bill and she/her pronoun use. This is currently being challenged in the courts.

It has also resulted in consultation responses from the public being binned, women’s organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid compelled to demonstrate a transwomen inclusive policy to be eligible for funding, the sex question in next year’s census based on self-identification, violent male criminals housed in women’s prisons, and rapist’s crimes recorded as having been committed by a woman.

The Government has heavily funded trans lobby groups who misrepresent the Equality Act to public bodies, hospitals and schools, and despite Ministers conceding that the school guidance was “not legal” they have refused to withdraw it, resulting in the loss of girls’ changing rooms, toilets and sports. Replacement guidance was due in December 2019, but has yet to be published.

The Government also declined to accept the recommendation of the Committee scrutinising the Forensic Medical Services bill that rape victims should be entitled to ask for a medical examiner of a specific sex, rather than ‘gender’. It was only due to a potentially embarrassing rebellion from their own MSPs that the SNP gave their last minute support to Johann Lamont’s amendment to substitute sex for gender.

It also brought in the deeply unpopular Hate Crime Act which disregarded the recommendation of the commissioned review to add sex to the list of characteristics. The resultant law now protects men who cross-dress, but not women. Part 2 of the Act on stirring up hatred offences managed to unite many disparate groups against its curtailment of free speech, which includes the possible criminalising of conversations over the dinner table and women who want to discuss sex-based rights. The SNPs Justice Minister failed to meet with any concerned women’s groups despite numerous promises to do so.

All in all, it is a less than impressive track record!

The SNPs Manifesto outlines some promising plans to improve women’s health, expand childcare, promote women in sport, and increase funding to combat violence against women and girls.

However, it also remains committed to making what it calls ‘necessary’ changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) at the earliest opportunity. The details are not specified but the draft bill from the previous consultation, based on statutory self-declaration of sex, is primed and ready to go. We are to be reassured that these changes will not affect women’s protections under the Equality Act, but as we can see from their track record, that is not in the least bit reassuring. The SNP position very much remains that anyone who opposes the GRA reform and will not be ‘educated’ out of their disinformation, will be deemed to be using their concerns as a cover for transphobia. We are not impressed and our full response to their empty promises is here.

Verdict: They promise to talk to women, but somehow we don’t think we are the right sort of women.


The SNP are reportedly considering a coalition with the Greens, even if they win a majority in the election, in a move that could make Partick Harvie a Minister in the new Government and prove disastrous for women’s rights.

The Greens manifesto declares their allegiance to inclusive, intersectional feminism, by which they do not mean the dual inequalities faced by BAME women, but rather that feminism should include any man who claims to be a woman. They voted for the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act which redefined the meaning of ‘woman’, and would consider a board gender balanced if it consisted of 50% men and 50% men-who-claim-to-be-women. As well as self-declaration of sex the Greens are also proposing legal recognition for “non-binary identities and all genders” – so that’s people who do not think they have a sex, as well as perhaps over 100 different genders. They give no clue as to how equality could be monitored between, for example, vapogender and surgender identified people, or how this would do anything to meet their aim of closing the pay gap between men and women.

Earlier this week the the Greens hit the headlines over their plans to enshrine the Yogyakarta principles into Scots law. These principles were written by a lobby group and have not been adopted by any international treaty. They would dismantle women’s rights in their entirety and it is noteworthy that the UK signatory has since changed his mind, recognising that women were not considered. One of the principles calls for ending the recording of sex on all identity documents including birth certificates. Despite this commitment being quite clear in the manifesto the co-leader of the Greens, Lorna Slater, denied this is their intention at all:

Lorna Slater on the Sophy Ridge show, Sky News, 25 April 2021

As well as voting against the amendment to the Forensic Medical Services bill that would allow rape victims to request a female medical examiner, the Greens voted against every amendment to the Hate Crime Bill that would benefit women, namely, adding sex as a characteristic, adding the definition of sex, and protecting freedom of speech to discuss sex-based rights without the threat of a police investigation. They also voted to remove the duty to collect data on the sex of victims and perpetrators.

The manifesto says the party’s separate LGBT manifesto by the Rainbow Greens is available on the website here, but presumably the fact that we are “not authorized to access this page” means that only members, but not potential voters, are allowed to view it. If you have a strong stomach, see also the recent revelations about the co-convener, Eilidh Martin, who is not shy about posting porn soaked fantasies including “adult baby” fetishes and “underage furry porn” on Twitter. It remains to be seen whether the party will take any disciplinary action in this case, or in the case of MSP candidate Bradley Booth who also took to Twitter to threaten violence against women in another party.

Verdict: The Greens say: “vote like our future depends on it”. We agree. If you value a future for women’s rights, do not vote Green! If we could give them minus stars, we would.

Update: It has been brought to our attention that the Scottish Greens (not just the Lib Dems) advocate for the decriminalising of sex work in their manifesto, so we have downgraded their rating from a paltry half a star to  ZERO.


The Lib Dems manifesto contains some useful proposals for women including better maternal care and encouraging women and girls in business and STEM careers, though we could do without the plan to establish yet another working group to contemplate what to do about preventing violence against women and girls – the situation is dire and needs urgent action.

Worryingly, the Lib Dems are the only party to propose decriminalising sex work – a move that has been shown to increase trafficking of women and girls, and increase incidents of assault and murder. This is a contradiction to their plans to prevent violence against women and girls in all its forms, and fails to take into account the strong evidence in favour of the Nordic model which criminalises the purchase of sex and aims to help women exit the industry.

The Lib Dems stood with the Greens to be the only two parties who voted against Johann Lamont’s amendment to the Forensic Medical Services bill which allows rape victims the right to request a female medical examiner. They also voted for the Hate Crime Bill and against giving women the protection of including sex as an aggravator to crimes, or any security to discuss matters pertaining to sex and gender without it potentially being classed as a hate crime.

The manifesto proposes to reform the Gender Recognition Act along similar lines as the Greens, removing the requirement for a medical diagnosis to make a person’s legal sex a matter of self-identification. They also wish to see the introduction of a fictional third sex in order for non-binary identities to be legally recognised.

Verdict: Nothing for women here. Unlikely to as pivotal as the Greens in the new Parliament so we are being generous.


We say actions speak louder than words and the Conservatives have a good track record on the key votes affecting women over the last Parliament. Albeit it was due to their stance against quota systems they were still the only party to vote against the ‘woman’ redefining Gender Representation on Public Boards Act. They voted for the Forensic Medical Services bill amendment to ensure rape victims had the right to ask for a female medical examiner, and they voted to add sex to the Hate Crime bill. Through their convener on the Committee tasked with scrutinising the Hate Crime bill they were instrumental in bringing about amendments tempering the worst of the SNP’s original draft bill. Despite this, they were the only party (with the exception of one of their MSPs) to vote against the bill as a whole.

The manifesto promises to repeal the Hate Crime bill and introduce a sex aggravator into existing laws to punish crimes motivated by misogyny. They would also provide more funding to domestic abuse charities and launch a campaign to challenge attitudes towards sexual harassment.

There is not one mention of the Gender Recognition Act in the manifesto. While we welcome a party not planning to wipe out women’s name and rights in law, sweeping the issue under the carpet is not sufficient, it does need to be addressed and the other parties vigorously challenged. In a radio interview the party leader, Douglas Ross was unable to state the Conservatives were opposed to self-identification of sex – he did however know what a woman is and recognise that sex and gender are separate concepts.

Douglas Ross on Radio Scotland, 08 April 2021

Verdict: Could do surprisingly well on election day.


Scottish Labour is clearly a work in progress and has a confusing split personality. On the one hand, their dedicated women’s manifesto outlines many welcome ideas including female-specific medical research and data collection, and the reinstatement of single-sex hospital wards. It promises sustainable funding for services such as Scottish Women’s Aid and rape crisis centres, along with support for unpaid carers and improved child care services, the tackling of sex-based stereotypes in schools and protection of girls single-sex sports. Importantly, they promise to use the Equality Act to frame equalities policies and will bring in an Equal Pay Act to address sex discrimination in workplace salaries.

On the other hand, the main manifesto potentially undoes all these promises with plans to reform the GRA along the premise of self-identification of sex and allow for the legal recognition of people who identify as neither men nor women.

It seems to have escaped their notice that it is impossible to provide single-sex services if men can choose to be women, and just how can equal pay between the sexes be achieved if people can declare themselves as not having a sex at all.

Given the impressive work in protecting women’s rights in the Forensic Medical Services bill and the plethora of amendments argued for in the Hate Crime bill we hoped the party had, at heart, understood the issues, and the loss of Johann Lamont, Elaine Smith and Jenny Marra, who are not standing as MSPs in this election, would not be to the detriment to the ethos of the party.

Clearly many strong campaigners for women remain in the party but it remains to be seen whether this is enough to resolve the dichotomy between women’s rights and self-identification of sex.

Verdict: Potentially the best package of policies for women and girls but requires a leap of faith that the party will listen to women’s concerns and backtrack on self-identification of sex.


Alba is a new party led by former First Minister Alex Salmond. It is standing candidates only in the Regional ballot with the aim of increasing the total number of MSPs who support independence for Scotland.

The Manifesto incorporates the policy statement adopted by their Women’s Conference and undertakes to protect and preserve women’s rights. The party promises a citizens’ assembly on how best to reform the Gender Recognition Act, and believes women have the right to:

  • discuss all policies which affect them, without being abused and silenced.
  • maintain their sex based protections as set out in the Equality Act 2010. These include female only spaces such as changing rooms, hospital wards, sanitary and sleeping accommodation, refuges, hostels and prisons.
  • refuse consent to males in single sex spaces or males delivering intimate services to females such as washing, dressing and counselling.
  • single sex sports to ensure fairness and safety at all levels of competition.
  • organise themselves according to their sex class across a range of cultural, leisure, educational and political activities.

Verdict: For those in favour of independence, this is the premium option for women’s rights.


It was interesting to see just how often the parties mention the following key words in their manifestos. We won’t read too much into it but will note that, despite the increasing recognition that sex and gender are not synonymous and refer to two distinct and separate concepts, there is still a tendency to say gender when it really should be sex.


Final note:
There are many other smaller parties hoping for your vote in this election, some of whom are very supportive of women’s rights, for example the Social Democrats who have candidates standing in Glasgow and Lothian regions, and Ruth Wilkinson for WEP in Glasgow. Please do contact your candidates, especially those who are standing as an independent, and ask their views on women’s rights. And bear in mind that even within parties that support self-identification of sex there are some excellent individual candidates such as Joan McAlpine in the SNP and Pauline McNeill in Scottish Labour who are well worth your vote.