Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh: Local elections are the SNP's next big challenge and equality must be at the heart of it

Ahead of the party conference this week in Glasgow, SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh explains why she's standing for re-election as the SNP's national women's and equalities convener

IN the last few weeks, Theresa May's government has created a dark undertone for our national political debate.
 
Implicit threats to deport doctors from abroad, the demonisation of foreign workers and discouraging foreign students from studying here are all symptoms of the malaise that now characterises UK politics.
 
This dangerous undercurrent has helped to breed intolerance at all levels of our society. For example, homophobic attacks in the UK have increased by over 100 per cent since the Brexit vote, while cases of bullying and racist behaviour are also rising.

Read more – Jamie Szymkowiak: Why the SNP needs a women’s convener

That's why it’s so important that those of us who champion progressive politics stand up to be counted. We need to counter the hatred and bigotry emanating from the Tory right. But rhetoric alone is not enough.
 
We must demonstrate that our politics are inclusive, tolerant and progressive, and that our elected representatives fully reflect our wider society.
 
That’s why I’m standing for re-election as the SNP’s national women’s and equalities convener.
 
Later this week, delegates to the SNP Conference in Glasgow will have the opportunity to cast their vote for their preferred candidate. Over the past five years I’ve been grateful to be voted onto our national executive committee (NEC) by conference delegates and then by my peers in the SNP Westminster group. 

Currently only one in four local councillors in our country are women, while only 10 BAME councillors were elected in total across Scotland at the last set of elections in 2012. We must do better. I believe that the SNP can and should lead the way.

I’m also indebted to the NEC to have entrusted me with the role of promoting equalities within the party at this time.
 
It’s been a privilege to serve the party in this way, and to lead important initiatives such as the establishment of the annual SNP Women’s Conference, changing of the rules for the selection of candidates for this year’s Holyrood elections to support female candidates, and to establish our first ever Equalities Conference to be held in Glasgow this Sunday. 

This event will bring together women, BAME, LGBTI and disabled SNP members in one place to share our experience and best practice in order to promote equality for all.  
 
I’m particularly proud that the results of our work over the past few years have led to a significant and substantial increase in the number of female SNP parliamentarians at Westminster and Holyrood, and the establishment of a network of women’s officers – and now branch equalities officers – up and down the country. 
 
But there’s still so much to be done.

Read more – Angela Crawley MP: An open letter to members of the SNP

The local authority elections in May 2017 are the SNP’s next big challenge.
 
Our key priority must be to ensure that we elect a strong group of SNP councillors in every one of the 32 local authorities across Scotland, allowing them to work in partnership with the Scottish Government to implement our progressive policy agenda at a local level. 

Alongside this we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that the SNP representatives we elect are properly representative of the communities we seek to serve.
 
That’s why I’m pleased that following the vote at the SNP’s last spring conference in Glasgow, national council approved plans in June to improve the number of female candidates standing for the SNP next May. 

Currently only one in four local councillors in our country are women, while only 10 BAME councillors were elected in total across Scotland at the last set of elections in 2012. We must do better. I believe that the SNP can and should lead the way.

I want to use my experience of the last few years in working with others in the party to make a positive difference to the number of women in parliament to ensure that we also achieve a better gender balance in local politics. 

I want to use my experience of the last few years in working with others in the party to make a positive difference to the number of women in parliament to ensure that we also achieve a better gender balance in local politics. 

I also believe that we can build on the encouraging experience of recent years to also improve the number of councillors from a BAME background, and rectify the poor representation of disabled people in public life.
 
In 2015, I became the first BAME woman to be elected to any parliament to represent a Scottish constituency. I personally understand the challenges that under-represented groups face in making their way in modern politics.
 
But I also believe that my record of achievement and teamwork will be invaluable over the coming months if we’re to change the face of local government in Scotland for the better next year.

Picture courtesy of Cary Bass-Deschenes

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