IN the final part of her series looking at women in politics HANNAH RODGER considers the role of the Conservative Party.

IT may now be a less prominent force in Scotland than Labour or the SNP but on the issue of gender equality the Conservative party has a very clear stance.

Currently the party has just 15 MSPs at Holyrood, six of them women.

Three of their most prominent female figures – Annabelle Goldie, Nanette Milne and Mary Scanlon – have all announced they will step down ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections, meaning a new generation of Tory women is needed to fill their shoes.

This is something Scottish Leader Ruth Davidson knows all too well, but with her firm stance on not imposing all-female candidate lists, or introducing gender quotas, the challenge could be a difficult one.

“Our activist base tends to be around 50/50, but women tend to count themselves out as candidates, which is one of the most visible parts of the party, in a way they don’t do for other roles” explained Ms Davidson.

The Scottish leader, who first joined the party in 2009 after working at the BBC, said there was a “whole generation” of people leaving the party ahead of the Holyrood elections, but agreed the task is now “about identifying that next generation of women who need to come through.”

“I don’t believe in quota systems…” she added.

“What I do believe in is identification, encouragement, support, extra training if needs be and mentoring.

“These are the things I deploy and the party deploys to help bring women through the ranks.

“I just don’t believe in [quotas], for corporate boards, for politics … If you do it for gender, there is no reason why you don’t do it for everything.

“Why shouldn’t there be a quota for disabled people, for example?”

The leader, who was quickly boosted through the ranks of her party after she joined added: “Rightly or wrongly, when you have quotas people assume that you have only achieved your position because of the quota which has been put in place.”

Having worked under former leader Annabelle Goldie, Ms Davidson is no stranger to seeing women in prominent positions within the party and is passionate about encouraging more women to come forward and succeed.

One of her first initiatives came after she attended an executive meeting and was one of the only women in the room.

The other was an administrator who was there to take minutes.

Ms Davidson said: “[She was] placed at a separate table facing the wall while we had a discussion. I just thought ‘This is not okay; this is not how to run anything’.

“I completely changed the way in which the party in Scotland is run.

“We have a management board, on which the majority of people are elected.

“There are more women round the table.”

In Glasgow and the west of Scotland, there is a new influx of Tory women who have stepped up to the plate in the last few years.

One of their newest recruits is Annie Wells, a 43-year-old single mum from Springburn.

During the day Ms Wells is a manager of a supermarket and she has worked hard to support her son, now 21, who she has brought up alone since he was young.

The referendum triggered her involvement with the Conservative party, after she started challenging the default Labour vote of the majority of her family and neighbours in Springburn.

She said it had been a difficult move, particularly among some members of her family and community, but for her it was,“absolutely the right thing to do.”

She said: “People generally look at you, think you have never been involved in it before and say ‘You’re a women, what do you know?’.

“Those are the type of comments, especially during the general election campaign, which would come out.

“I was open that I hadn’t been involved in party politics before, that was my first stint at it.

“There was a bit of a stigma, but in a way, Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont have changed that.”

Ms Wells said it was thanks to the successes of these prominent female politicians that she was encouraged to get involved in the first place.

She added: “That is another reason why it was okay for me to say I wanted to do it, because in the past it had always been dominated by men.

“I’m only 5 ft, so for me to be in an environment where it’s all strapping guys you can feel like your voice is lost.

“When you see Ruth, Nicola, Johann and Kezia, you know we can be as strong and bold as we want to be.

“There isn’t that feeling of inferiority anymore.”

Having lost out at the General Election, Ms Wells is hoping to stand in next year’s Holyrood elections once selections are complete in a few months time, and hopes to encourage more women to engage in politics.