By Lee Chalmers

In 2012 I tore up my Liberal Democrat membership card after three years as a party member and activist. The party’s failure to make meaningful progress on gender equality was a big part of my decision.

As Scottish LibDems meet at their conference this weekend to vote on measures to increase gender equality, including all-women shortlists (AWS), I feel for the many LibDem women and men who have been waiting for this for so long.

The arguments against AWS and other gender quotas are well rehearsed but they do not stack up, not in the LibDems or in any other field of politics or business.

“We should only select on merit” is the most familiar cry.

But how can anyone look at the ranks of talented women routinely passed over for selection or promotion and think that the world works on the basis of merit? While relatively mediocre men continue to rise above more talented women, there is clearly a need for action.

In fact, research published in May investigated the validity of criticisms of AWS. The researchers concluded that: “AWS, much like gender quotas elsewhere, do not facilitate the entry of unqualified women, jeopardise a party’s electoral fortunes or lead to the election of sub-par MPs.

"Rather, they reduce barriers for well-prepared women to stand as candidates, have neutral or positive effects on party vote shares and produce diligent and active MPs. These results suggest that quotas are not a threat to ‘merit’ at any stage of the political process but, rather, may foster diversity while also contributing to positive democratic outcomes.”

So let’s hope that the Scottish LibDems finally accept that gender bias and other institutional factors, not a lack of merit, stop excellent women becoming elected representatives. If that doesn’t happen, the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) is here to offer a home to anyone who is fed up waiting for gender equality and is ready to take action.

More broadly, we see all-women shortlists as an absolute minimum measure to ensure that women are fairly and equally represented in politics. We are also advocating policies to ensure that 50 per cent of public appointments go to women and 50 per cent of councillors are female. This week the WEP was proud to become the first party in Scotland to sign up wholesale – as a party, not as individuals – to the Women 50:50 campaign.

I believe we must also take action to ensure equal and fair representation of people from all ethnic communities, sexualities and sexual orientation, as well as disabled people and people of all ages. When you look at our boardrooms and political debating chambers, it’s staggering to remember that white, middle-aged, non-disabled men actually make up less than one in six of the population.

Of course, important as it is, equal representation alone will not guarantee equality in practice.

The Scottish Parliament has had three terms to get it right on gender equality. Progress, even where it has been made, has been far too slow.

Violence against women and girls – highly gendered in nature and linked to broader stereotypes and tolerance of "casual" sexism – continues to be an appalling stain on our society.

The Equal Pay Act will mark its 50th anniversary in 2020 yet women continue to be paid less than men for work of equal value.

Women continue to bear the brunt of childcare and other caring responsibilities with limited policies to enable men to take on their fair share.

All of this is why I am proud to be standing for election to Holyrood in May as one of the first WEP candidates in Scotland. If the LibDem leadership fails to deliver on AWS this weekend, we stand ready to welcome anyone who feels they can no longer wait for their party to catch up.

Lee Chalmers is the number one Lothian list candidate for the Women's Equality Party. Founded last year in response to a lack of national movement on gender equality, the party is pressing for equal pay, equal representation, equal parenting and care giving, equal media treatment, equal education and an end to violence against women and girls.