To celebrate and spotlight incredible women as part of our 2022 Sex & Power launch, we have spoken to three women who are leading the way in politics, covering their journey to power, the challenges they have faced and their thoughts on how we can improve women's representation across political institutions in the UK.

In this blog, Fawcett spoke to Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP, a Scottish Labour politician representing the Glasgow region. Pam is the first permanent wheelchair to be elected to Scottish Parliament.


Pam, we’d love to hear about your journey into politics and how you got to be to where you are today:  

I got into politics as a student, around 20 years ago now, and I was asked at that time to sit on the student's representative council to represent disabled students. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it initially, or if I would be very good at it, but I decided to go along to the first meeting of that semester. The first thing that was on the agenda for discussion was re-fit of the student union nightclub – there was a question on lift access to the basement, which is where the nightclub was. So immediately, I started to ask questions and delve deeper into access for wheelchair users and for people with neurodiverse impairments too.  

It was clear to me after that first meeting, had I not been in the room, it might’ve been that none of those questions would’ve been raised. That was my first foray into political activism.   

Thinking even further back than that, I went to a very small, rural school and I was the only person who looked significantly different from anyone else. One day in a modern studies class my teacher asked what I thought about positive action. When I replied I said that I hoped to get a job based on merit and on that basis, I didn’t agree with it. When I went home that day, I told my Mum about the conversation, she turned to me and said: “Oh Pam, you’ve got a lot to learn – as a woman, you are going to struggle and as a disabled woman, you are going to struggle even more. So, take every advantage you can get.”  

So, my Mum’s comment then combined with my experience on the student representative council - where I felt as though I was the only person talking on behalf of disabled people - led me to think, change doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design. You have to strive to improve representation. And that’s why I decided to get into politics.  

Shortly after this realisation, it turned to party politics. I started to look at who were the people in power and what were they doing about the issues I cared about. At that time, we had a Labour Government in power, and I am very proud of what that Government did for disabled people and for single parents. This was all happening whilst I was cutting my teeth in the political world, so I felt a natural home in a party that was doing the right thing for people I wanted to represent.  

It’s cliché, but the rest is history. People within the Labour party offered me opportunities and platforms that were otherwise unavailable, largely, to women and specifically disabled women. So, taking on those opportunities allowed me to open doors to more politicalised career and I will always be grateful for that.  

What do you think can be done to attract and retain more women into politics and what difference do you think it would make to our democracy? 

What we have in Scotland that we don’t have in the rest of the UK is a proportional representation system that affords itself to more positive action than one might otherwise take.  

A lot of the opportunities that I have been able to get in the Labour Party have come through positive action, on all-women shortlists or using the list process to ensure equal representation for men and women – it does make a significant difference. Whilst I can only speak on behalf of the Labour party, I do know that other parties use systems and processes too, in hope of becoming more representative.  

And this goes back to my point of accident and design – it’s not an accident that there 45% of MSPs are women in Scotland – it’s because the Parliament has been designed to be that way.  

I will try to do all that I can to represent disabled women in Scottish Parliament. But, just by being in the room makes a difference. I’m conscious that as a disabled woman and as the first permanent wheelchair user in parliament, anytime anyone in the chamber is talking about a disabled person they are now talking about one of their own. It’s much harder to make decisions that don’t benefit people if you never have to look them in the eye – no matter how much outreach you do or how much lived experience you gather, you cannot beat the equality of the impact of a vote – and when there’s only 129 of you, that matters. 

Yes, there is so much I can do in and out of parliament to raise the voices of disabled people but just by me being in the room, you can begin to see a difference and that’s why representation is important.   

Is enough being done to make our parliaments more representative of the places we live?   

The short answer is no, there is a lot of work to do to make our political institutions more representative of our communities. Firstly, we have a lot of work to do from a political party perspective – parties have huge responsibility in this. All parties, and I include my own, have to take better action and they have to go faster – the pace of change it just too slow. It is ridiculous that we have only recently elected two women of colour to Scottish Parliament, it’s not good enough. And yes, what that means is positive action.  

Ultimately, political parties will put forward candidates that they believe to be most electable. My view of an electable person is going to be different to someone else’s – but it’s safe to say that a pale, stale, non-disabled male is not going to be the choice of a working class, disabled woman in a wheelchair. Therefore, we absolutely must address the lack of representation through positive action in parties.  

There is a bigger question about improving representation though and it speaks more to the structural and systemic inequalities in our society. We cannot expect disabled people, or women of colour or LGBT people to end up in parliament if we can’t even expect them to leave their house in the morning because for example, they don’t get any social care. For women, with the increase in unpaid work, the impact on mental health and often the lack of opportunity for workplace progression, things are tough. People are facing serious inequalities that have only gotten worse during the pandemic So, if you pile battling systemic equalities onto thinking about knocking at the door of a political party, it’s not easy.  

If you’re a disabled person, you might require a carer, accessible transport, an accessible building and accessible information plus a whole lot of self-esteem and confidence. So, imagine all the things that you’ve had achieve simply to just get to the door of the political party. There is a lot to do before we get anywhere near more people represented in parliament, unless we take, active, specific, and positive steps - quickly.   

What would your one recommendation be to improve women’s representation?   

You guessed it – more use of positive action. 


Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP is a Scottish Labour politician who was elected as an MSP in May 2021, she is the first permanent wheelchair user elected to the Scottish Parliament. This year's Sex & Power charts the progress made in Scottish Parliament, which is close to gender parity. 

Fawcett is calling on political parties, Government and business to make change and improve women's representation in our latest Sex & Power 2022 Index here