Broadband Investment is great… But what about Phone Coverage 

Anyone who buys The National will turn on page 24 today and see a ranty letter sent from a wee patch of 3G near Lockerbie, from a lad who’s blood pressure goes up everytime he leaves a 5 miles radius of a Scottish City. 

Our nation isn’t famed for its phone coverage; indeed Scotland’s geography poses some very difficult challenges to telecoms companies in that we’re a land of deep valleys, craggy mountains and scattered islands. But we’re also supposedly a world leader in technology, education and commerce – so it seems mad that we have some of the poorest phone coverage in Western Europe. 

Everyone’s done that dreaded stretch on the M8 around Harthill (our supposed Heart of Scotland) where the deadzone means you can’t get signal for miles in either direction; I don’t think this is a network limited issue either – people from a broad range of mobile service providers report similar problems. 

Nicola Sturgeons announcement of £9m yesterday to tackle lack of super fast broadband in rural areas comes as a welcomed relief to those communities, but there are still vast parts of our less wild reaches where basic 3G mobile coverage is unattainable. In this day and age, the analogy of mobile connections being akin to the roads of Ancient Rome isn’t that far off… In order to connect, to trade and do business we all rely more and more on our mobile technology rather than our now outdated desktop computers. If we’re to push ahead as world leaders in Internet access we must ensure that basic mobile access also exists. 

It’s understandable that commercial companies have limited interest in supplying or ensuring mass coverage to areas where the population density is low, but it isn’t excusable that government area lobbying, or willing to invest to ensure that blanket coverage is available. The mobile infrastructure project (MiP) – allocating up to £150m to provide mobile coverage in Not-Spot and partial-not-spot areas – so far has only reported one ‘go live’ project in Yorkshire in 2013. The project has been hit with slow progress and numerous delays and the initial funding period has now been pushed back from 2015-16 and looks likely to be extended beyond that as well. 

If you agree more needs to be done; write to your MP/MSP asking what more can be done from government to ensure blanket phone coverage in rural areas and whether MiP funding has been applied for in your area to tackle mobile balckouts. 

The Great Gender Equality Debate

Scottish Labour’s move this week lifts their gender balanced aims for Holyrood 2016 up, but their official policy still falls short of the decision at the SNP conference to allow all female candidate lists and to ensure that all lists have at least one potential female candidate. But is this push towards gender-equality max what really needs to be done to ensure our parliament is more reflective of the demographic of the society it serves?

Its no great secret that women have classically struggled to get ahead in politics; from Nancy Astor taking her seat in Westminster in 1919, to the first female appointment to the House of Lords in 1958, the struggles and discrimination these women faced discouraged many would be parliamentarians from rearing their heads above the crowd and kept female numbers at Westminster relatively low. Fast forward some years to the appointment of a female party leader, Margaret Thatchers premiership and the emergence of a broad range of groups such as Women for Independence – clear in the public eye, all promoting and pushing for those with the aspiration to lead and represent to come forward and be heard – the picture starts to look better; and yet still today only around a quarter of MPs are female.

So why is there still such a discrepancy between what we see (a quarter of MPs being female) and what we know (the UK gender balance ratio is 0.99 male/female)?

In Scotland we bucked the UK wide trend somewhat in that our current parliament, elected in 2011, brought in 45 female MSPs (35% of the chamber). The additional member system lets us, rightly or wrongly, ensure that the parties have at least some control in trying to ensure adequate gender balance, and this has been reflected in subsequent seatings of the Welsh Assembly, which elects on the same principle voting system. But even 35% still falls short of the representative 50% that would address the issues of demographic imbalance. So what is the correct answer?

There is no doubt that list quotas work – 21 female MSPs were elected as constituency members and 24 as regional MSPs through the list system. But does firing women at the glass ceiling work, or should the focus be on a deconstruction of the barriers in place?

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story Harrison Bergeron imagines a world with forced absolute equality; where the beautiful wear masks, the strong wear weights and the intelligent have radios inside their ears filling their head with white noise. Do gender balanced lists equate to enforced equality? To be honest I’m not sure, they seem to address an important disparity between male and female representation in politics but there is a long way to go before we can say we have a fully inclusive and representative political system.

Scottish Labour’s plans for greater female representation in Holyrood 2016

SNP vote to lead on Gender Equality