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Gender and the Core Executive: Ministers and Institutions in Scotland

Sat, September 2, 10:00 to 11:30am, Parc 55, Embarcadero


An emerging research agenda has sought to shift the attention of work on gender and representation away from legislatures and women’s policy agencies to look more closely at the relationship between gender and executives (Annesley and Gains 2010; Annesley and Franceschet 2015). Not only is the core executive a crucial locus of power and policy change, but the continuing under-representation of women ‘at the top’ raises important questions about legitimacy and representation. Existing studies in this area have focused largely on explaining variations in women’s access to ministerial and executive power (Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005; Krook and O’Brien 2012; Jalalzai 2013). More recent work, however, has sought to dig more deeply into the ‘inner life’ of the core executive (cf. Mackay and Rhodes 2014), mapping the ways in which the everyday practices of ministerial office embed constructions of masculinity and femininity, reinforcing gendered hierarchies of power. This paper contributes to this research agenda, asking how ministers experience gender in the core executive and examining how ministers navigate the demands, rules and rituals of central government.

We address these issues through an examination of the core executive in post-devolution Scotland. As the growing body of research on gender and executives highlights, the formal and informal rules of the core executive shape who is selected for cabinet positions, what resources are available to these actors, and possibilities for policy change. Scotland, therefore, provides an interesting case study in which to explore these dynamics, as the establishment of a new Scottish Parliament in 1999 meant that many of the ‘rules’ of the core Executive had yet to be clarified, theoretically opening up possibilities for change. More recently, Scotland has seen historic breakthroughs at the top, with the election of Nicola Sturgeon as the first female First Minister of Scotland in 2014, and her subsequent appointment of a gender parity cabinet. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative data, including a unique data set of ‘exit interviews’ with former government ministers, we map the formal and informal rules of the Scottish Executive and their gendered effects, assessing patterns of recruitment, resources, and relationships from 1999 onwards (cf. Annesley and Gains 2010). In doing so, we provide new insights into both the general and gendered power dynamics in this crucial institution, while also highlighting the ways in which these have shifted over time.