…but is it Good News for Women?

By Dr. Meryl Kenny (UNSW) and Dr. Fiona Mackay (Edinburgh)

Originally posted on the Gender Politics at Edinburgh blog.

Political pundits are claiming the results of the 2012 local government elections are “good news” for the SNP, as the largest party in local politics, and “good news” for resurgent Scottish Labour, which held onto the city of Glasgow. We ask -  but is there good news for women’s representation?

  • The overall headline figures are up from 21.6 % in 2007, to a new high of 24.3% in 2012.
  • The number of women councillors elected in 2012 has increased from 263 in the last local elections to a total of 297, an overall increase of 34 women councillors.
  • South Lanarkshire tops the league table with 34.3% female councillors, whilst Inverclyde takes last place with just one female councillor (5%).

While these numbers represent a modest improvement on previous elections – and a record performance since the mid 1990s – the general trend remains one of stalled progress.

To put these results into perspective:

  • Less than 1:4 Scottish councillors is a woman.
  • These numbers are particularly disappointing in the context of electoral results elsewhere in the UK. For example, 40% of councillors elected in the 36 English metropolitan councils are women, and several councils have achieved gender parity or better, including Bury (64% women), South Tyneside (57%) and Gateshead (55%)[1].

We’re a long way from saying goodbye to the male, pale and stale face of Scottish local politics.

How did the parties do?

Most noteworthy are the improved results for the Scottish Labour party (see Table 1). The dismal performance of the party in terms of women’s representation at local level has stood in stark contrast to the party’s trailblazing performance in the Scottish Parliament, where the party achieved 50/50 in 1999 and maintained gender balance in its parliamentary group until 2011. In response to our report on the low numbers of women candidates standing in the 2012 local elections, Scottish Labour reported that it had put into action a policy placing women candidates in half of all vacant seats (read more here).

This was part of a wider process of modernization of candidate recruitment at local level within the party. Although the number of Labour women councillors elected is still low (26.1%), these figures do represent significant progress – an increase of just over eight percentage points – from the party’s poor performance in 2007 (17.5%).

We can see the impact of Labour’s equality measures in the key contests of Edinburgh and Glasgow, where the party’s strong performance has helped to boost headline figures.

In Edinburgh:

  • While the number of female councillors elected has dropped overall (from 17 in 2007 to 15 in 2012), the number of Labour women has increased from 5 out of 15 Labour councillors in 2007 (33.3%)[2] to 8 out of 20 Labour councillors in 2012 (40%).  In contrast only 2 out of 18 SNP councillors in the capital are female (11%)

In Glasgow:

  • Women were 10 out of 45 Labour councillors in 2007 (22%), rising to 14 out of 44 Labour councillors in 2012 (31.8%).  In contrast, 7 out of 27 SNP Glasgow councillors are women (25.9%).
  • Overall, the percentage of women on Glasgow City Council has increased from 24% in 2007 (19 women out of 79 councillors) to 30.3% in 2012 (24 women out of 79 councillors).

Turning next to the SNP, it has also seen the percentage of women councillors elected rise from the last elections (from 21.2% in 2007 to 24.8% in 2012). The party has the highest actual number of women councillors of any of the parties (105 to Labour’s 103). Yet this translates into only 1 in 4 of SNP councillors.  The party’s performance at the local level mirrors that at Scottish Parliament level, where in 2011, only 27.5% of SNP MSPs were women.

As previously reported, the SNP is drafting a new equalities strategy, including new guidance and advice to party branches, and a taskforce has been appointed, under the leadership of NEC member Julie Hepburn, to address the problem of women’s under representation at both local and Scottish parliamentary levels.

The Scottish Greens were lauded for having the highest proportion of female candidates (40.7%) this time around. The party’s equality mechanisms are supposed to ensure that women candidates are fairly placed in winnable seats, but this hasn’t translated into improved numbers of Green women councillors in 2012. Only 4 out of the 14 Green councillors are women (28.6%), albeit in the context of small numbers overall.

The Liberal Democrats have returned to their 2003 levels of performance on women’s representation, with women making up 26 of 71 elected councillors (36.6%). This improvement, however, is set in the wider context of a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote across Scotland, which makes it difficult to make strong conclusions about the party’s performance.

The Conservatives have marginally improved on their 2007 performance, rising from 23.8% women councillors in 2007 to 24.3% in 2012, although again this is in the context of small numbers overall. The percentage of women Independents/Others remains low at 15.3%.  Only around 1 in 6 Independent/Other councillors is a woman.

Turning finally to patterns of representation across local authorities, the picture is one of wide variation (see Table 2). Only 5 of the 32 local authority councils have achieved levels of women’s representation of 30% or more. These are:

  • Aberdeenshire (33.8%)
  • Glasgow (30.3%)
  • Moray (30.8%)
  • South Ayrshire (30%)
  • South Lanarkshire (34.3%)

Unlike some of their counterparts south of the border, no Scottish council has achieved gender balance. The laggards on women’s representation are:

  • East Lothian (2 women councillors, 8.7%)
  • Western Isles (3 women councillors, 9.7%)
  • Orkney (2 women councillors, 9.5%)
  • Inverclyde (1 woman councillor, 5%). Vaughan Jones (Labour) is Inverclyde’s first woman councillor elected since 2007.

Over a third of all councils in Scotland have not broken through the 20% barrier. In addition to the ‘laggards’ listed above, this includes:

  • Dumfries and Galloway (17%)
  • East Renfrewshire (20%)
  • Falkirk (18.8%)
  • Midlothian (16.7%)
  • North Lanarkshire (20%)
  • Scottish Borders (17.6%)
  • Shetland (13.6%)

These dismal figures should surely serve as a wake-up call to parties and councils that something has to change in order to make local politics more inclusive, and to ensure that local councils look like the communities they represent. As we have noted elsewhere, the time has come for tough action on women’s representation in Scotland.

Our initial analysis of the figures can be found in the tables below. We will be posting more detailed analysis of candidate and councillor breakdowns, as well as trends over time in coming weeks.

Table 1: Male and Female Councillors by Party 2012

Party Women Councillors Men Councillors Total Councillors Percentage Women (% 2007)
Labour 103 291 394 26.1% (17.5%)
SNP 105 319 424 24.8% (21.2%)
Liberal Democrats 26 45 71 36.6% (31.3%)
Conservatives 28 87 115 24.3% (23.8%)
Green 4 10 14 28.6% (50%)
Independent/Other 31 171 202 15.3% (20.8%)*
Total 297 923 1220** 24.3%

*2007 candidate selection figures are taken from the Electoral Reform Society, which includes the Greens in the Independent/Other category.

**Excluding the ward of Dunoon in Argyll & Bute, where vote will be conducted next week.

Table 2: Male and Female Councillors by Local Authority 2012

# Local Authority

Women Councillors

Men Councillors

Total Councillors

 Percentage Women

1 Aberdeen City

12

31

43

27.9%

2 Aberdeenshire

23

45

68

33.8%

3 Angus

8

21

29

27.5%

4 Argyll and Bute*

8

25

33

24.2%

5 Clackmannanshire

5

13

18

27.7%

6 Dumfries and Galloway

8

39

47

17%

7 Dundee City

6

23

29

20.6%

8 East Ayrshire

8

24

32

25%

9 East Dunbartonshire

6

18

24

25%

10 East Lothian

2

21

23

8.7%

11 East Renfrewshire

4

16

20

20%

12 City of Edinburgh

15

43

58

25.8%

13 Falkirk

6

26

32

18.8%

14 Fife

22

56

78

28.2%

15 Glasgow

24

55

79

30.3%

16 Highland

21

59

80

26.3%

17 Inverclyde

1

19

20

5.0%

18 Midlothian

3

15

18

16.7%

19 Moray

8

18

26

30.8%

20 Na h-Eileanan Siar

3

28

31

9.7%

21 North Ayrshire

8

22

30

26.7%

22 North Lanarkshire

14

56

70

20%

23 Orkney

2

19

21

9.5%

24 Perth and Kinross

10

31

41

24.4%

25 Renfrewshire

11

29

40

27.5%

26 Scottish Borders

6

28

34

17.6%

27 Shetland

3

19

22

13.6%

28 South Ayrshire

9

21

30

30%

29 South Lanarkshire

23

44

67

34.3%

30 Stirling

5

17

22

22.7%

31 West Dunbartonshire

6

16

22

27.3%

32 West Lothian

7

26

33

21.2%

  TOTAL

297

923

1220

24.3%

*Excluding the ward of Dunoon, where vote will be conducted next week.


[1] Initial results provided by the Centre for Women and Democracy.

[2] This then dropped to 4 Labour women in 2008 (26.7%) after the death of Elizabeth Maginnis.

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