Transparency: Unintended Consequences

By Dr Ben Worthy

Transparency is a force for good but can prove controversial. Although governments are moving towards internal co-operation, the devil is often in the detail, as seen with the G8 tax transparency pledge which has been heavily criticised. The ongoing Quality Care ‘cover up’ shows how transparency can have many, sometimes unexpected, consequences.

On 30th May Dr Tero Ekkila presented from his new book on the impact, unintended or otherwise, of transparency in Finland, one of the world leaders in openness. You can see his presentation here. The event was organised by the Finnish Institute, Embassy of FinlandCenter for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck University and the University of Helsinki (see the Institute’s blog here).

Finland has had Freedom of Information legislation since 1951 and has been pushing transparency further ever since. In fact, Finland is the home of the idea of government openness, pioneered in the 18th century by a cleric named Anders Chydenius (see his foundation here) and pamphleteer named Peter Forskål (see his 1759 pamphlet here).

Dr Ekkila pointed out that, despite this pedigree, exactly what transparency means changes over time. In Finland the concept itself has shifted from the idea of information simply being ‘public’ to a more economic idea of being ‘transparent’ about performance and benchmarking through Open Data and regular publication. Transparency is in the eye of the beholder.

This shift can have all sorts of unintended consequences. In Finland, high levels of trust in government combined with openness has led to some unusual steps, such as census data being available for sale or parts of government you would expect to be closed using openness to show how well they are performing.  I offered a few reflections on how the UK experience of openness compared.

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion with Christopher Cook (Financial Times), Paul Gibbons (SOAS) and Dr Gesche Schmid (Local Government Association) about the changing context in the UK around FOI and now, increasingly, Open Data and online transparency. They discussed the shifting aims of transparency, given the increasing emphasis on the economic benefits of data from the government. They asked who, crucially, will use the new data the government is publishing.

The panel pointed out that there may not be a clear distinction between ‘open’ data and ‘closed’ information. Given the complexity of the new data and need for specialists software, there may be a ’middle ground’ whereby specialists can use useful data under licence to disseminate. To make the picture even more complicated, there are growing concerns over the reverse side of transparency, privacy, not least with recent PRISM revelations.

The final question from the day was how all this information fits together. As our idea of transparency changes, time will tell whether all this new information is an empowering add on or a distracting alternative to a centuries old pressure for open government.

Dr Benjamin Worthy is a lecturer in politics at Birkbeck.

(Local) Information is power? Localism and local transparency

Dr Benjamin Worthy reflects on the Centre’s recent seminar on localism and local transparency.

One of the Coalition’s flagship transparency policies is now in place. Every local authority in England is publishing all their spending over £500 (see an example local authority here). Some are also publishing a host of other information from salaries to contracts and grants. Our seminar on Thursday discussed how this is developing and what impact it may have on the future.

In late September 2012 the Local Government Association surveyed 128 local authorities to find out what was happening (see here). The first finding was that everyone is publishing spending data, though there is variation in other information being published; 100% of councils that responded published spending data, 96% published salaries but only 54% published details of grants to community groups. There are also various strategies with which this links up – some authorities link it to FOI policy or communication, though some to none at all.

In terms of use, it seems that there is very little public interest as yet, with a sense there was no ‘demand’ for the data. The information is still seen as too ‘raw’ and is not yet useful, localised or contextualised enough to attract or interest local people. Local authorities indicated the biggest impact of the data had been to increase their accountability, with 80% feeling it helped ‘external accountability’ with the added benefit, from 50 % of those asked, of reducing the volume of FOI requests.

Discussion in the seminar focused on the ‘Armchair Auditors’; the idea, championed by Eric Pickles, that citizens will be the new auditors of their own authorities. Though there are some appearing, it may take time, particular skills and a certain enthusiasm (and stubbornness) to become one and not everyone is convinced. See this example and an interesting comment here.

However, one of the most important developments is not the data local authorities are releasing but the innovations. This can be developments such as Chris Taggart’s Openly Local where you can assess council spending at the push of a button or the wonderful ‘Where Does My Money Go’.

Data also becomes more useful when data is linked to other data. The survey points to some emerging use by community groups and other public bodies, with a great deal of interest in further ‘joining up’ of information across bodies and council boundaries and in the pushing of more innovative developments.

The future is likely to lie with initiatives such as this DCLG experiment where different kinds of data can be linked and made relevant, both for people and policy-makers themselves. These initiatives can move in many unexpected directs from prescription analysis that can save money to this amazing site in India, recommended by an audience member, which enables citizens to report who they paid a bribe to. The future of data is local, linked and may be unexpected.

Thank you to everyone who took part.

From Parliament to Parish: Transparency and the Ultimate Accountability

By Dr Ben Worthy

Transparency laws, and FOI in particular, are intended to bring about increased accountability. When Tony Blair passed the Freedom of Information in 2000 it is unlikely he had Walberswick parish council specifically in mind. However, at the beginning of October five members of the parish council stepped down following what they claimed was a lengthy FOI campaign that was draining their resources (and it seems their patience).

They aren’t the only politicians to pay the ultimate price because of FOI. The 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal, in part a result of FOI, is still claiming careers. There has also been a drip of politicians who paid the price elsewhere. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives stepped down in 2006 over spending on taxis revealed through requests and Ian Paisley Jnr, member of the Northern Irish Assembly, stepped down following FOI revelations of inappropriate lobbying in 2008. Over in the Republic of Ireland one councillor was imprisoned when an FOI revealed corruption and widespread parking fine abuse was revealed at another authority.

FOI can be a powerful weapon of accountability. But it needs the right circumstances. Many of the cases above were driven by journalists with the time, patience and tenacity to pursue their case. Transparency doesn’t create a new ‘magic’ solution to accountability but it does work with other forces to bring it about. Think of the MPs’ expenses here, driven by journalists but was made possible by a leak. At local level it is often an extra weapon in an on-going struggle – it often forms part of wider campaigns on a specific (often controversial) issue that includes the media, letters and attendance at meetings (see this example).

In the case of Walberswick it is alleged the ‘over 100’ requests were driven by four residents in the area. Research shows FOI is very rarely used at Parish level and it is possible it was part of a wider struggle. It is probable that wider ‘local politics’ was to blame and that is not just the volume.

However, although it doesn’t work alone, FOI does have interesting effects. One local councillor in a UCL study of FOI and local government study spoke of how FOI brings an element of unpredictability to what politicians and officials have to account: ‘it is funny what you get pulled about’. It may be the forgotten away day, staff phone calls or use of a limousine. A classic issue was payments to celebrities to switch on Christmas lights. This can also be seen in the publication of all the £500 spending data: stories about councils spending on frozen foods, crematoria or suits of armour fit in the ‘unexpected’ category (see here for some background).

What is equally as interesting is how politicians react. Given its ability to spring surprises politicians rapidly go off FOI. Many, unsurprisingly, blame the Act for handing a weapon to enemies:

The truth is that the FOI Act isn’t used, for the most part, by ‘the people’. It’s used by journalists. For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet. The information is neither sought because the journalist is curious to know, nor given to bestow knowledge on ‘the people’. It’s used as a weapon.

That, of course, is Mr Tony Blair. His scepticism was echoed by Cabinet Secretary Gus O’ Donnell.

Yet not all politicians or officials react badly. There are, it appears, no recorded examples of officials obstructing requests. Some politicians see it as an opportunity to open up and engage with the public-the Justice Committee concluded that FOI was, on balance, a good thing:

The Freedom of Information Act has enhanced the UK’s democratic system and made our public bodies more open, accountable and transparent. It has been a success and we do not wish to diminish its intended scope, or its effectiveness.

Transparency will continue to be used as a tool of accountability, often for small issues and occasionally claiming careers. This is what it was intended to do. Yet this is exactly what upsets whose support it needs.

This is an extended version of an article in the Local Government Chronicle.

…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.

More of the Same? Women and the Scottish Local Government Elections 2012

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

Thirteen years after devolution heralded a ‘new dawn’ in women’s representation – with Nordic levels of women MSPs elected to the first Scottish Parliament – the story remains very different at local government level. Less than 1 in 4 candidates for next month’s local government elections are women, leaving the face of local politics looking decidedly ‘male, pale, and stale’ [1]. 1 in 7 council wards is contested by men only. Whilst all-women shortlists have attracted controversy both North and South of the border, the continuation of these all-male shortlists and contests largely goes unnoticed. With local government in crisis around perceived problems of legitimacy, representativeness and quality, this raises questions as to the lessons learned, future prospects, and actions needed if there is to any real progress on women’s representation in Scotland. We argue that the time has come for tough action on women’s representation, or nothing is going to change anytime soon.

What are the lessons learned from the Scottish Parliament’s success? First, change doesn’t happen on its own. The high numbers of women elected to the Scottish Parliament were not the result of luck or ‘trickle up’ or natural evolution, but were achieved through sustained campaigning and bold party action. In short, gender quotas work. But the puzzle remains: why haven’t quotas ‘caught on’ elsewhere in the political system? Currently, the Scottish Parliament has 45 women MSPs (34.8%), compared with only 22% of Scottish MPs, 17% Scottish MEPs, and 21.6% of Scottish local councillors. Of particular note are trends at the local level, where the percentage of women councillors has flat-lined over the past four elections, hovering around 22% overall.

Change can happen when there’s a shake up of the system. Reformers had high hopes that the introduction of a PR-STV electoral system in local government in the run-up to the 2007 elections would rejuvenate local politics and provide new opportunities for women to be selected and elected. However, progress did not materialize, instead depressingly, it was more of the same. In fact, there was a marked drop in the number of women candidates selected and a small decrease in the number of women councillors elected.

What are the prospects, then, for the local government elections in 2012? Supporters of STV, such as the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), had hoped that the unrealized progressive promise of STV would materialize in the second elections, once the new system had bedded down. The candidate lists have now been released, and our initial analysis of the raw figures shows that the numbers are virtually unchanged from 2007. None of the parties, with the exception of the Scottish Greens, have implemented effective equality measures. This suggests that the number of women likely to take up seats in local councils across Scotland will either stall or fall in 2012. Ethnic minority candidate breakdowns are not yet available, but the evidence suggests these numbers also will be low.

Some headline figures:

  • Women are 591 of 2497 total candidates (23.6%, compared to 22.5% in 2007 and 27.7% in 2003).
  • Women are 95 out of 362 Conservative candidates (26.2%).
  • Women are 138 out of 497 Labour candidates (27.7%).
  • Women are 69 out of 247 Liberal Democrat candidates (27.9%).
  • Women are 149 out of 614 SNP candidates (24.3%).
  • Women are 35 out of 86 Green candidates (40.7%).
  • Women are 105 out of 691 Independent/Other candidates (15.2%).
  • 56 out of 353 wards (15.9%) have no women candidates standing for election.
  • 9 out of 32 local authority areas (28%) have 20% or fewer female candidates standing.
  • The best local authorities in terms of women candidates are Clackmannanshire (36.7%) and Angus (34%), although the current proportion of women councillors in each authority is substantially lower (22.2% and 27.6% respectively).
  • Inverclyde, currently an all-male council, has only one woman standing (Vaughan Jones, Labour) out of 38 total candidates (2.6%).
  • In Glasgow City, where the SNP hope to sweep the board after Labour’s internal strife, 2 out of 3 SNP slates are male only. This suggests that they aren’t prepared to ‘risk’ women in target wards.

What actions are needed? Well, STV isn’t the answer – at least, not on its own. STV was sold as ‘good for women’ and a step forward from first-past-the-post (FPTP), in terms of opening up voter choice. In 2007, the ERS heralded the introduction of STV as a ‘small step’ that would ‘lead to a giant leap in democracy for local government.’ [2] The ERS has consistently argued that STV opens up more opportunities for small parties and Independents, which may benefit women, and that multi-member wards encourage parties to run gender-balanced and more ethnically diverse tickets.

There is little international evidence to support this optimistic view. While some commentators see STV as largely gender-neutral, others suggest that STV can be disadvantageous, especially when operating with smaller size wards, as is the case in Scotland. Indeed, none of the relatively few countries that use STV can be said to be ‘trailblazers’ on women’s representation. For example, a smaller proportion of women are returned under STV to the Irish Dáil (15%) than under FPTP to the Westminster House of Commons (22%).

We are sceptical that a system that facilitates the rise of Independent candidates provides an opportunity for women, as the ERS suggests. STV advantages individual candidates with access to time, money and political networks, most of whom tend to be men. Our figures bear out our concerns, as around 85% of all Independent and small party local government candidates in 2012 are men. International research also suggests that parties are less likely to run gender-balanced tickets in small-size wards (3-5 seats), than they are in larger wards (5-7+ seats) where they are more likely to pick up multiple seats [3].

Experience to date suggests parties – rather than electoral systems – are the key factors in promoting women’s political representation. The barriers to women’s access to political office are well-documented, and there are a range of measures that parties can take to counteract these obstacles. If Scotland is to make further headway, parties need to demonstrate that they are serious about changing the face of Scottish politics and also take determined action by introducing and implementing effective equality measures at local level. Lessons can be learned from the Scottish Greens, who are running 40.5% female candidates, who are fairly placed in winnable seats. The party has gender balance mechanisms that are triggered if the percentage of female or male candidates drops below 40%, or where the distribution of winnable seats looks unequal. The prospect of central intervention means that local selectors keep these equality criterion to the front of their minds when selecting candidates, according to the Green Party. This mechanism did not need to be triggered in 2012, suggesting that a general culture of gender equality has become institutionalized in the Greens [4].

What could parties do?

  • Field equal numbers of male and female candidates overall.
  • Ensure that nominations for target wards specifically and target local authority areas more generally are equally distributed between male and female candidates.
  • Where parties are standing more than one candidate in a council ward, these should be gender-balanced tickets.
  • If parties distributing literature suggesting how voters should rank candidates (as the SNP is doing in some local authority areas), parties could suggest that voters rank female candidates first on their ballots.

However, the reluctance of the major parties to make equality guarantees and wider trends of slippage in women’s representation over time raises the question as to whether women’s representation is too important to be left up to political parties. Has the time come to consider statutory quotas, by which we mean legislation which requires parties to take positive action on women’s representation, following the example of countries like Spain, Belgium, France, and even the Republic of Ireland, which is currently drawing up electoral quota legislation?

Why does women’s representation matter? It is widely accepted that men and women should play an equal role in political decision-making to ensure legitimacy, representativeness and quality. We need local councils that look like their communities and that also draw upon ‘all talents.’ How can we afford for it to be otherwise? Indeed, recent media coverage has begun to talk about the ‘merit’ of women’s representation, for example, highlighting the paucity of talented Labour men at Holyrood [5].

Whilst the link between women’s political presence and the promotion of women-friendly policies is far from straightforward, nonetheless, there is considerable evidence to suggest that women politicians ‘make a difference’, or, more accurately, that more gender-balanced parliaments and councils do. What is at stake? In times of austerity and welfare state retrenchment, it is crucial that women’s voices and perspectives (in all their diversity) are included in the process. This is especially the case at the local level, where difficult decisions are made and cuts will hit hardest. Evidence suggests it is harder for progressive policies, such as action to tackle domestic violence, to rise up the political agenda in male-dominated local government than, for example, in the more gender-equal Scottish Parliament. Whilst the Scottish Parliament’s innovative domestic violence strategy has been widely lauded, it stands or falls at local level where it is implemented on a daily basis. Worryingly, recent data from Scottish Women’s Aid reports that, in real terms, 61% of refuge groups have experienced a reduction in the level of funding received from their local authority [6] (2009-2010).

The May 3 elections will almost certainly bring ‘more of the same’ to Scottish local government. But, it should serve as a wake-up call to politicians, activists and voters alike that something has to change, and soon.


[1] We borrow this expression from Professor James Mitchell’s (University of Strathclyde) observation of the membership of the SNP.

[2] ERS Website: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/local-government-in-england/ (accessed 16 April 2012).

[3] http://archive.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/equal/papers-04/eop04-03.pdf

[4] Correspondence with Scottish Green Party Elections and Campaigns Committee.

[5] Kevin McKenna ‘If only Holyrood appreciated women’, The Observer, 8 April 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/08/alex-salmond-holyrood-johann-lamont

[6] Scottish Women’s Aid (2010): http://www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk/assets/files/Funding%20of%20Women’s%20Aid%20services%20report.pdf

Table 1: Male and Female Candidates by Local Authority

# Local Authority Women Candidates Male Candidates Total Candidates Percentage Women
1 Aberdeen City 29 83 112 25.9%
2 Aberdeenshire 39 90 129 30.2%
3 Angus 17 33 50 34.0%
4 Argyll and Bute 17 61 78 21.8%
5 Clackmannanshire 11 19 30 36.7%
6 Dumfries and Galloway 16 66 82 19.5%
7 Dundee City 13 49 62 20.9%
8 East Ayrshire 12 39 51 23.5%
9 East Dunbartonshire 12 33 45 26.7%
10 East Lothian 8 36 44 18.2%
11 East Renfrewshire 8 32 40 20.0%
12 City of Edinburgh 30 98 128 23.4%
13 Falkirk 11 42 53 20.8%
14 Fife 46 116 162 28.4%
15 Glasgow 53 172 225 23.5%
16 Highland 41 129 170 24.1%
17 Inverclyde 1 37 38 2.6%
18 Midlothian 9 32 41 21.9%
19 Moray 14 33 47 29.7%
20 Na h-Eileanan Siar 6 57 63 9.5%
21 North Ayrshire 17 52 69 24.6%
22 North Lanarkshire 22 104 126 17.5%
23 Orkney 8 38 46 17.4%
24 Perth and Kinross 21 57 78 26.9%
25 Renfrewshire 18 62 80 22.5%
26 Scottish Borders 16 56 72 22.2%
27 Shetland 6 37 43 13.9%
28 South Ayrshire 15 29 44 34.1%
29 South Lanarkshire 37 101 138 26.8%
30 Stirling 9 36 45 20%
31 West Dunbartonshire 12 33 45 26.7%
32 West Lothian 17 45 62 27.4%
TOTAL 591 1906 2497 23.6%

Table 2: Male and Female Candidates by Party

Party Female Candidates Male Candidates Total Candidates Percentage Women (Percentage Women 2007)
Labour 138 359 497 27.7% (19.3%)
SNP 149 465 614 24.3% (21.5%)
Liberal Democrats 69 178 247 27.9% (30.9%)
Conservatives 95 267 362 26.2% (24.6%)
Green 35 51 86 40.7% (N/A)*
Independent/Other 105 586 691 15.2% (20.8%)
Total 591 1906 2497 23.6% (22.5%)

*2007 candidate selection figures are taken from the Electoral Reform Society (linked here), which include the Greens in the Independent/Other category.

Table 3: List of Council Wards Contested Only by Male Candidates

# Ward Local Authority
1 Banff and District Aberdeenshire
2 Troup Aberdeenshire
3 Peterhead South and Cruden Aberdeenshire
4 Mid-Formartine Aberdeenshire
5 Arbroath West and Letham Angus
6 Cowal Argyll and Bute
7 Dunoon Argyll and Bute
8 Castle Douglas and Glenkens Dumfries and Galloway
9 Abbey Dumfries and Galloway
10 Nith Dumfries and Galloway
11 Strathmartine Dundee City
12 Kilmarnock East and Hurlford East Ayrshire
13 Bishopbriggs South East Dunbartonshire
14 North Berwick Coastal East Lothian
15 Haddington and Lammermuir East Lothian
16 Giffnock and Thornliebank Ward East Renfrewshire
17 Busby, Clarkston and Eaglesham Ward East Renfrewshire
18 Corstorphine/Murrayfield City of Edinburgh
19 Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart City of Edinburgh
20 Carse, Kinnaird & Tryst Falkirk
21 Lower Braes Falkirk
22 Howe of Fife and Tay Coast Fife
23 Leven, Kennoway and Largo Fife
24 Maryhill/Kelvin Glasgow
25 Thurso Highland
26 Landward Caithness Highland
27 Fort William and Ardnamurchan Highland
28 Inverclyde East Inverclyde
29 Inverclyde East Central Inverclyde
30 Inverclyde North Inverclyde
31 Inverclyde West Inverclyde
32 Inverclyde South West Inverclyde
33 Elgin City South Moray
34 Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas Na h-Eileanan Siar
35 Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath Na h-Eileanan Siar
36 Sgire an Rubha Na h-Eileanan Siar
37 Steornabhagh a Tuath Na h-Eileanan Siar
38 North Coast and Cumbraes North Ayrshire
39 Cumbernauld North North Lanarkshire
40 Coatbridge West North Lanarkshire
41 Coatbridge South North Lanarkshire
42 Fortissat North Lanarkshire
43 Thorniewood North Lanarkshire
44 Renfrew North Renfrewshire
45 Erskine and Inchinnan Renfrewshire
46 Jedburgh and District Scottish Borders
47 Hawick and Hermitage Scottish Borders
48 North Isles Shetland
49 Kyle South Ayrshire
50 Girvan and South Carrick South Ayrshire
51 Clydesdale South South Lanarkshire
52 Dunblane and Bridge of Allan Stirling
53 Stirling East Stirling
54 Clydebank Central West Dunbartonshire
55 Livingston South West Lothian
56 Bathgate West Lothian

Originally posted on the blog of the Gender and Politics Research Group, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh.

Too many councillors leaving leaves councils too homogeneous

Tulip Siddiq is a Camden Borough Councillor and Birkbeck alumnus and Peter Allen is a doctoral student in the Department of Politics.

Councillor turnover is an under-researched and under-addressed problem facing councils across the country today. It is best defined as a councillor leaving their council duties for any reason other than electoral loss.

The 2010 Census of Local Authority Councillors shows that only 67.5 per cent of councillors were certain that they would stand for re-election, with the remaining 32.5 per cent being either unsure or definitely not standing again. This is even worse in London, with just over half (51.3 per cent) of councillors signalling their intention not to stand again.

Explanations of councillor turnover are not straightforward and it is possible to highlight several factors that are in play.

What is clear is that it is a phenomenon that affects male and female councillors differently, with existing research has consistently finding that women councillors are more likely to drop out after a single term, a finding replicated across the 1990s and into the new millennium.

The 2010 Census of Local Authority Councillors finds 69.1 per cent of men definitely standing for re-election compared to 63.5 per cent of women.

Political scientists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher have noted that this leads to a ‘double-whammy’ for councils, whereby younger, more diverse councillors are standing down at the same time as older, more traditional councillors are remaining in their positions.

This is not a positive step in terms of increasing the number of individuals from traditionally under-represented groups like women and ethnic minority councillors.

However, another potential line of questioning is whether councillor turnover is a bad thing in itself?

It is possible to argue that it is not, and that having new faces in our council chambers on a fairly regular basis is good for our politics, and in turn the electorate. The catch here, though, is that if it is the same people staying for longer, and the same people dropping out quickly, the theoretically anticipated regular overhaul of practice and personnel simply doesn’t happen and instead facilitates the proliferation of the status quo.

Existing research has shown non-political factors to be the most instrumental in a councillor’s decision to drop out of their elected duties. The two key areas of note here are the impact of being a councillor on both their working and family lives.

Are there solutions to address these concerns which will in turn encourage councillors, especially women councillors, to remain in their elected positions for longer than they currently do?

Currently, the average basic salary for councillors is around £6,000, rising to an average of just under £10,000 in London. Therefore, most councillors will have another ‘day job’ in order to supplement their income.

This creates a vicious cycle whereby councillors work in a non-council job during the day and then perform their council duties in the evening. Unfortunately, council officers who are meant to support councillors work during the day which means there is often a time lag between cases being taken up and policies being implemented.

One possible solution is to create some sort of legal protection for councillors, whereby they could claim a day or two a week from their employers to work as a councillor, and that this would be seen as a prestigious thing (in time) for the company.

The main point is that it is not just a case of councillors putting in ‘face time’ at these meetings.

Hours have to be dedicated to doing casework for constituents especially in poverty-stricken areas. Time has to be spent preparing for meetings where councillors might be contributing to council policy or strategy. Days are spent researching and writing speeches for full council meetings especially if there are deputations from your ward.

As noted above, one explanation put forward for the high turnover of women councillors is that having two jobs leaves no time for family and children. The introduction of some sort of legal protection might mean that councillors could afford to solely concentrate on their council duties and perhaps, be in a better position to retain their status.

A second option is the introduction of term-limits for local councillors.

The introduction of term-limits to local elected service would ensure that the turnover of councillors discussed above was enforced as opposed to something that would be left to occur organically.

Existing evidence is mixed as to whether term-limits benefit women, although it should be noted that much of the existing evidence is taken from the United States, and as such, is not directly applicable here.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that term-limits would only achieve this desired aim of a more diverse set of local councillors if implemented in conjunction with the improved terms of both pay and working arrangements outlined above.

This is a two-strand approach which makes being a councillor both a desirable and possible activity for all kinds of people but at the same time prevents prolonged over-use of this new system by introducing legal limits on how long someone can be a part of it. As such, these ideas tackle issues of both recruitment and incumbency, traditionally gendered problems.

An obvious term-limit would lie around the current average length of service (more or less two four-year terms), although there are arguments in favour of both curtailing or extending this.

The ideas discussed above are simply that; ideas. There lie clear barriers between theoretical concerns and policy implementation, not least in the form of decreased levels of central government funding for local councils. Such barriers should not be transformed into methods of gaining tacit support for the status quo.

If anything, a time such as this is an ideal one to formulate new ideas and to get serious about the improvement of local government in this country.

This article originally appeared on Left Foot Forward