Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

2017 Local Government Elections in Scotland – New Political Blood?


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As Next year’s local government elections approach, LGiU Scotland associate Lynn Murphy explores the representation of gender, ethnicity and disability in Scottish local government.


2016 has been an interesting year in politics. Next year’s UK wide local elections should herald an equally fascinating political landscape. We know that people enter politics  for a variety of reasons; political aspirations, a deep sense of public service, a desire to fight injustice, change or maintain the status quo or simply to improve the lives of the people they represent. Local politics is no different. Whatever the motivation they probably aren’t in it for the money. The basic annual pay for councillors from 1 April 2016 is £16,893. There has been more scrutiny in recent years examining the composition of local councils in respect to gender, ethnicity, education and occupation of councillors. An LGiU Scotland briefing from Patrick Bourke looked at some of the gender issues.

An analysis of the results of the 2012 local elections by Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay at Edinburgh University found that the number of women elected to Scotland’s 32 councils had risen to nearer 25%, the highest level in decades. However, as females represent 51.5% (Scotland’s Census, 2011) of the Scottish population there is still a gender in-balance and contrasts significantly with England’s 36 Metropolitan councils where the overall rate of women’s representation is now 40%.

An online survey conducted in 2013 by the Improvement Service reflected these gender percentages and looked at a range of additional parameters. However, this survey should be viewed with a degree of caution as only 26.3% of councillors responded.

Responding to the question of ethnicity, 96.6% of councillors said their ethnic group was ‘White’, which is very similar to the Scottish population (96%) (Scotland’s Census, 2011) whilst 1.3% of the councillors that responded are Asian/Asian Scottish/Asian British which is less than half the Scottish demographic (2.7%) (Scotland’s Census, 2011).

With regard to education 50.3% of councillors said their highest level of qualification is a degree or professional qualification. Although not directly comparable, the figure for the Scottish population aged 16-64 is 27% (Scotland’s People Annual Report: Results from the 2011 Scottish Household Survey).

An analysis of occupation showed that 40.8% of councillors who responded were currently in paid employment or self-employed in addition to their councillor duties. Of these, 25.4% were full-time employees, 44.4% worked part-time and 30.2% were self-employed. It is clear from the responses that the role of councillor attracts citizens from specific occupational backgrounds (professional and managerial) and is much less attractive to clerical or manual workers.

Further information on this survey can be accessed here

COSLA have committed to constitutional changes that will enable them to have a gender-balanced political executive following the 2017 local elections.

In a separate move, funding of £200,000 to help disabled people participate in politics and stand as local councillors was announced earlier this year by the Scottish Government. The money will help to cover additional costs for accessible transport or communications support for disabled people who wish to stand for selection or election in the 2017 local government elections.

These initiatives should help address gender and disability issues but are unlikely to reduce the other demographic in-balances inherent in local representation in Scotland. It will be interesting to evaluate the results of the May 2017 to see if  The representation of the people, for the people more accurately reflects the make-up of twenty first century Scotland.