Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance, Finance

Where are all the women?


In a week where we’ve seen the second ever female Prime Minister visit Scotland, it seems appropriate to look at local government and ask: where are all the women? In Scotland, we’re blessed with a tranche of party leaders who are visible, charismatic and – most importantly for the purposes of this post – female.

Between Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson and Maggie Chapman – the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens – more than half of the leaders of Scotland’s parliamentary parties are women. At a glance, you might think that we’ve got this gender representation thing sorted. However, the fact is that Scotland is far behind many other countries in terms of women achieving political power.

Back in May we published a briefing on gender representation in local government (sorry, LGiU Scotland members only). Even just in the UK, local government in Scotland is behind other countries – ranking below England (where 32% of councillors are female) and Wales (26%). Only Northern Ireland, at 23%, is behind Scotland for female councillors – 24%. When you look at the top job in local government, the leader of the council, the situation’s even worse. Only 5 of Scotland’s 33 leaders are women.

What’s to be done? In May, we pointed out that political parties in Scotland must now lead the way in tackling this issue head-on. At a Parliament Project event in June, Kezia Dugdale admitted that more progress has been made at a parliamentary level than at a local level. A number of political parties imposed quotas on themselves at the last Holyrood elections – but only at a national level.

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

In 2012, the last time local government was up for election in Scotland, 16% of council wards were contested exclusively by men. While political leadership can help to remedy that, there’s also increasing pressure from communities themselves to change how they’re represented at a local level. I’m thinking in particular of Women for Council, a cross-party group in Inverclyde encouraging women to stand for election next May. Inverclyde Council has just one female councillor.

This is something we’ll be returning to from now up until the 2017 local elections (and beyond). We’re working with the Fawcett Society to assess whether local government is working for women.