Women account for just 25% of councillors in Scotland

Lesley Hinds was sworn in as lord provost of Edinburgh in 2003 and served until 2007.  But women remain underrepresented across Scottish councils. Picture: Paul Parke/TSPL

Lesley Hinds was sworn in as lord provost of Edinburgh in 2003 and served until 2007. But women remain underrepresented across Scottish councils. Picture: Paul Parke/TSPL

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Women remain under-represented across each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, accounting for just 25 per cent of the total number of councillors.

Research by The Scotsman found that on 15 councils fewer than a quarter of elected representatives were female.

Women make up just 25 per cent of elected officials in council chambers across Scotland. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/TSPL

Women make up just 25 per cent of elected officials in council chambers across Scotland. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/TSPL

Inverclyde, with a population of 80,000, has just one woman councillor, while East Lothian has two.

The figures show a majority of town halls north of the border lag behind both Holyrood and Westminster in terms of gender balance, with women making up 29 per cent of MPs and 35 per cent of MSPs.

Susan Aitken, leader of the SNP Group on Glasgow City Council, said the issue transcended party politics and called for “direct action” to boost numbers.

Pressure is now on Scotland’s parties to ensure more women are selected as candidates ahead of next year’s local authority elections.

A range of factors have been cited behind the low numbers of females entering municipal politics.

Anne Hall, provost of Renfrewshire Council, was first elected to local government in 1995.

With her husband then working as a firefighter, she often had no option but to take her children to council meetings during her early days as a councillor.

“It’s not easy for a woman to give up her career and go back to it later,” she said. “Many have childcare commitments. When I was elected, I carried on my job as a nurse. But rearranging days off to coincide with council meetings is difficult.

“I had to give a great deal of thought as to how I was going to juggle everything. But for a lot of women, that’s just not possible.”

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Hall, who was appointed a depute convener in her first term, added she had always felt supported by her male colleagues.

A study by the University of Edinburgh found the number of women running Scottish councils rose from 21.6 per cent in 2007 to 24.3 per cent in 2012.

Representation in England’s 36 metropolitan councils is far higher, with women making up 40 per cent of councillors in 2012.

Aitken, who was elected a councillor for the Langside ward of Glasgow in 2012, said: “I think parties need to take direct action on this issue.

“The SNP has a gender balance mechanism for the first time in forthcoming election. I don’t think it will take us to 50-50 this time because it does not discriminate against sitting male councillors, which is absolutely right.

“But it should enormously improve the gender balance among our group.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman said the party was putting positive action measures in place to ensure it had more female council candidates in May’s election.

Stephen McCabe, Labour leader of Inverclyde Council, is hopeful he will be joined by more female colleagues next year.

Vaughan Jones, a former Labour member who now sits as an independent, is currently the only woman serving on the Greenock-based local authority.

“I can only speak for my party, but there’s not a lack of will to put up female candidates,” said McCabe. “Many of our active female members were not prepared to stand, for a variety of reasons, in 2012.

“For example, some work in the offices of MSPs, where there may be a conflict in terms of time commitments, while others were pursuing careers and were not prepared to risk them.”

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