The Monstrous Regiments

Something that’s been bothering me lately is the despondence regarding the proportions of women in Scottish politics, specifically the news that only 30% of local election candidates are women. As someone who supports the 50/50 initiative and is perfectly happy to see gender parity in Scottish Government, I do think it’s regrettable that we clearly haven’t reached that stage. 30% female candidates compared to 51% of the female population of a country is a significant deficit of representation compared to, say, NHS workers (77.1% women), third sector workers (67%), public sector workers (64%), secondary school teachers (63%), high achieving school leavers (65.9%), and higher education students (54%), among other walks of life.

However, I’ve found that there’s little acknowledgement of the long strides we have made towards that goal.

Demands for action over rhetoric as women make up only 30% of council candidates
Upcoming elections paint a picture of extreme under-representation of women in Scottish politics
ACTION OVER RHETORIC is the rallying cry of the Women 5050, the campaign advocating 50 per cent representation of women in councils and in the Scottish Parliament, as it revealed that across 32 Scottish councils only 30 per cent of local candidates are women.
After analysing the candidate lists of all wards in all 32 councils for the upcoming May local elections, the charity found that there are 21 wards in Scotland with only men on the ballot paper.
It urged all political parties to set their commitments and radical action to meet the 50 per cent minimum required for equality on the ballot.

Only 30 per cent of council candidates are women
Only 775 out of 2550 local government election candidates are women, reveals Women 50:50
The makeup of Scotland’s councils after the May election will be decidedly male, a campaign for equal representation for women has revealed.
The Women 50:50 campaign has published details of the candidates standing for election on May 4 which reveal only 30 per cent are women.
Furthermore, 21 wards in Scotland have only men on the ballot paper.
Council areas with the worst representation of women candidates are Comhairle nan Eilean Siar at ten per cent and Orkney and Moray at 20 per cent.
West Lothian has the most balanced candidate list with 41 per cent candidates female.
No political party achieved 50 per cent women candidates. The Scottish Greens are fielding 45 per cent women, the SNP 41 per cent, the Scottish Liberal Democrats 33 per cent and Scottish Labour on 32 per cent.
Only 17 per cent of Scottish Conservative candidates are women.
Around 25 per cent of sitting councillors are women, and Women 50:50 says this shows quotas are needed in political parties.
The campaign’s chair and co-founder Talat Yaqoob said: “It is time for rhetoric to be turned to action, and we must implement legislation for all parties to follow, to make sure decision makers reflect the society they are meant to represent.”
Women currently make up 52 per cent of Scotland’s population but only 35 per cent of MSPs, 28 per cent of public body chief executives, 23 per cent of sheriffs and seven per cent of senior police officers.
Dr. Meryl Kenny, Steering group member of Women 5050 and Gender and Politics Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh said: “Levels of women’s representation in Scottish local Government have flat-lines for decades. In 2017, we see the same patterns- some parties taking the issue seriously, while others like the Scottish Conservatives continue to lag well behind.
“It’s time to follow the evidence and take tough action through gender quotas to ensure 50/50 representation in our councils and parliament”
Holyrood Magazine

Women minority in town hall poll hopefuls
Talat Yaqoob from Women 5050 says action is needed
FEWER than one in six Scottish Conservative candidates in next month’s council elections are female, while women make up just 30 per cent of would-be councillors across all parties it is revealed today.
The figures emerged in an audit by the group Women 5050, which wants an equal gender balance among MSPs and councillors, prompting the campaigners to say female representation on councils has “flat-lined for decades”.
No party achieved a 50/50 gender split amongst its candidates.
The National

Each of the articles I reference above concentrates on the worst statistics – the wards with no women, the council areas with the lowest percentages, the parties with the worst records. The impression one gets is that no real progress has been made, as suggested by Dr. Meryl Kenny, gender and politics lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and steering group member of Women 5050:

Levels of women’s representation in Scottish local Government have flat-lined for decades. In 2017, we see the same patterns- some parties taking the issue seriously, while others like the Scottish Conservatives continue to lag well behind. It’s time to follow the evidence and take tough action through gender quotas to ensure 50/50 representation in our councils and parliament.

However, my reading of the situation sees that there’s a lot to be positive about, even if there’s clearly plenty of work to be done.

For instance: almost every major party has made significant improvements in the percentage of women candidates since the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament.

1999: 31%
2003: 32.3% (+1.3)
2007: 25.3% (-7%)
2012: 26% (+0.7)
2017: 17% (-9)

1999: (ND*)
2003: (ND)
2007: 39%
2012: 41.8% (+2.8)
2017: 45% (+3.2)

1999: 17.3%
2003: 16% (-1.3)
2007: 15.1% (-0.9%)
2012: 13.3% (-1.8)
2017: 18% (+4.7)

1999: 23.5%
2003: 29.8% (-6.3)
2007: 20.3% (-9.5%)
2012: 27.2% (+6.9)
2017: 32% (+4.8)

1999: 37.6%
2003: 37.4% (-0.2)
2007: 31.4% (-6)
2012: 27.5% (-3.9)
2017: 33% (+5.5)

1999: 24.9%
2003: 25% (+0.1)
2007: 22% (-3)
2012: 23.8% (+1.8)
2017: 41% (+17.2)

1999: 26.8%
2003: 29.1% (+2.3)
2007: 22.8% (-6.3)
2012: 23.4% (+0.6)
2017: 30% (+6.6)

So, all but one of the five major parties, as well as the collective of independents, has markedly improved the percentage of women compared to 2012; the SNP have made a particularly impressive leap from 23.8% to 41% – the party’s highest percentage since 1999, and quite possibly ever – while the Other Party’s 32% is also their highest since 1999, and the Scottish Greens lead the way with an admirable 45% – not far off parity. There is also a greater percentage of Independent female candidates at 18%, despite a steady decline through the previous three elections. Were it not for the UK Government’s Party experiencing a tremendous decline of female candidates by almost half (from 32.3% to 17% in only 14 years), gender balance would be even closer to the 5050 mark. The same could easily be said of the Scottish Parliament, where all parties except the UK Government Party made great efforts to include more women’s names on the ballot.

I had a big argument with a fellow SNP member about this: from my perspective, all parties save one did seem to be taking this seriously. I was of the opinion that achieving 5050 under the current conditions would be difficult for a number of reasons: the large number of male incumbents, the historical problems inherent in women putting themselves forward for candidacy and engaging in politics, even down to the local economy. My colleague disagreed, believing it was entirely possible for a sufficiently high percentage of new female candidates to offset the existing imbalance – were the political will to do so present.

It’s far beyond the bounds of this post to discuss where we go from here, and frankly, I realise not everyone agrees with 5050 in the first place. However, in the interests of thinking locally, I can take some small pride in my own wee constituency of Inverclyde. In the last council elections, we were the black sheep of Scotland – of 38 candidates across 6 wards, only 1 was a woman. It’s just as well this woman was elected, otherwise we would’ve had zero female representation for the 80,000-odd folk of Inverclyde. This was particularly shameful considering previous elections:

1995: 12.9% (8 of 62)
1999: 17.6% (12 of 68)
2003: 19.2% (15 of 78)
2007: 6.4% (3 of 47)
2012: 2.6% (1 of 38)

This election, we have 11 women out of 46, which takes us to 22.9% – still barely over one in five, and only a few percentage points above Orkney and Moray’s 20% each, which 5050 pointed out as being among the lowest for women’s representation – but hey, that’s an entire order of magnitude greater than in 2012 both in numbers and percentage (admittedly not difficult given you could fit all the 2012 female candidates on a skateboard). And, sadly, we know why that is too:

CON: 14.3% (1 of 7)
IND: 20% (2 of 10)
LAB: 11.1% (1 of 9)
LIB: 28.6% (2 of 7)
SNP: 41.6% (5 of 12)

I’d like to believe I understand 5050 supporters’ disappointment. After all, going from 30% to 45% in a referendum campaign is a monumental achievement given the opposition we faced… but 45% is still short of the majority we need. Similarly, 30% may be better than 25%, but it’s nowhere near the goal. It means another five years of 7030 instead of 5050, and all that entails.

5050 is a cross-party initiative which has support from elected members of all major parties, including a majority of MSPs. Whether you personally agree with it or not, it is something that dozens of MSPs and Councillors have signed their name to, promoted, and pledged to support. While we may not have achieved it now, at least we can see where the campaign is working, and where it is not.

5 thoughts on “The Monstrous Regiments

  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Recently, Wings Over Scotland has been making a feature of putting ‘headline’ claims by the unionist media in context. Other blogs have done the same over the years. This has been important in debunking such claims, in educating the rest of us and in challenging the media to be more rigorous. It has very little effect on the print media, but the broadcast media are more rigorous than before.
    However, those who deem themselves to be ‘progressive’ are often just as cavalier about decontextualising their assertions. Whenever advances such as those which the author has presented, these are often contemptuously pushed aside as ‘nowhere near enough’ or ‘mere tokenism’.
    There is a long and dishonourable tradition amongst self-proclaimed “progressives” of having spokespersons who are waiting to be offended. They seem to think that the moral rightness of their goal, justifies immoral conduct in pursuit of it. This hypocrisy does these causes more harm than good.

  2. I suspect a councillor’s lot does not fit snugly into family life, so deterring many women. Council meetings may be held during the day, but councillors are also expected to attend community council and other community meetings which tend to be in the evenings. So family and home life becomes complicated.

    In many places you have a local, in rural areas often elderly and usually Tory, ‘mafia’ that rules the council roost and doesn’t take kindly to what’s seen as interlopers upsetting their cosy applecart.

    And I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that endless discussions on dog fouling and railing painting, whether in council chamber on on doorsteps, must become tedious. So not everyone has the temperament. Perhaps men can rise above that as they focus their ambitions on becoming leader or on hopes of making a name for themselves, backed by fellow Rotarians or golfing buddies. The establishment, even at local level, takes time and a concerted effort to shift.

    • mogabee says:

      You have hit that nail fairly dead centre! Living in a rural location, the nearest council meeting place to me is a journey of almost an hour. The councils really need to go back to local communities and give more women a chance to combine duties and family commitments.

      Most community councils are run by women in my area so combining both councils could address the deficit.

      Looking at the councillors I despair that more women don’t think they can do the job better! 🙂

  3. Tedious Tantrums says:

    Whilst there is a place for such initiatives the current drive to gain equality is not working. Women get much support etc. whilst males of late school age in particular suffer. There is only one rule. The best person for a job is the best candidate for the job. Simple.

  4. […] 9. Al Harron | A Wilderness of Peace “The Monstrous Regiments” […]

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