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Carole Stimpson

07 June 2022, 2:11 UTC Share

How do we make politics more attractive for women?

Just over a third of newly-elected Scottish councillors are women, what can we do to make politics a more appealing job prospect?

In May, polling stations opened across Scotland for local elections. All council seats – 1,227 in total – were up for grabs, but this continues to be an area where far fewer women stand and get elected. Five years ago, just 29% of Scottish councillors were women. Early data from the campaign group Women 50:50 suggest that this time it is up to 35%, but we are still some way off from Holyrood and Westminster. In last year’s Scottish Parliament elections, a record 45% of elected MSPs were women. At Westminster, 220 women were elected in 2019 out of a total of 650 MPs. So, what is the issue? Why are so few women standing?

One major area is pay. The basic annual pay for a Scottish councillor is Ł19,571, this will increase if a councillor takes on a more senior role within their local authority. But given this low starting point, it is not surprising to learn that many councillors take on second jobs to top up their income, especially when given their working hours mean they can end up earning less than the Living Wage. This salary compares to Ł66,662 for an MSP and Ł84,144 for an MP. The John Smith Centre recently held an online webinar with Councillor Alison Evison, the former President of local government association, CoSLA. She said CoSLA would be holding the Scottish Government to account on pledge that they would work together “at pace” to investigate this situation and try to bring about change. It will be interesting to see how quickly this work is carried out, there is cautious optimism it will be completed before the next council elections in 2027.

Another issue is around working hours. This is not a 9am-5pm job – meetings frequently run late, and weekend working is expected. This can be particularly hard for women who we know take on the majority of care-giving responsibilities in this country. But it seems we are missing a lesson from the pandemic – virtual meetings, debates and voting. Research carried out at the John Smith Centre, looking at Westminster, found that 51% of respondents thought MPs should be able to debate and vote remotely after restrictions were lifted, but that has not happened. Could it make a come-back in local government? A hybrid system would allow all politicians to be present physically or digitally, while making elected office more attractive to under-represented groups like women.

Ultimately though, why does this matter? Well, women make up 52% of the population but that is not reflected in our elected representatives. Increased diversity is crucial for the decisions that local and national governments make for their communities. If councils don’t accurately reflect the people that they represent their decisions won’t affect everyone in the right way, and that’s bad news for all of us.

Carole is the Research and External Engagement Officer for the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University. The Centre exists to make the positive case for politics and public life. Carole oversees the research capacity and is also responsible for expanding the public profile of the work programmes. She also manages and produces content for the website along with overseeing all social media accounts, publicity and events. Carole is a former news and political reporter, having worked at BBC Scotland, STV News and Sky News.

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