An equal council for Edinburgh

On Thursday 3rd May, Edinburgh goes to the polls to elect a new council for the first time since 2007.

In 2007 we had the guddle of the ballots, and in the five years since the last set of councillors took office, we’ve had an economic crash, LibDems propping up a Tory government, the tenement statutory repairs scam come to light, a serious effort by the Tory, LibDem, and SNP groups on Edinburgh council to privatise our city parks and services (foiled when the SNP group switched sides to vote with Labour and the Greens), and of course… the trams.

Normally you can look at the previous elections and have a fair idea how things are going to go this time. But no one should take the 2007 election results as a guide. All we can be really sure of is that this time as last time, most of the councillors on 4th May will be men.

If every woman candidate who could get elected did, the council could be 50/50 – 29 women, 29 men.

Juliet Swann suggested on 4th April at Better Nation:

Imagine a female Prime Minister. Hold on, AND, a female Chancellor, and the Defence Secretary is a woman, and so is the Speaker, and the Leader of the Opposition, and the Opposition Chancellor, and the Leader of the House of Lords. And in the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet is led by a female First Minister, with only the Health Secretary and the Culture Secretary standing out as being male.

It feels strange to imagine, and yet, by accepting that the reverse as the norm, and as okay, we are also accepting that 50% of the population don’t deserve 50% of representation in our political institutions.

I’m not going to second guess whether policy decisions would be different with a better gender balance in Parliament, but ignoring half the population is never a good idea, not least because it means we lose their talents and perspectives.

There are 58 seats on Edinburgh Council – 3 or 4 councillors for each of the 17 Wards – and out of 127 candidates, 30 are women. Two wards have no women standing. Five wards have only one woman standing.

Every party except the Scottish Greens has chosen to stand a majority of men. The Greens are standing 50/50, as is their party policy. One in three of Labour’s candidates are women, in a renewed effort for equality. For the other parties: the Lib Dems are standing 2 women out of 17 candidates (I think – they were surprisingly hard to look up); the Conservatives are standing 6 women out of 20 candidates; and the SNP are standing 3 women out of 26 candidates, proportionally the very worst party of the four. (If I’ve missed any candidates, do let me know – I’m going by name/photo/website where available. There’s also the Liberal Party in Scotland, who don’t appear to be taking the Scottish council elections very seriously and who tend to get eliminated in early rounds, and the new anti-cuts alliance, which is standing two women as candidates.)

Update: I’m grateful to Dan Philllips and Edinburgh Reporter, who’ve provided me with more information on the candidates and let me correct my mistake over one candidate’s gender.

Dan Phillips suggests:

We also already know there will be no majority administration. So why, therefore should you slavishly vote for a donkey with the ‘correct’ rosette? You the voter have been shorn of that duty to take the dullard in order to deliver a party majority for the ‘greater good’. So please don’t do it.

And with the Single Transferable Vote it is possible to be particularly sophisticated with that vote. Especially where parties are standing more than one candidate as at least one is in 11 of the 17 wards. You can favour a particular kind of candidate from each party. This is your chance to vote on the issues that matter to you.

Except for the Scottish Green party, all of the parties with candidates standing in Edinburgh show a clear preference for men. Supposing as voters we wanted to reverse that preference? Supposing we wanted to deliver the first council in Scotland to have 50/50 representation?

Why shouldn’t all five of the main Scottish parties have policies against excluding women from the candidates lists? It’s too easy for parties not to – to tell themselves they select on merit, and it’s just that women are less interested in politics than men. That would have worked when all parties were about as bad in men over women. But given that Labour does better at equality than either SNP, Conservatives, or LibDems, and Green does better than all four, arguing that it’s just that women “aren’t interested” and that’s why your party has disproportionately male candidates, is in fact saying that women aren’t interested in your party. So don’t try making that argument. Nor should you argue that your party selects on merit, and only the best will do, and that’s why your party has so few women… because you’re then arguing that the women who join the SNP or the LibDems or the Conservatives have substantially less merit than women who join Labour or the Greens. Which isn’t true either.

The only real argument that stands up is: the SNP, LibDems, the Conservatives, and to an extent Labour, are failing to make best use of the very able women who are members. The overproportion of men standing is because the party procedures to pick candidates is skewed to pick the less-able man over the more-able woman. Supporters of independence should especially care that the SNP has failed so badly to include women. This isn’t just Edinburgh:

Glasgow city council – their number one target – ‘is at the heart and central to [the SNP] vision of a progressive, fairer and more democratic Scotland’. A progressive vision with room for only seven women out of 43 candidates. Half as many women as Labour.

In Edinburgh, our capital city, the SNP have three women candidates. In Dundee, the self proclaimed ‘SNP city’, just two women make the list of SNP hopefuls.

Inverclyde SNP launched their candidates pledging an ‘aptitude for change’. You can’t help wondering what ‘change’ they have in mind. Inverclyde SNP candidates? Lads nine. Lassies nil.

The SNP have the dubious honour of being the most manly party in Britain. Seven out of ten SNP members are men. And historically, the SNP party tend to get their support from men.

The way the Single Transferable Vote counts in Scotland is complicated. (I tried to explain it to my partner, who eventually told me to stop and get her two paracetamol because I was giving her a headache.) But the simplified version is simple: number the candidates in the order you want them to win. The way the votes are counted is complicated enough to require a computer, but it means that no vote cast is wasted.

This gives the voter real freedom to choose. You can cast a first preference vote for the only woman candidate in the ward, even if she’s standing for a party you would ordinarily run a mile from. And here’s why I think you should:

Because politicians will promise almost anything to get elected. But they pay attention to one thing more than anything else: losing an election.

As Dan Philips says: no matter how you vote, no matter who wins in each ward, no party is going to gain control of Edinburgh council. The SNP want to be the biggest bloc on the city councils all across Scotland and quite clearly especially in Edinburgh. But as a party, they’re not exactly going out of their way to include women. And they won’t, unless they get it into their heads they have to.

What if we told them they have to by voting for the women candidates in each ward?

The way STV works, you could just put the woman (or women, if you’re in a ward where there’s more than one!) as your first, second, and even third options, and give those candidates a better chance in the count.

Candidates are listed by ward. If you don’t know which ward you live in, find out here. You’ve got till 18th April to get registered to vote.

Whatever your political allegience, some of the women candidates standing will be in parties you’d never ever vote for not in a million years. There’s a separate post for each of the 17 wards, with the contact details I could find for each candidate (I’ll add more over the next few days). Get in touch with them. Ask them how they’ll vote on issues that matter to you. Transport. Childcare. Public services.

There are several hustings still to go (though at least one has no women candidates invited to speak).

Pick the candidate that’ll fight your corner, not the one wearing the rosette the right colour.

9 Comments

Filed under Elections, Women

9 responses to “An equal council for Edinburgh

  1. But given that Labour does better at equality than either SNP, Conservatives, or LibDems, and Green does better than all four, arguing that it’s just that women “aren’t interested” and that’s why your party has disproportionately male candidates, is in fact saying that women aren’t interested in your party.

    Not really. We’ve established that Labour and the Greens have formal mechanisms for taking gender into consideration when selecting candidates, so the fact that they select more women tells us nothing about the proportion of applicants.

    But I’m splitting hairs. It’s probably true that the SNP have a lower proportion of women applying to be candidates than Labour do. Polling is pretty consistent that women are more supportive than men of Labour and the Tories, and less supportive of the SNP. Chances are that’s reflected in candidate applications too. You seem now to be acknowledging that the disparity may occur at the application stage (“women aren’t interested”) rather than at the selection stage (“men are just better than women”, as you previously accused the SNP of believing). I’d agree.

    To break the vicious circle of women being discouraged from standing because the incumbents are overwhelmingly men, all parties should employ a quota system for as many electoral cycles as it takes for something approximating parity to be achieved. I think this makes sense even on purely pragmatic grounds: increasing the diversity of candidates is unlikely to cost the party much male support, and has the potential significantly to increase female support.

    • You seem now to be acknowledging that the disparity may occur at the application stage (“women aren’t interested”) rather than at the selection stage (“men are just better than women”, as you previously accused the SNP of believing). I’d agree.

      No, no – you;’re confused. (Or I’m confusing. Or both.)

      My point was always that if someone tries to argue that there are fewer women than men as SNP candidates because the SNP select on merit, they are trying to argue that men are just better than women. That’s obviously a stupid, sexist argument, but SNPers were consistently making it in defense of their party’s disparity of candidates.

      But if someone tries to argue in the SNP’s defense that there are fewer women than men selected because “women aren’t interested” – they are then acknowledging (since other parties don’t have the same problem the SNP has) that the SNP hasn’t made its politics interesting to women.

      I think both are false arguments, just the first is more obviously wrong.

      The SNP has a problem. It remains to be seen if the SNP will try to fix the problem, or if they will just blame women.

      To break the vicious circle of women being discouraged from standing because the incumbents are overwhelmingly men, all parties should employ a quota system for as many electoral cycles as it takes for something approximating parity to be achieved.

      I agree. How that quota system is worked out is something for each party to discover on their own terms. But I think that since this is the very last Scotland-wide election before autumn 2014, the SNP needs to make clear they will address this problem, and set about doing so, well before 2014 – and should have done so well before this election.

      I think this makes sense even on purely pragmatic grounds: increasing the diversity of candidates is unlikely to cost the party much male support, and has the potential significantly to increase female support.

      Hopefully. Needs to look at how other parties have successfully implemented it.

  2. Very interesting post Eye. I would like to know if there’s a virtuous circle on this. Do the Greens have a higher proportion of women members for example?

    • Good question – I don’t know. I’ll try to find out.

      Thanks for the heads-up about Lindsay in Almond ward *facepalm* – I used to know a guy named Lindsay at school, and I guess I have just always tended to read it as a male name.

      Now about to do a lot of updating with links thanks to the Edinburgh Reporter, in fact….

  3. Except for the Scottish Green party, all of the parties with candidates standing in Edinburgh show a clear preference for men.

    That’s bollocks, at least in the case of the Pirate Party. There is only one Pirate running in this election because there was only one who wanted to run and was able to. If I had had 16 female candidates who wanted to run, you can be assured that they would all have been found a ward to run in.

    • Oh, I wasn’t counting the no-hoper parties. It’s basically whether you or the UKIP get knocked out in the first round.

      • I disagree that we’re “no hopers”. While I probably won’t get elected this time round, the vast majority of people I’ve spoken to have been positive about my policies and c.80-90% have said they’ll consider voting for me. Of course, I won’t get thatshare of the vote, but there is a good deal of discontent with all the major parties. In a recent opinion poll, 68% of voters said all the big parties are corrupt — and reforming politics is a major part of mine and the Pirate Party’s platform.

        The people are crying out for change — that’s why George Galloway won a recent by-election, it’s why 40% of votes at the last Euro-election went to parties not represented at Westminster, it’s why UKIP are likely to get the most votes at the next Euro election in 2014, and it’s why the Pirate Party has excellent long term growth prospects.

        One last thought: I have never come across a voter who said there should be more corruption in politics.

        • I disagree that we’re “no hopers”,

          Well, I guess no candidate would admit it at this stage of the game. Still, my only question is whether you or William Macadam will be the one knocked out in the first round.

          but there is a good deal of discontent with all the major parties.

          True. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into the outsider getting votes.

          One last thought: you say the vast majority of people I’ve spoken to have been positive about my policies and c.80-90% have said they’ll consider voting for me.
          That’s generally the easiest/fastest way to get rid of a no-hoper candidate at election time.

  4. The way the Single Transferable Vote counts in Scotland is complicated.

    I don’t think so. I managed to explain it fully in two paragraphs.

    You can cast a first preference vote for the only woman candidate in the ward, even if she’s standing for a party you would ordinarily run a mile from.

    You could. I personally would never vote for a BNP candidate, whether they were male or female. Nor will I be voting for Jenny Dawe — not because she’s female, but because the trams cock-up deserves punishment.

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