Male, Pale, and Stale

James Brinning, a 19-year-old student at Cardiff University, had only one obvious qualification for being a Labour candidate in the council elections: he’s male.

That apparently was good enough for the selection committee, who do not appear to have bothered to even look at his Facebook profile.

This came to my attention when a friend apostrophised this young man’s attitudes to women, ethnic minorities, and other “banter” as “Labour candidate suspended by being a 19 year old on Facebook”.

Young white men “banter”. That is, they engage in amusing-to-them abuse of others who are funny because they are not white, young, or men. This behaviour is widely regarded as perfectly normal and not deserving of any negative consequence. I’d agree that what a teenager said and did shouldn’t necessarily be held against them in their adult years… but this teenager was actually standing for election.

Meantime in the Scottish council elections:

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Tories admitted on Thursday that action was needed after two Edinburgh university academics disclosed – not for the first time – that fewer than one candidate in four on 3 May will be a woman.

It’s an issue raised forcibly too for Holyrood, and Scottish Labour – a party often seen as packing its benches with the male, pale and stale – has told the Guardian it has a target to make sure a full 50% of all its council candidates are female within the decade.

Despite Scotland’s first PR elections in 2007, using the single transferable vote, less than 22% of Scotland’s 1223 councillors in the last administrations were woman. That will not improve next month: the number of women councillors has flatlined at 22% ever since Scotland’s 32 unitary authorities came into being nearly 20 years ago, in 1995.

Of Scotland’s 32 local councils, only three are led by women: one Labour – Rhondda Geekie in East Dunbartonshire, two by Lib Dems, Jenny Dawe in Edinburgh and Anne Robertson in Aberdeenshire.

As Doctor Meryl Kenny (UNSW) and Dr. Fiona Mackay (Edinburgh) point out:

Change can happen when there’s a shake up of the system. Reformers had high hopes that the introduction of a PR-STV electoral system in local government in the run-up to the 2007 elections would rejuvenate local politics and provide new opportunities for women to be selected and elected. However, progress did not materialize, instead depressingly, it was more of the same. In fact, there was a marked drop in the number of women candidates selected and a small decrease in the number of women councillors elected.

As I asked on 13th April:

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.

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