EDINBURGH’S political parties came under fire today for not choosing more female candidates for the council elections.
And the Liberal Democrats have just two women among their 17 candidates.
Labour is fielding eight female candidates out of a total of 23 and the Tories have six women among their 20 hopefuls. Only the Greens achieved a gender balance with eight women and nine men.
While Edinburgh has succeeded to some extent in that it has a female council leader in Jenny Dawe and other women in key positions including chief executive Sue Bruce, campaigners say more needs to be done.
Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, said parties had to make sure they selected enough women. He said: “If you have 50 per cent of the population not being represented, that’s obviously a concern.
“Everybody knows there are enough good women with a lot to give, but the political process is biased towards men.”
He said Labour had shown in the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 – when constituencies were paired and had to select one man and one woman – that changing internal selection procedures could achieve better gender balance.
Mr Sullivan said: “It should be easy enough to balance gender representation, especially if you are putting up more than one candidate in a ward.”
SNP group leader Steve Cardownie said the party recognised its proportion of women candidates was “unsatisfactory”. He said “We need to look at why more women are not putting themselves forward.”
Senior Lib Dem councillor Gordon Mackenzie defended his party’s record, saying support was in place for women interested in standing. “We are very much against tokenism. The women who come forward in the Lib Dems are very strong candidates, as can be seen in the fact we have a woman council leader, a woman chair of education and a woman chair of the licensing board.”
Labour group leader Andrew Burns said 34 per cent of his party’s candidates in the Capital were female. “That’s much improved on the previous election,” he said. “We made special positive arrangements.”
All the wards where Labour is fielding two candidates have one man and one woman, except for Sighthill/Gorgie, where there are two sitting male councillors. Two other wards were paired to ensure one man and one woman were chosen. And another ward had an all-women shortlist.
Cllr Burns said he was optimistic more women would get elected to improve the gender balance of the Labour group.
Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said he was disappointed there were not more women standing for all the parties.
He said: “We deliberately don’t have all-women lists, we want people to be selected on their merit.”
Green election co-ordinator Gavin Corbett said his party used a sophisticated process to ensure a male-female balance.
He said: “It’s for the other parties to explain to their women members and voters why they are presenting such a man-dominated slate.
“Women candidates have to feel welcome and supported and that their contribution is valued as much as men’s.”
Time can be the enemy
LINDSAY Paterson, Tory candidate in Almond ward, thinks some women might just be too busy for politics.
She said: “Women are as interested in what goes on in the community as anyone else – it’s probably the time commitment. If you think of working mums, the time needed for campaigning might put them off.”
Mr Paterson, 30, who is a policy adviser to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said she had never encountered an anti-women bias. She said: “When it comes to selections, I’ve always found local members very supportive.”
Evening commitments, like going to community council meetings, might be a deterrent. “You need a strong team around you,” she added.