Here We, Here We, Here We … Go (Again): Women and the 2017 Local Government Elections

By Meryl Kenny, Fiona Mackay and Judith Sijstermans

ballot box

Another year, another missed opportunity to achieve equal representation in Scottish politics.

Not that you would know it from the media coverage and political spin of the 2017 council elections, with pundits and politicians alternatively claiming the results as a win for the SNP – as the largest party in Scottish local government – or the Conservatives – who made significant gains.

But was it a win for women? Here are the headlines figures:

  • Women’s representation in local government has increased, rising from 24% in 2012, to a new high of 29% in 2017.
  • Less than 1:3 Scottish councillors is a woman.
  • The performance of different parties on women’s representation varies dramatically – with the Greens and the SNP topping the ranks with 47% and 39% women respectively in local government, whilst the Conservatives lag behind with only 18% women.
  • No council has achieved equal representation overall. Midlothian council comes out best with 39% women. The wooden spoon goes to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which has seen the election of a council composed entirely of white men.
  • 103 council wards across Scotland have no women representing them (29% of all council wards).

To be sure, some progress has been made, but the overall face of Scottish local politics remains ‘male, pale and stale.’ Indeed, looking beyond Scotland, we see wider trends of the persistent over-representation of men from majority groups in politics across the UK – evidenced most strikingly in the metro mayoral contests, where more Andys were elected (two) than women (zero).

How did the parties do?

As we reported in our preview of the local government elections, familiar patterns persist: with some parties taking women’s representation seriously, whilst others make little effort to address the issue, thus continuing to lag well behind.

Most noteworthy are the big strides made by the SNP on women’s representation at local government level: rising from 25% women elected in 2012 to 39% in 2017 (see Table 1). The party has the highest actual number of women councillors of any of the parties (169 – higher than all of the other major parties combined). Women made up more than half of the SNP’s new/non-incumbent candidates (53.5%) compared to around 1 in 4 (26.3%) of its sitting candidates. Eight out of 31 SNP council groups are 50% women or more – taken together, these trends suggest a step change for the party at local level.

Table 1: Councillors by Party, 2017

Party Women Total % Women (% 2012)
SNP 169 431 39.2% (24.7%)
Conservatives 50 276 18.1% (24.3%)
Labour 73 262 27.9% (26.1%)
Liberal Democrats 24 67 35.8% (36.6%)
Green 9 19 47.4% (28.6%)
Independent/Other 30 172 17.4% (15.2%)
Total 355 1227 28.9% (24.3%)
*2012 councillor figures are taken from Kenny, M. and F. Mackay (2012) ‘Less male, pale and stale? Women and the 2012 Local Government Elections’, Scottish Affairs, 80 (Summer), 20-32.

Also leading the pack were the Scottish Greens, who again had the highest proportion of women amongst its candidates of all the parties (45%, an increase from 41% in 2012) (see Table 2). 47% of Green councillors are women – an impressive achievement, albeit in the context of small numbers.

Meanwhile, Labour returned 28% women overall, a small improvement on their 2012 record at local government (26%). In the end, though, they were overtaken and outpaced by competitors, including the SNP, and in the context of heavy losses of seats overall. The Liberal Democrats equalled their 2012 performance on women’s representation, with women again making up 37% of the party’s councillors (and 33% of candidates, compared to 28% in 2012).

Bringing up the rear are the Scottish Conservatives, whose performance stands in stark contrast to all of the other major parties. In the end, only 18% of Tory councillors are women (compared to 21% of candidates). Indeed, in four council areas, the Conservatives ran no women amongst their candidates at all (Angus, Dundee, Stirling and the Western Isles).

The Scottish Tories faced criticism in the run-up to the 2017 elections for their poor performance on selecting women. The party’s answer (which we have heard before) cited Ruth Davidson as ‘living proof’ that the party was able to get women to the top, while also highlighting the role of the Women2Win campaign aimed at encouraging more women to stand. But while the Women2Win campaign has had an impact at UK level, in Scotland, the effects have not (as of yet) materialised. Only 22% of new/non-incumbent candidates for the party were women – a figure that was not significantly higher than the 18.3% of incumbent candidates who were women. And while the party saw more women elected to local government in 2017 than 2012, the party’s significant electoral gains this time around meant that the proportion of women returned decreased by six percent overall (from 24.3% to 18.1%).

The percentage of women amongst Independents/Other councillors remains low, at 17% (compared to 18% of candidates). These figures appear to bear out wider research on independent candidacies, which advantage individuals with access to time, money and political networks, most of whom tend to be men.

How do the councils look?

Turning to patterns of representation across local authorities, the picture is one of wide variation (see Table 3). No Scottish council has achieved gender balance overall – or, indeed, broken the 40% threshold. And, as already highlighted, 103 council wards have no women representing them (29%).

In 2012, only 5 of 32 Scottish councils had achieved levels of women’s representation of 30% or more. In 2017, this number has risen to 12 – top performers include (see Table 3):

  • Midlothian (38.9%)
  • Edinburgh (38.1%)
  • East Ayrshire (37.5%)
  • South Lanarkshire (37.5%)
  • Renfrewshire (37.2%)
  • Glasgow (36.5%)

Meanwhile, the laggards on women’s representation are:

  • Perth and Kinross (20%)
  • Dumfries and Galloway (18.6%)
  • Inverclyde (13.6%)
  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (0%)

What matters, of course, is not just how many women are selected by parties overall, but also where they are selected to run. We can see the importance of this in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which were key political battlegrounds, not only for the overall election outcomes but also in terms of women’s representation.

In Edinburgh, 52% of Labour candidates were women, with the Greens close behind at 47.1%, followed by the SNP’s at 37% women and the Conservatives at 23.8%. The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green groups on Edinburgh council are all 50% women; compared to 37% of the SNP group and 22% of the Conservative group.

In Glasgow, 48% of Green candidates and 45% of SNP candidates were women, in contrast with 35% of Labour candidates and 26% of Conservative candidates. The resulting Green council group is now 57% women, followed by the SNP at 44%, and Labour at 33% women. The Tories made significant gains in Glasgow, increasing their tally from one to eight – but all of eight of their elected councillors are men. Newly elected Conservative councillor Ade Aibinu and SNP councillor Graham Campbell are the first ever black representatives elected to Glasgow’s city chambers.

Where does this leave us?

Despite the redrawing of the political landscape of local government in Scotland, and the changing fortunes of different political parties, the story on women’s representation remains much the same. Without commitment for action from parties across-the-board, progress will continue to be glacial.

Indeed, the Conservatives’ laissez-faire approach to women’s representation –in the context of a surge in their electoral fortunes (as in the 2016 elections) – had the effect of depressing the Scottish headline figures, negating much of the improvements made by other parties at individual level.

On the positive side: change is possible, particularly when political parties commit to addressing the ‘male, pale, stale’ composition of local councils. We know that key actors within parties are centrally important in winning internal arguments, as is external pressure in making women’s representation a matter for public scrutiny and party competition. But these windows of opportunity are seldom open for long, and women’s representation can be sidelined or crowded out in wider discussions of Brexit, IndyRef2 and snap General Elections. Indeed, very little of the post-council election coverage has engaged with or even mentioned issues of diversity and representation at local level.

Hence the title of this blog: here we, here we, here we…go again. We are reminded that we have (collectively) been counting women (and men) in Scottish politics for more than 20 years. Women’s representation still has not ‘caught on’. Whilst there have been breakthroughs (most notably in the early elections of devolution, with a high of 39.5% in 2003), for the most part it has been incremental change, stasis, or setbacks. We are still counting (in the absence of reliable gender breakdowns from party or official sources; never mind intersectional data); and we are still making the same arguments.

So here we go (AGAIN) – hopefully for the last time.

  • Our councils and parliaments should look like the people they represent and draw upon all talents.
  • The over-representation of men from majority groups is a significant and persistent political problem.
  • Solutions to that problem are available to us. The international and comparative evidence is clear – quotas work.

It is time.

Meryl Kenny is Lecturer in Gender and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Fiona Mackay is Professor of Politics and Dean and Head of the School of Social and Political Science at Edinburgh. They co-convene the Gender Politics Research Group at the university (on Twitter at @genderpol), and are steering group members of the Women5050 campaign for legal gender quotas in Scotland. Judith Sijstermans is a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations at Edinburgh.

Additional Tables and Figures

Additional analysis of candidate and councillors figures can be found in the tables below.

Section 106 of the Equality Act sets out a statutory requirement for political parties to publish candidate diversity data, but this provision has not yet been brought into force. As we have argued elsewhere, there is a need for political parties and political institutions to be held to account and gather and publicly publish intersectional data on candidates and elected representatives.

We have compiled candidate and councillor information through official Notices of Poll published by each local authority, local media reports, party websites, and political parties themselves. We also cross-checked our data against other sources, including the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, which based their figures on the knowledge of Returning Officers.

We see this as the starting point, not the end point, of a more detailed analysis of diversity and representation in Scottish councils – and will be doing further analysis over the coming months. We welcome queries, corrections & further candidate data – to Meryl Kenny ( or Judith Sijstermans (

Table 2: Candidates by Party, 2017

Party Women Total % Women (% 2012)
Conservatives 81 380 21.3% (25.9%)
SNP 261 627 41.6% (23.9%)
Labour 144 453 31.8% (27.4%)
Liberal Democrats 82 247 33.2% (27.9%)
Green 98 218 45.0% (40.7%)
Independent/Other 119 647 18.4% (14.9%)
Total 785 2572 30.5% (23.4%)
*2012 candidate figures are taken from Kenny, M. and F. Mackay (2012) ‘Less male, pale and stale? Women and the 2012 Local Government Elections’, Scottish Affairs, 80 (Summer), 20-32.

Table 3: Councillors by Local Authority, 2017

Local Authority Women Total % Women
Aberdeen City 13 45 28.9%
Aberdeenshire 24 70 34.3%
Angus 6 28 21.4%
Argyll and Bute 11 36 30.6%
City of Edinburgh 24 63 38.1%
Clackmannanshire 4 18 22.2%
Dumfries and Galloway 8 43 18.6%
Dundee City 7 29 24.1%
East Ayrshire 12 32 37.5%
East Dunbartonshire 6 22 27.3%
East Lothian 6 22 27.3%
East Renfrewshire 5 18 27.8%
Falkirk 9 30 30.0%
Fife 25 75 33.3%
Glasgow City 31 85 36.5%
Highland 25 74 33.8%
Inverclyde 3 22 13.6%
Midlothian 7 18 38.9%
Moray 8 26 30.8%
Na h-Eileanan Siar 0 31 0.0%
North Ayrshire 9 33 27.3%
North Lanarkshire 22 77 28.6%
Orkney 3 21 14.3%
Perth and Kinross 8 40 20.0%
Renfrewshire 16 43 37.2%
Scottish Borders 7 34 20.6%
Shetland 5 22 22.7%
South Ayrshire 6 28 21.4%
South Lanarkshire 24 64 37.5%
Stirling 6 23 26.1%
West Dunbartonshire 6 22 27.3%
West Lothian 9 33 27.3%
Total 355 1227 28.9%
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Yes, There’s Still a Local Government Election Going On

By Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

Since the announcement of an early general election by Theresa May on 18 April, Scottish local government elections have seemingly disappeared from view. Indeed, if one were to read the campaign leaflets piling up over the last few weeks, one would wonder whether there is a local election going on at all, given their scant mention of local issues (as well as sweeping pledges that voting for particular parties and candidates in council elections will singlehandedly stave off indyref2, Brexit, and so on and so forth).

Stepping into the breach, however, was Edinburgh Evening News, who on Monday night organised a live-streamed Council hustings.

Can you spot the common denominator?

Facing criticism for their male and pale line-up, the paper responded with a familiar excuse often heard in Scottish media circles – that parties put forward their own candidates for debate, and the paper was simply working with what was given. Others defended the line-up by arguing that parties needed to elect more female leaders if they wanted women on panels.

(If you listen carefully, you should be able to here the faint sound of ‘Bingo!’ in the distance, as someone fills out their card of excuses for not inviting women speakers).

female conference speaker


Blaming parties, of course, absolves the media of responsibility – for example, when the paper became aware that it had organised an all-white-male panel, it could have gone back to the parties and asked them to put forward more diverse representatives. It could also have selected a woman moderator. As for those who sit on #manels, it’s time for male politicians, pundits and academic commentators to hold themselves to account – it is a very easy thing when accepting a speaking invitation to ask who else is on the panel; recommend diverse speakers; and, if the line-up remains men only, refuse to participate.

Beyond the line-up itself, however, there was no acknowledgement by the paper or the participants during the event that they were sitting on a #manel; no discussion of women’s under-representation (or rather, male over-representation) in the upcoming council elections, or the under-representation of other marginalised groups (and what the speakers’ respective parties were going to do about it); and no discussion of women or women’s policy concerns full stop (despite questions being asked on social media).

Five years ago, we wrote about the ‘male, pale, stale’ face of Scottish local government in the run-up to the 2012 council elections. Looking back, it is depressing to see how little has changed in the interim. Women’s representation has flatlined in Scottish councils for decades; whilst we’ve also seen setbacks in women’s representation at other levels of Scottish politics over time, including Holyrood.

In the 2017 local government elections, we see the same familiar patterns – some parties (the SNP, the Greens) taking women’s representation seriously, whilst others like the Scottish Conservatives – who are expected to make significant gains on Thursday – continue to lag well behind on selecting women council candidates.

Why does it matter? We need local councils that look like their communities and that draw upon ‘all talents’. Whilst the link between women’s political presence and the promotion of women-friendly policies is far from straightforward, nonetheless, there is considerable evidence to suggest that women politicians ‘make a difference’, or, more accurately, that more gender-balanced parliaments and councils do.

What is at stake? In times of austerity and welfare state retrenchment, it is crucial that women’s voices and perspectives (in all their diversity) are included in our political institutions. This is especially the case at the local level, where difficult decisions are made and cuts hit hardest – legislation stands or falls at local level where it is implemented on a daily basis.

As the Women5050 campaign has highlighted, it is clear that on Thursday we will fail to achieve fair representation for women in yet another Scottish election. Five years ago, we suggested that women’s representation was too important to leave up to political parties, and that it was time for Scotland to consider implementing legal gender quotas. Warm words are no longer enough – politicians must follow the evidence and show leadership.

2017 will go down as another missed opportunity for equal representation in Scotland – let’s make it the last one.

Genderpol will be publishing a full analysis of women candidates and councillors immediately following the election. For queries, contact Meryl Kenny ( or Fiona Mackay.


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Reflections on a Year of Dangerous Women: Speaking Out, Listening, Resisting and Persisting!

On March 8 2016, Peta Freestone, Jo Shaw, and colleagues at Edinburgh University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), launched an ambitious collective endeavour using social media to ask the question: ‘What is a dangerous woman?’ The project aimed to post a blog a day from International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016 to IWD 2017 in answer to that question. 365 days and more than 400 posts later the project has succeeded beyond all expectations – and grown a new global online community.

At a celebratory event in Edinburgh on March 8 2017 to mark the end of the project, FIONA MACKAY, a contributor, and a member of the Dangerous Women Project advisory board, shared her reflections on what a year of the Dangerous Women project has meant to her. Here is her talk:

I’m honoured to have been asked to reflect on this year of the Dangerous Women Project and what I have taken from it.

It seems a world ago, doesn’t it? Since this unruly, ambitious, cacophonous, moving, and magnificent project burst onto the scene and we began our collective deliberations on what it means to be a Dangerous Woman.

We set out on this journey before Brexit, before Trump. Before trends in the UK, Europe and the States knocked askew the axes of our worlds – seemingly putting women’s rights as well as our pussies up for grabs again.

Continue reading

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Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

PSA Women and Politics member Jonathan Dean (University of Leeds) assesses the problematic messages behind – and alarming consequences of – recent debates over ‘identity politics’[i] Amidst the recriminations and collective shock in the face of Trump’s victory (and the myriad other reverses suffered by progressives in 2016), a consensus is emerging: the weakness of the left is attributable to […]

via Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

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What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit

Thoughtful Reflections from a great cast of women academics



Photo: Dave Kellam

by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living…

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Is it really that difficult to find women to talk about the EU Referendum? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

The significant absence of expert women’s voices from media debates and academic events related to the EU Referendum has been widely reported. PSA Women and Politics members Roberta Guerrina, Toni Haastrup, Katharine Wright share a list of women EU experts and argue there are in fact many women voices on these issues and they are not difficult to find. More work […]

via Is it really that difficult to find women to talk about the EU Referendum? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

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Nil, Nada, Zilch: The Change in Women’s Representation in 2016

At the start of the Scottish Parliament election campaign, it seemed that the tide had finally turned for women’s representation. In the end, however, only 45 women MSPs (35%) have been elected to the fifth Scottish Parliament, the same number as in 2011. Meryl Kenny, Fiona Mackay and Cera Murtagh put these disappointing results in context, evaluating candidate and electoral trends, and argue that tough action is needed in the form of legislative gender quotas in order to ensure real change. 

Some months ago, we asked whether the tide had turned for women’s political representation in Scotland. The past two years had ushered in a step-change not only from the top down – evidenced in the ‘female face’ of political leadership in Scotland – but also from the bottom up, through the civic awakening that had accompanied the referendum and the surge in women’s grassroots activism through groups like Women for Independence. For the first time since 1999, the main parties were competing on the issue of women’s representation, with the SNP, Labour and the Greens implementing strong gender quota measures in the run-up to the 2016 elections, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publicly pledging support for the cross-party Women 5050 campaign for legal quotas in Scotland.

In the end, however, the results of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections are disappointing. Although the SNP substantially improved their performance on women’s representation, only 45 women MSPs (34.9%) have been elected to the fifth Scottish Parliament, the exact same proportion as in 2011. Thus, despite some optimistic predictions prior to the poll, 2016 was an election that changed nothing in terms of overall numbers. The 2003 Scottish Parliament elections remain the “high tide” mark for women’s representation in Scotland across all political levels (when women reached 39.5% at Holyrood).

Table 1. Scottish Parliament 2016 by party and gender

Party Female Male Total % Female
SNP 27 36 63 42.9%
Con 6 25 31 19.4%
Lab 11 13 24 45.8%
Green 1 5 6 16.7%
Lib Dem 0 5 5 0%
Total 45 84 129 34.9%


Looking at representation more broadly in terms of diversity, there was an improvement in the number of LGBTI MSPs and visible role models – notably, three of the five party leaders in the Scottish Parliament identify as LGB – Kezia Dugdale (Labour), Patrick Harvie (Greens) and Ruth Davidson (Conservatives).

However, the Scottish Parliament still has only two black and minority ethnic (BME) MSPs –SNP Minister Humza Yousaf, who defeated Johann Lamont in Glasgow Pollok, and former Labour MP Anas Sarwar, who was elected to the Scottish Parliament for the first time for the Glasgow region. Labour list MSP Hanzala Malik (elected in 2011) was placed 11th on the party’s regional list in 2016 and was not re-elected. It remains a key problem that there has never been a BME female MSP in the Scottish Parliament.

Despite all of the main political parties signing up to the One in Five Campaign (seeking to increase political participation among people with disabilities), at time of writing there appears to be only one openly disabled MSP, Jeremy Balfour (Conservative, Lothian) elected for the first time in 2016, while sitting MSPs Siobhan McMahon (Labour) and Dennis Robertson (SNP) lost their seats (and Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan stood down in 2016). All-in-all, then, this election this does not add up to a step-change in diverse representation either.

What explains these lacklustre results for women? In the run-up to the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, candidate selection trends promised significant progress. All of the parties (except the Conservatives) saw improvements in their share of women candidates from 2011. In the case of the SNP, over 40% of their constituency and list candidates were women, an increase that reflects the party’s implementation (for the first time), of gender quotas in the form of all-women shortlists (AWS) in constituencies with retiring SNP MSPs.

Table 2. Candidates for Scottish Parliament 2016 by party, gender and type of seat

Party Constituency Total Candidates


(% women)

List Total Seats List

(% women)

  M F   M F  
SNP 43 30 73


51 42 93


Labour 34 39 73


43 43 86


Con 59 14 73


58 13 71


Lib Dem 45 28 73


36 27 63


Green 2 1 3


33 33 66


Total 183 112 295


221 158 379



In previous elections to the Scottish Parliament, our research found clear gendered patterns of candidate placement, with women candidates, for example, generally placed in lower positions on party lists. This time around, however, parties paid better attention to the detail of quota implementation. In the case of the SNP, not only was AWS used in seats where the party expected to win, but women were also placed in favourable list positions – topping half of the party’s regional lists. Eight of the nine SNP women selected under AWS were elected – and 13 of the 17 new SNP MSPs elected to Holyrood for the first time in 2016 are women (including three members of Women for Independence’s National Committee).

Turning to Scottish Labour, which has long been a leader in promoting equal representation, post-election, 46% of the party’s MSPs are women (the same proportion as in 2011). While over 50% of the party’s constituency candidates were women (in part due to the use of AWS), Labour’s poor electoral performance meant that they only held on to three constituencies – including Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton seat. However, the party’s use of gender quotas on the list – in the form of ‘zipping’, or alternating, male and female candidates – meant that the party delivered near parity for MSPs elected via regional lists (48% women). Changes to candidate selection rules in the run-up to 2016 (championed by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale) meant that sitting Labour MSPs were no longer guaranteed top places on the lists – though, in the end, most of the top spaces were still dominated by familiar faces. Nevertheless, the continuing collapse in Labour’s electoral fortunes has resulted in the departure of yet more of the original cohort of women MSPs elected in 1999, such as the former deputy Presiding Officer Patricia Ferguson, as well as some notable feminist champions including Sarah Boyack and Elaine Murray.

While the SNP’s and Labour’s use of quotas has made a difference, the overall result has been muted and figures have stagnated due in large part to an unexpectedly strong Tory performance across Scotland. Only around 19% of Scottish Conservative candidates were women– and one of their regional lists, Highlands and Islands, was men-only. Top list places were also predominantly taken by men – with the party’s North East Scotland list returning four male MSPs, while West Scotland included more candidates named ‘Maurice’ (two, both elected), than it did women (one, in tenth position). The same number of Conservative women were elected as in 2011 – six – but this is set in the context of the party (more than) doubling its seats, which means that only 19% of Conservative MSPs are women.

The Liberal Democrats, as predicted, returned no women – having effectively de-selected their one sitting female MSP Alison McInnes in favour of controversial former list MSP Mike Rumbles. The parliamentary party is now men-only at both Holyrood and Westminster, and has a solitary female AM at Cardiff, Kirsty Williams, its only female parliamentary presence in all of the UK (who has now resigned as leader of the Welsh party). The Lib Dems have committed to adopting gender quotas at their recent Scottish party conference – but the question is whether this is too little too late from a party with a continually dismal record on women’s representation across all Holyrood elections.

The Greens meanwhile ‘zipped’ their regional list candidates, alternating men and women candidates. However, in the case of smaller parties like the Greens, who are expected to win at most 1 or 2 seats in a particular region, the impact of zipping measures can be limited – and top list places are key. The party did pair its lists and ensure that 50% of them were topped by women, but in spite of these efforts some unexpected wins and losses for the party meant that in the end, only 1 of 6 Green MSPs are women (17%). These results also point to the need for all parties to think further about mechanics, strategy and winnability – which may, for example, involve placing more women at the top in order to guarantee equality outcomes. In Germany, for example, the Greens also zip candidate lists, but women are guaranteed the odd-numbered positions on the ballot and are also allowed to compete for the even-numbered ones.

Lists for new parties RISE and the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) also featured high proportions of women (47.5% and 90% respectively), as well favourable placement, with women topping four out of eight lists for RISE and both lists in the two regions where WEP stood candidates. In the end however, neither party managed to garner enough votes to gain seats in this election.

SP women's rep graph (cropped)

This is the fifth Scottish Parliament election where we have seen the same patterns – some parties taking women’s representation seriously, while others continue to be laggards. Without active intervention across the board, gains will remain slow and incremental at best, and are unlikely to cross even the 40% threshold almost achieved over a decade ago. Increasingly the call in Scotland, backed by a large body of international evidence, is for tough action in the form of legislative quotas that require all parties to take action on women’s representation. This would follow the example of a growing number of countries around the world that have adopted statutory quotas to demonstrable effect (including, most recently, the Republic of Ireland). As the influential cross-party campaign group Women 5050 tweeted in the election aftermath, the change in women’s representation in 2016 has been ‘nil, nada, zilch… We need legislated change now.’

If gender equality is something we take seriously as a society then the issue of political representation can no longer be left to the discretion of political parties. For real and lasting progress, warm words must be backed up with statutory measures to embed equality in our political institutions. When? The time is now.

An earlier version of this analysis appears in Holyrood Magazine’s Election Special Issue.

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