The Outer Hebrides have the lowest number of female candidates for the up coming council elections – less than in any other part of Scotland.
It is an issue that has hit the head lines in recent days following a study by Edinburgh University academics questioning the level of female representation in local politics.
The study reveals that only 23.6% candidates in the elections are female, while in Na h-Eileanan Siar that figure drops further to only 9.5%.
In fact there are four wards in the Outer Hebrides that have no female candidates at all and only five women are standing out of a total of 63 council hopefuls.
“With local government in crisis around perceived problems of legitimacy, representation and quality, this raises questions as to the lessons learned, future prospects, and actions needed if there is to be any real progress in women’s representation in Scotland,” the study states.
But in looking for answers as to why the Outer Hebrides has an even lower turn out of female candidates in comparison to the rest of Scotland, and how best to initiate women into local politics, the report suggests: “Change won’t happen on its own,” and appears to place the role of the political party at the centre of solution.
“If Scotland is to make further headway, parties need to demonstrate that they are serious about changing the face of Scottish politics.”
It goes on to say: “The barriers to women’s access to political office are well-documented, and there are a range of measures that parties can take to counteract these obstacles.”
Ada Campbell, Scottish Labour election agent for Western Isles commented: “Scotland’s local authorities still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equal representation in the communities they serve. This needs to be urgently addressed or else they risk not serving those communities properly.
“This year Scottish Labour set a target of ensuring that 50% of non sitting councillors are women.”
She continues: “Scottish Labour is standing nearly 50% more women that five years ago, but like all parties we need to go further.”
And SNP Local Government Campaign Manager Derek Mackay said: “In 60% of the council areas where we stood in 2007, the proportion of female candidates has in fact increased. Female applicants appear to have little difficulty getting selected.
“The key challenge remains in getting more female members to come forward as candidates. But clearly we have lessons to learn from those parts of the country who have significantly increased the number of female candidates this time round.”
However this round of council elections in the Outer Hebrides has revealed a continuing trend, as over 70% of candidates opting to stand as independents.
This counteracts the influence that parties can have on candidates, meaning that the announcement of the SNP’s new equality strategy and Labour’s pledge to give 50% of all vacant seat to female candidates will have limited impact. It seems that when it comes to trying to tackle discrepancies in gender representation in the Outer Hebrides, what works for the rest of Scotland will have limited impact on the islands.