Local by-elections in Orkney rarely draw much attention but the West Mainland by-election in August has done so because of the all-women field of candidates. That this is deemed newsworthy speaks volumes. The position of women in local government is mixed and a significant difference outlined below invites careful attention.
While women continue to be under-represented in candidate selection, election and leadership positions across Scotland’s thirty-two local authorities, a different picture emerges in the appointment of senior officers. For over six months, both Glasgow and Edinburgh City Councils – Scotland’s two largest authorities in population terms – had women chief executives before Dame Sue Bruce retired from her position in Edinburgh in July. There are now 14 women heading up Scotland’s 32 local authorities compared with only five women council leaders (out of 33 when we account for the two men jointly heading Aberdeenshire Council).
While population size is only one way of measuring local authorities (landmass is another but scale of public policy challenges is the most important) it shows that women chief executives are in charge in authorities responsible for just under 42 per cent of Scotland’s population. Edinburgh makes up just over 9 per cent of the Scottish population so that until July, women chief executives were running authorities covering 51 per cent of the population.
The comparison with elected council leaders is instructive. The five women council leaders are heads in authorities covering only 14.7 per cent of the Scottish population.
There are likely to be a number of explanations for this disparity. The appointment processes are different though some obvious points of similarity. The pool of talented women in senior positions across Scotland’s local authorities and public services is considerable as compared to the more limited number of women councillors. While an understandable emphasis has been placed on the number of women elected politicians, it would be mistaken to ignore others who yield significant power. Indeed, some might argue that the advance of women to senior positions as officers in local government is more likely to affect policy-making than becoming local council leaders.
James Mitchell is Professor of Public Policy and Co-Director of the Academy of Government at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Devolution in the UK (Manchester University Press 2009) and The Scottish Question (Oxford University Press 2014). He tweets @ProfJMitchell.
Table: Scotland’s Council’s, their Chief Executives and Leaders.
|Glasgow||592,800||Annemarie O’Donnell||Gordon Mathieson|
|Edinburgh||486,100||Andrew Kerr||Andrew Burns|
|Fife||365,000||Steve Grimmond||David Ross|
|North Lanarkshire||326,000||Gavin Whitefield||Jim McCabe|
|South Lanarkshire||311,900||Lindsay Freeland||Eddie McAvoy|
|Aberdeenshire||245,800||Jim Savege||Richard Thomson/Martin Kitts-Hayes|
|Highland||221,600||Steve Barron||Margaret Davidson|
|Aberdeen||217,100||Angela Scott||Jenny Laing|
|West Lothian||172,100||Graham Hope||John McGinty|
|Renfrewshire||170,300||Sandra Black||Mark MacMillan|
|Falkirk||153,300||Mary Pitcaithly||Craig Martin|
|Dumfries & Galloway||148,200||Gavin Stevenson||Ronnie Nicholson|
|Perth and Kinross||147,800||Bernadette Malone||Ian Miller|
|Dundee||144,300||David Martin||Ken Guild|
|North Ayrshire||135,200||Elma Murray||Willie Gibson|
|East Ayrshire||120,200||Fiona Lees||Douglas Reid|
|Scottish Borders||112,900||Tracey Logan||David Parker|
|South Ayrshire||111,400||Eileen Howat||Bill McIntosh|
|Angus||110,600||Richard Stiff||Ian Gaul|
|East Dunbartonshire||104,600||Gerry Cornes||Rhonnda Geekie|
|East Lothian||97,500||Angela Leitch||Willie Innes|
|West Dunbartonshire||90,600||Joyce White||Martin Rooney|
|Stirling||89,900||Stewart Carruth||Johanna Boyd|
|East Renfrewshire||89,500||Lorraine McMillan||Jim Fletcher|
|Argyll & Bute||89,200||Sally Loudon||Dick Walsh|
|Moray||87,700||Roddy Burns||Stewart Cree|
|Midlothian||81,100||Kenneth Lawrie||Catherine Johnstone|
|Inverclyde||79,800||John Mundell||Stephen McCabe|
|Clackmannanshire||50,600||Elaine McPherson||Les Sharp|
|Comhairle nan Eileanan Siar||26,200||Malcolm Burr||Angus Campbell|
|Shetland||22,400||Mark Boden||Gary Robinson|
|Orkney||20,100||Alistair Buchan||Steven Heddle|