Almost a third of Scots constituencies have only one woman candidate standing… or none at all

Almost a third of Scots constituencies have only one woman candidate standing… or none at all

Almost a third of Scottish constituencies have only one woman – or no women at all – on the ballot paper according to exclusive analysis by The Ferret that reveals the extent of the gender gap in politics.

More than eighty per cent of Scottish constituencies have more men than women on the ballot paper, and five constituencies have male only lists. A further 12 constituencies (21 per cent) had only one woman standing against up to seven men.

In total, 84 per cent of Scotland’s 57 constituencies have male dominated candidate lists despite pledges by parties to prioritise better gender balance in politics.

Only four constituencies are gender balanced – with the same number of men and women –  and five have more women running as candidates than men. There were no female only lists, and no constituencies where only one man was standing against female candidates.

Campaigners said the findings showed that attempts to solve the gender gap were “derisory” and called for legislation that would lead to mandatory gender quotas across parties, as well as the publication of monitoring data, which is not currently made available.

Female politicians have reported widespread online abuse, death threats and sexual harassment and assault in recent years, with some claiming the cost of being so visible in public life is too high.

Figures published earlier this month showed that women make up only 31 per cent of candidates across the UK. The Ferret found the percentage of women in Scotland is the same as the UK-wide figure.

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The Ferret has previously found one in three female councillors stepped down at the 2022 election, often having faced threats of violence, racist abuse, and sexual harassment during their time in office.

Constituencies with all male lists included Glasgow South and Inverclyde and Renfrewshire West, with eight men standing in each constituency. In Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, there are seven men and no women standing. In the Orkney and Shetland and Stirling and Strathallan constituencies, there are six male candidates on each of the ballot papers.

Before the election was called and parliament was dissolved there were double the number of male Scottish MPs than women with 18 women and 41 men.

In 2019, a record number of women – almost 34 percent of candidates – stood for election. As of February 2024 there were 225 women in the House of Commons, equating to 35 percent of MPs, the highest proportion ever.

But with a smaller percentage standing this year, Engender – a Scottish policy and advocacy working toward gender equity  – said it was concerned that fewer women would be elected this year.

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Jessie Duncan, equal representation development officer for the organisation, said the UK Government must enact Section 106 of the Equality Act, compelling political parties to publish candidate diversity data, which in turn should be monitored to “help build a more equal Scotland”.

She also claimed the law should be “updated” to allow gender quotas to be introduced at elections.

“Women continue to face a vast range of economic, cultural and political realities that prevent them from taking part in politics on an equal basis to men,” she added. “It is unsurprising that women are, yet again, underrepresented among candidates.

Talat Yaqoob, co-founder of Women 50:50, which campaigns for gender balance in politics, said the dominance of male candidates underlined the need for action.

The status quo fails women, and it fails democracy,” she added. “Women 50:50 has been advocating for legislated candidate quotas because despite most political parties recognising the need for change in how politics operates, when it comes to picking candidates, women, particularly marginalised women, continue to be sidelined.”

“We need a transformation in our political cultures; rooting out sexism, racism, classism, and all forms of bigotry, so that those who are most ignored by politics are able to fully and fairly engage. “

Many have argued that there are a range of factors putting women off standing – and leading them to stand down, which it has been claimed leads to a “democratic deficit”.

They include online abuse and even death threats, high incidences of sexual harassment and assault in Parliament and the lack of family friendly work culture – with unforgiving and inflexible hours, a lack of maternity leave and pay.

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Problems with online abuse are not restricted to the UK. Research by the Inter-Parliamentary Union found that 82 per cent of those surveyed in 39 countries had been subjected to “psychological violence”. Two thirds reported “humiliating sexual or sexist remarks”, 42 per cent had  “extremely humiliating or sexually charged images” of themselves spread through social media, and 45  per cent had been threatened with “death, rape, beatings or abduction”.

In 2017, research by Amnesty International found that Diane Abbot received the most abuse of any MP, with many of the average of 51 abusive tweets a day in the lead-up to that year’s snap election focussed on both her race and gender and including threats of sexual violence. 

Hannah Stevens, chief executive, of Elect Her – a UK-wide campaigning organisation that aims to see at women elected as at least 51 percent of politicians, said women’s representation in this election was “derisory”.

“The depressing figures in Scotland are mirrored across the country,” she added. “That can’t go on. We know more diversity matters.”

She claimed research by King’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership suggested that when there are more women in politics, society benefits with less corruption, better outcomes for local people and a reduced likelihood  of the country going to war.

A spokesperson from the Electoral Commission said it did not  take “a position on changes to eligibility for candidates at elections, as this is a matter for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to consider”.

“If changes were to be made, we would work with the electoral community, including campaigners, to ensure they are implemented effectively.”

In Wales the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill has been introduced aiming to ensure that at least 50 per cent candidates on party lists at future Senedd elections are women.

As the general election approaches, The Ferret is diving deep into the influence of conspiracy theories, disinformation, and culture wars on political discourse. Have you come across falsehoods or conspiracies shared by candidates, political parties, or viral memes? We want to hear from you! Get in touch at contact@theferret.scot, and we will take a look.

Help us continue our vital work by becoming a Ferret member today or making a one-off donation. Your support enables us to hold power to account and keep the truth at the forefront of the election conversation.

Cover images thanks to iStock/HNvisual

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