Highlands & Islands

The islands with no female councillors

Councillors Image copyright Comhairle nan Eilean Sair
Image caption In 2017, for the first time in its history, no women were elected to Comhairle nan Eilean Sair

A project is trying to convince more women to run for office in Scottish islands where all the elected politicians are male.

Only seven women stood as candidates in the 2017 council elections in the Western Isles - and none of them won a seat on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Male candidates also won the isles' seats in the Scottish and UK parliaments.

The Parliament Project aims to inspire more women to stand for election.

It is holding two workshops in the Western Isles, supported by the comhairle, one of which will be addressed by Mairi Bremner, who was a councillor for 25 years in the area.

She said she was saddened by the absence of women on the comhairle, the only local authority in the UK with no women.

Image caption Mairi Bremner was a councillor in the Western Isles for 25 years

"It grieves me because I think women have a better understanding of people's needs and wishes," she said.

"I also think women are more approachable.

"I felt that I was approached more, and by people from outwith my own area for a lot of things because they felt like they could talk to a woman."

The Western Isles do have a history of female political representation.

In the mid 1960s, Stornoway elected Ann Urquhart as its first female provost.

In her acceptance speech in Stornoway Town Hall, she said: "I hope that in taking this role - I may blaze the trail for women in this burgh to come forward into public life."

Representation on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar reached its peak between 2007 and 2012, when there were five women councillors.

However, in the 2017 elections the comhairle only returned male councillors for the first time in its history.

Image caption Lee Chalmers of The Parliament Project hopes to encourage more women to consider roles in public office

The Parliament Project is a non-partisan initiative that seeks to "inspire, empower and encourage" women to run for political office in the UK.

It runs information and skills-building events and offers peer networking to support women to get elected.

Since 2016, it has delivered workshops to more 3,000 women in Scotland and England, many of whom have gone on to stand for election.

Edinburgh-based co-director Lee Chalmers said: "We are delighted to be coming to the Western Isles.

'More representative'

"There are huge numbers of women out there who could be getting ready to run for office - we meet them every day - yet women make up only 36% of the members of the Scottish Parliament and 24% of the councillors."

She said women had suggested a number of reasons for why so few run for public office.

They included having to juggle the role of being a councillor with their work.

Ms Chalmers said: "The women would love to see the role of councillor be full-time and better paid. Maybe we could reduce the numbers of councillors and pay them more?"

She added that some women had mentioned the attitudes of men who, in some situations, did not take them seriously or see them as "the right" people to be elected.

"Some women of course have been elected in the past so it is not impossible. Perhaps we need a force of men on the islands who are prepared to advocate for women in their areas and help them get elected," she said.

The project is holding workshops in Stornoway on Thursday and at Balivanich, in Benbecula, on Friday.

Derek Mackay, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar's democratic services manager, encouraged any women who are interested in politics, or representing their communities, to attend.

"We would like to see a more representative local authority and public sector," he said.

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