• Rebecca Marek

Race and Political Parties - The problem is deeper than it seems

Much has been made in Scottish media lately regarding racism in political parties and the direct racial harassment and discrimination faced by the few BME elected officials in Scotland’s democratic bodies.

At a time when race equality within policies parties is in the spotlight, it is important to remember that BME groups in Scotland are even less represented locally now than in the 2012 Local Government Elections.

The 2012 elections saw just 17 candidates with a BME background elected, represented 1.4% of the overall total, compared to 4.0% of Scotland’s population (as of the 2011 Scottish Census). This was progress from the 10 elected in 2007, particularly with the election of 4 BME women councillors.

However, by CRER’s analysis, progress did not continue into the 2017 election; in fact, there was a backslide. While 43 BME candidates stood for this election (an increase from 32 in 2012), this represented only 1.6% of all candidates, with 6 of these standing as an independent. (More information on the candidates for the 2017 election is available on CRER’s blog here.)

Following the election, only 16 BME councillors were elected out of the total 1227 (1.3%), representing a decrease both in number and proportion from the previous election. Of these, only three were women.

By party, the Scottish Conservative Party saw two BME councillors elected, with five from the Scottish National Party and nine from the Scottish Labour Party.

The seven councils which have at least one BME councillor are Aberdeen (1) , Dundee (1), East Lothian (1), Fife (1), Glasgow (7), North Lanarkshire (3), Renfrewshire (1) and South Lanarkshire (1). The remaining 24local authorities do not have a single elected BME member, including, notably, Edinburgh City Council.

This decrease would be concerning enough if we were to see the BME population as a consistent 4.0% across all of Scotland. However, BME groups are markedly underrepresented in the four local authorities with the an above-average BME population (using the out-of-date 2011 Scottish Census figures): 0.0% compared to 8.0% in Edinburgh, 2.2% compared to 8.0% in Aberdeen, 3.4% compared to 6.0% in Dundee, and 8.2% compared to 12.0% in Glasgow.

The problem of underrepresentation of BME groups in elected office is largely an issue for political parties themselves. In the 2017 elections, only 0.5% of Scottish Conservative Party, 0.5% of Scottish Green Party, 1.6% of Scottish Liberal Democrat, 1.9% of Scottish National Party, and 3.4% of Scottish Labour Party candidates were BME. If candidates are not diverse, how can elected bodies be? Direct work with political parties is desperately needed to tackle this issue.

Major Scottish political parties must actively explore the challenges of fairer representation and develop ways in which the full engagement of Scotland’s BME population can be a reality within parties and, eventually, within elected office.

Parties should begin by introducing targets for their own memberships’ diversity, setting targets for membership recruitment from BME communities, and ensuring BME groups are actively engaged and represented throughout party structures. This is an ambition shared by the Equal Represented Coalition for all underrepresented groups in Scotland.

It is all well and good to condemn instances of racism within parties, but for parties to be truly anti-racist, they must be more diverse and work to bring about a Scotland in which our democratic bodies truly represent our population.

(*NB – BME candidates have been identified by personal knowledge and use of name recognition algorithms. This is by no means a perfect way of identifying ethnicity – but until we get parties conducting their own ethnic monitoring or relevant authorities implementing mandatory monitoring of candidates, this may be the best we have. We would welcome further discussion with parties on how this could be developed.)