The Scottish political scene remains one in which Scotland’s minority ethnic population continues to remain under-represented.
Prior to the 2012 Local Government elections, there were 10 non-white local councillors from a total of 1,222 across the country, representing 0.8% of the total.
All were male, all were from the Scots Pakistani or Scots Indian communities, and despite Scottish minority ethnic communities having higher proportions of young people than the white Scottish population, all bar one were over the age of 50. The two previous female minority ethnic Local councillors had both lost their seats at the 2007 election, leaving core segments of the minority ethnic population without political representatives of their ethnicity or gender.
Alongside the lack of diversity in the ethnicity and gender of the elected representatives, there was also a significant lack of geographic distribution. Over half of the elected minority ethnic councillors in Scotland were in Glasgow, meaning that only 5 of Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities had any minority ethnic representatives.
The 2012 Local Government elections saw an increase in the number of candidates elected from minority ethnic communities, an increase in the number of Local Authorities with minority ethnic councillors, and some increase in the diversity of the candidates elected.
In 2012, two candidates of Chinese origin and three candidates from the African or African-Caribbean community stood, with just one from each community being successfully elected – leaving large parts of Scotland’s minority ethnic populations not being appropriately engaged with the political process.
Representation outside the West of Scotland remained limited, and less than half of the Scottish Local Authorities had any minority ethnic candidates standing (44%). On a (slightly) better note, the 2012 election saw the election of four Black minority ethnic women (BME) councillors.
Despite this limited progress, just 17 candidates of minority ethnic origin were elected, representing 1.4% of the overall number. This at a time when the 2011 Census was showing a BME population of 4% for Scotland overall.
It was hoped that more progress would be made in the 2017 elections.
The initial findings for BME candidates by party show:
Party Total Candidates BME Candidates % BME
Scottish National Party 639 12 1.88%
Scottish Labour Party 446 15 3.36%
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party 387 2 0.52%
Scottish Liberal Democrats 254 4 1.57%
Scottish Green Party 218 1 0.46%
Independent 507 6 1.18%
Other 163 2 1.23%
So, although we will need to wait until Election Day to see what the results are, we already know that more people from BME backgrounds are standing - 42* this time compared to 32 last time. This is positive, although the 42 represents just 1.61% of all candidates standing for election.
And even if all 42 win their seats, we will still be less than half way to proper representation, and over half of all local authorities in Scotland would still be left with no BME representatives.
Unfortunately, we need to make the same recommendation we made after the 2012 results were analysed – that the major Scottish political parties should actively explore the challenges of fairer representation and develop ways in which the full engagement of Scotland’s minority ethnic population can become a reality.
As a starting point, political parties should introduce targets for their own memberships’ diversity, setting targets for the number of members that they recruit from minority ethnic communities, and then follow this up through all levels of activity and representation through the party structures.
(*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.)