Edinburgh Conservatives have been accused of failing to promote diversity in the City Chambers as only four of their 20 local election candidates are women.
The list of Tory hopefuls announced ahead of May’s vote is the least gender-balanced of all of the city’s main parties, with 80 per cent of the candidates who are male.
Labour, who have selected 11 women and eight men to stand in the capital, is the only party with more than half of all candidates female, whilst 12 of the SNP’s 25 council contenders are women.
Carrie Gooch, the SNP’s Forth ward candidate, who is standing for election for the first time, described the Conservative group as “an old boys club” and said it was a “shame” more women weren’t being represented.
She said: “Folk are bored of the same tired old excuses of why women aren’t being properly represented around the decision-making tables.
“Unfortunately the Tories have a candidate diversity and policies that belong more to the 70’s than to building Edinburgh’s future as a European Capital.
“We’re delighted to have a proper gender-balanced group of council candidates for the first time ever, with even more diversity in the citizenships and ethnicities of our talented team.”
But incumbent Tory councillor and City Centre candidate Jo Mowat insisted the party is fielding “a talented group of candidates” to deliver “leadership and scrutiny of the council.”
She added: “Given the SNP’s appalling record of failure and the deliberate closing down of debate on the most serious issues it’s no surprise that the SNP can only resort to attacks on the gender of our candidates.
“When there are still outstanding questions about the make up of the old boys club identified by Suzanne Tanner QC in her report it is a particularly poor choice of words by Ms Gooch.”
Cllr Mowat’s comment referred to a report looking into abuse committed by a former senior social worker Sean Bell at Edinburgh Council – which found an old boy’s network in the local authority had protected him.
Labour group leader Cammy Day took aim at both parties, criticising both the lack of female Tory candidates announced this year, and a decision taken by the SNP to not re-select disabled councillor George Gordon, who has represented Forth since 2017 and had hopes of serving a further five years on The City of Edinburgh Council.
Councillor Day said: “It’s a pretty poor response from key parties in the city who I’m sure have a diverse membership but have not worked enough to get a truly diverse representative group of candidates standing.
“The fact that there’s hardly any women in the Tory party, the fact that a current disabled councillor in the SNP did not get selected, doesn’t show a commitment to diversity from the other two key parties.
“We’ve got more than 50 per cent women, I think we’ve got 60 per cent women candidates, we’ve got some BAME candidates standing for us that will be excellent, we’ve also got LGBT candidates and candidates with disabilities so I think we’ve got an entirely diverse group of candidates ready to get in and help represent the diverse communities in Edinburgh.”
The effort of the city’s Liberal Democrat group, who are standing eight women and 14 men, to achieve equal gender balance for candidates was also deemed “poor” by Cllr Day.
However, Lib Dem councillor Louise Young, who is standing for re-election in Almond, along with her brother Kevin Lang, said the party is going into this election “with our highest number of female candidates since the multi-member STV election system was introduced”.
She added: “Better still is the fact we have candidates like Sanne Dijkstra-Downie in Forth, Louise Spence in Colinton, Fairmilehead, and Pauline Flannery in Southside, Newington, who are all challenging hard and have an excellent chance of winning.
“There’s every possibility we could double our number of female Lib Dem councillors in the city in this election, a really exciting prospect”.
Meanwhile, the Greens are fielding eight women and nine men in Edinburgh next month.
Claire Miller, Co-convenor of the Green Group, said: “During this council term we’ve had a 50:50 gender balanced group, and I’m very hopeful that the mechanisms that the Greens use will help us achieve the same again in this year’s election.
“I’m proud to say we have a talented group of female candidates who have been selected to contest the greenest areas of the city where they are most likely to win.”
There is also one independent woman candidate – Ashley Graczyk who was elected in 2017 as a Conservative councillor in Sighthill/Gorgie.
by Donald Turvill Local Democracy Reporter
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. Local Democracy Reporters cover top-tier local authorities and other public service organisations.