In the year 2022, CEMVO Scotland believes that society has accepted the argument that a democracy which is representative of the nation we live in is a good thing. We no longer subscribe to the idea that politics should be a career for the elite and those with aspirations to rub shoulders with the rich white men traditionally found in those circles.
We understand now that creating a diverse representative body can have a net positive impact on our lives as we seek to ensure that all experiences of Scotland are represented where the levers of power lie. Unfortunately, while we as a society might understand this, achieving it in reality is a much more difficult task, requiring decisive action from those already in power- including from councils, parliament and political parties.
Over the last 5 years, there has only been between 9 to 17 ethnic minority Councillors representing Scotland at a local authority level. That is less than 1.5 % of the entire cohort of Councillors elected across the country, or to put in more shocking terms, there is only 1 ethnic minority Councillor for every 2 Councils in Scotland.
We know that there are many structural and cultural barriers which ethnic minority people face at all levels of political involvement, from the point of joining parties to gaining nominations, to becoming a candidate and even once successfully elected as a Councillor, MSP or MP. The fact is that minority ethnic people entering politics are contending with long history of exclusion from public life. The default idea in our society of politicians as white, wealthy, older men is deep rooted and remains a barrier for those who do not fit this outdated image. This can play out in the minds of the electorate when they go to the polls, and also has shaped the way that our political institutions are set up and operate. This means that our institutions are often rigid and hostile to new perspectives, and to the change that they have the potential to bring about. We also recognise that abuse (online and offline) is a major deterrent to people who might seek public office, and we know that those from ethnic minority communities in political spaces are at an increased risk of receiving this. These are some of the factors that result in the extreme underrepresentation that we see.
These statistics have far more negative reaching impacts than simply the outlook of our local authority chambers. As a consequence of this, local authorities across Scotland also have a limited understanding of tackling ethnic minority issues relating to housing, education, welfare, public sector employment and a whole host of additional engagement issues with their local communities. For example, as there is a lack of diversity within the Council Chamber, minority ethnic led community groups feel disenfranchised to engage with their local representatives. This silences their voice locally and impacts their ability to apply for crucial local funding as they are unaware of applications, or the local authority does not value their work even if an application is made due to a lack of sustained interaction.
On May 5th 2022, Scotland had its chance to diversify our local chambers of representation once again. But quite often, the electorate was not met with the ability to elect politicians who would be able to authentically represent their experience as a person. This year many wards across Scotland did not have the chance to vote for an ethnic minority candidate on their ballot. Political parties must now publish their diversity data to ensure we understand what range of experiences is representing us all in local government in Scotland.
June 10th, 2022