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Candidates in Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections

05/14/2001 16:38:20

Embargoed until 00.1 hrs on Wednesday, 2 May 2201

New ESRC-funded research shows that, during the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections, political parties began to use a variety of ways to choose candidates and to ensure the adequate selection of women. This 'new politics' of devolution produced widely differing results and caused considerable conflicts within the political parties.

Research undertaken within the Department of Politics at the University of Lancaster surveyed all candidates from the major parties in the May 1999 Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. The research aimed to both analyse the parties' procedures for recruiting and selecting candidates to see if the different systems caused strains in the parties, and to identify the characteristics of the candidates selected.

The change in the electoral system in both Wales and Scotland meant that parties were required to select two types of candidate - those for constituencies and those for party lists. While the parties were under pressure to increase the openness of candidacy and participation in the process, they still needed to maintain some control over the selection process including who was selected. This led to conflicting pressures within party organisations.

Labour's decision to establish a panel of candidates approved by the centre was suspected to be a mechanism for culling left-nationalists elements in Scotland. In Wales, there was criticism that the same system allowed old-style 'fixing' politics to favour candidates backed by the leadership.

The SNP and the Conservative parties hardly changed their procedures for constituency selections. But the Conservatives used different systems for selecting candidates for the party lists. In Scotland, relatively small committees were used to determine candidates' ranking within their list, which led to some discontent. In contrast, the Welsh conservatives adopted a more open process which allowed all members to participate in drawing up the list.

The greatest variations and disagreements were over attempts by parties to select more women candidates:

 Labour 'twinned' constituencies, and local parties had to select one female and one male candidate for each pair of constituencies. This was relatively uncontroversial in Scotland. In Wales, however, there was considerable opposition and in the end the central party officials had to impose twinning pairs in six constituencies.

 The Liberal Democrats decided that half their shortlisted candidates in the constituency selections should be women, but found this difficult to achieve because of a shortage of women coming forward to be considered for selection.

 The Conservatives adopted no special procedures to encourage women candidates and women comprised only 18% of Conservative candidates in Scotland and 27% in Wales.

 Plaid Cymru was the most innovative in its selection of women candidates. It adopted 'zipping' party lists (placing the woman with the most votes at the top of the list followed by the man with the most votes and so on).

"This system attracted some criticism but the under-representation of women among the constituency candidates persuaded moderate opinion in the party that it was desirable," says Dr David Denver. In spite of these different selection systems, candidates of all parties tended to be younger, more middle class and were more likely to be university educated that their party's voters or council candidates.

The adoption of a more proportional electoral system for the Parliament and Assembly elections was a clear and conscious move in the direction of new politics. "Parties were keen to emphasise that devolution was a new beginning and that they would attempt to select new sorts of candidates. But many of them had already been councillors or general election candidates. And our research shows that on the constitutional question, current issues and general values, deep and enduring divisions remain," says Dr Denver.

For more information contact Dr David Denver, Department of Politics and International Relations, Cartmel College, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YL. Tel: 01524 594267 Email:

Or, Lilian Eldoufani or Lesley Lilley in ESRC External Relations: Tel: 01793 413032 or 413117