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Western Isles vote in two female councillors for the first time in a decade

Frances Murray, left, and Susan Thomson, right (both SNP) become the first women on Western Isles Council in a decade. Picture: Western Isles News Agency
Frances Murray, left, and Susan Thomson, right (both SNP) become the first women on Western Isles Council in a decade. Picture: Western Isles News Agency

History has been made in the Outer Hebrides after two women became the first in a decade to be elected to the previously all-male council.

Eight women stood for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar but only two were elected.

Susan Thomson became the first woman to be elected to the authority since 2012, and will represent South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula for the SNP.

Former Nicolson Institute rector Frances Murray, also representing the SNP, claimed a Stornoway seat.

Ms Thomson said the issue of women not being on the council was one of the issues on the doorstep.

She said she was even in favour of examining having councillors job share seats as a way forward to get greater diversity.

“Women have stood and the community have made a decision – that does not mean that things don’t need to be done,” she said. “We need to have a conversation. Job sharing could be one way. The Americans manage it – it is not a new concept. The Americans choose a president and a vice president.

“I did not campaign on a lack of women (on the council) but it did come up on the doorstep.

“I am delighted to be elected, and I stood because I believe in independence and the SNP.”

‘Never about bias’

Mrs Murray previously made history after becoming the first female rector of the Nicolson Institute.

The 59-year-old said she was “delighted” to now represent Stornoway.

“From the moment I announced my candidature the issue of women on the council came up,” she said.

“I hope that because we now have two women councillors, it is not the only thing we become known for. There have long been women in the community who have been in leadership – at one time three of the heads of the four secondary schools were women for example.

I never thought there was a particular bias against women – there are wider issues preventing women from standing. I just hope other women now feel like putting themselves forward in future.”

One of the favourites to also make the gender breakthrough had been college lecturer Catriona Murray, 46.

However, she was 120 votes behind for the Loch A Tuath ward. She said she would not rule out standing again.

The most women the isles’ council has had was five, between 2007-2012.

Earlier this year, an online workshop was held to persuade more women to stand in these elections, run by Elect Her – a group specialising in combating gender equalities in government.

The island has previously had a female provost too – when elected in the mid 1960s, Ann Urquhart said she hoped she would “blaze the trail” for women to come forward in public life.

First councillor from ethnic minority elected

Also making history was Mustapha Hocine, who has become the first from an ethnic minority to become a councillor on the Western Isles Council.

Mr Hocine came from Algeria to study in the UK and met his future wife Anne at Glasgow University, who is originally from North Uist.

Mr Hocine, 61, topped the poll in the Uibhist A Tuath ward where he and his family have lived for 30 years.

Having long worked for the NHS as a mental health service coordinator, the father-of-two has has been heavily involved in many community groups, including befriending and community wind power organisations.

Elsewhere, a by-election will be held for Barra and Vatersay and Uig and Carloway, as only one candidate for each of the two-member wards was nominated.

A date will be set in the coming weeks.

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