Falkirk Council: Diversity plea from councillor

A call is being made for more to be done to tackle a lack of diversity within Falkirk Council – with one member joking there are more councillors called David than there are under 40.

Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 5:01 pm
Laura Murtagh

The lack of diversity in Falkirk Council is no different to Scotland’s other local authorities, so it’s a question that’s being asked nationally: how do we get our councils to reflect more accurately the communities they represent?

But Councillor Laura Murtagh believes there is more that could and should be done locally to redress the balance.

Cllr Murtagh – the SNP councillor for Carse, Kinnaird and Tryst – admits that a council with more female, young, disabled and BAME councillors is not likely to happen any time soon.

But she’d like to see Falkirk Council appointing a young person’s champion – following the example of the recent appointment of an older person’s champion.

That’s one of the suggestions she has put forward in a motion that she hopes will be discussed at Falkirk Council on Wednesday.

“I’m 100 per cent supportive of having an older person’s champion,” she said.

“But when it came to climate change and divestment, we couldn’t debate that at council – it went to the Executive and that’s an even more exclusionary group, where there are no voices of anybody under 50.

“I’m not trying to be ageist because everybody has their own experience to give and great value – but there’s no balance and that’s concerning.”

She also wants to see all councillors get training on unconscious bias.

“Every single person – and I totally include myself – has unconscious bias,” she explained.

She once joked that there are more people called David than there are councillors under 40 – is that still the case?

“I think there are four times more people called David than there are people under 40 now!” she laughs.

Her own experiences as a new councillor in 2017 reinforced the barriers many women face – such as childcare issues not being taken seriously – and the fact that the culture that is not always welcoming.

Her motion also calls for councillors be respectful, to mind their conduct and language and to “be leaders by example”.

While she says the majority of members are “open-minded, respectful and fair”, there are a minority who choose to make disrespectful comments openly – and behind the scenes.

“It can start with a small comment but if it’s not challenged then it’s allowed to become a culture and I think it puts people off,” she said.

She would rather look for positive actions than focus on the sexism and misogyny that undoubtedly exist.

But she does see opportunities for change.

Moving council meetings online – or at least being able to take part online – is a game-changer for people with caring responsibilities, disabled people and also those who would find it difficult to get time of work for meetings – often young people.

“A lot of things we were arguing for before – more flexible working, dialling in for meetings – we were told were never going to be possible.

“Well, lockdown has made those things possible and I want them to continue to be considered!”