ONE of the first female councillors elected to the Western Isles in a decade says she hopes to inspire other women by showing “it can be done”.

The election of Frances Murray and Susan Thomson, both for the SNP, brought to an end Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) holding the dubious title of being the only all-male local authority in the UK.

In 2017, for the first time in the council’s history, no women were elected to the council, although seven women stood that year.

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However, men still make up the majority of the 20 independent, six SNP and one Conservative councillors elected.

Murray, who was elected in Stornoway South, said she was “absolutely delighted” there are now women represented in the council.

“For the last five years there had been no women and obviously that’s brought a lot of very negative attention to the Western Isles, particularly in the run-up to the election,” she said.

“It was important to me and to Susan Thomson, who was also elected.

“We were elected first and foremost as SNP representatives, but we think it is important that a woman’s perspective is brought to the council for this term.”

READ MORE: Western Isles election 2022: Shake-up on the agenda at Scotland's only all-male council

Murray has just retired as the head of the Nicolson Institute on Lewis. She previously made history in 2011 by being appointed as the first female headteacher of the school, which was established in the 1800s.

She said one of the main issues for women standing for election for CnES was that many of them worked for the local authority – and so were barred from becoming candidates.

“I don’t think there is anything about Hebridean women that holds us back,” she said.

“If you look at charities, third sector, education – three of the four secondary schools have been led by women. There are women in lots of very influential roles in the Western Isles.”

But she said there was also work to be done in making the role of councillor attractive and “demystifying” it for other women who are in a position to stand.

“One of the benefits that has come out of Covid is we now know you can hold meetings without all physically being in the room together, and perhaps that would make council meetings more possible to people who can’t get to Stornoway,” she said.

READ MORE: Scottish local elections 2022: Number of women doubles in Inverclyde

“It is perhaps because they live in the southern isles, if they have young children or are looking after elderly parents or other members of their family or whatever their job is that makes it difficult to give up two or three days to travel to Stornoway for meetings.

“I think it is going to be important for us as the two female councillors to show other women it can be done - whatever other parts of your life you are juggling."

It’s not Murray’s first time venturing into the world of politics – she also stood for the SNP as a Westminster candidate in 1992.

She said she had already decided to put her name forward as a candidate when the lack of female councillors on CnES hit the headlines – but it did help to go ahead with the decision.

When it comes to the issues to deal with over the next five years, she said recovery from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis would be a major focus.

“As you can imagine that does have a greater impact when you are further removed from the mainland,” she said. 

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“Prices are higher, there is probably more fuel poverty here than anywhere else in the country – so these would be the main issues, working with community groups, individuals, businesses to show how we can work together to try and bounce back from what has been a very difficult time and is still going to be difficult.”

With both the female councillors who were elected from the SNP, Murray said it shows the issue of independence is important.

She added: “Local issues are the most important at local government level – but another thing I am looking forward to is playing a part as an elected representative in the forthcoming independence referendum, whenever that is to be.”