MOST female candidates at the recent Scottish council elections experienced threats, abuse or intimidation, new research suggests.

A survey of candidates by the Electoral Commission found 52 per cent of female respondents reported some kind of abuse compared to 36% of men.

Across both sexes, 44% of candidates experienced some abuse, rating it as 2 or above on a scale of one to five, while 11% rated it as serious, meaning four or five on the scale.

Of those who experienced abuse, the most common forms were verbal (55%) and online (53%), with 84% reporting it came from the public.

Around three in ten (31%) said it came from anonymous sources, but one in ten (11%) said they had been threatened or abused by other candidates at May’s election.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of candidates took advantage of a new law that let them withhold their home address from the ballot paper. 

The experience of abuse and intimidation was slightly worse in Scotland than in England and Wales, where 40% of candidates reported it, and 8% rated it as serious. 

The Commission said it intended to work with Police Scotland and the electoral community to understand what was driving the problem and address it “as a matter of urgency”.

The findings are included in the Commission report on the 2022 local elections north of the border, which found they were generally well run and commanded voter confidence.

However it also said too many voters remained confused by the single-transferable voting system, in which candidates are ranked in order of preference, despite it starting in 2007.

In some wards, one in 20 ballot papers were discounted, most because  voters put an X or a 1 against the names of multiple candidates, making their preference impossible to decipher.

The problem was most acute in places of high deprivation and unemployment, which were also the most likely to have a party fielding more than one candidate, giving rise to possible confusion.

The ward with the most rejected ballots was Glasgow Canal, which takes in Possilpark, Ruchilll and Milton, where 5.7% were ruled invalid, up on 5.4% at the 2017 election.

West Dunbartonshire Kilpatrick saw 4.5% rejected, West Dunbartonshire's Clydebank Central 4.2%, North Lanarkshire’s Coatbridge South 4.1% and Dundee Coldside 4.1%.

Although the overall rate of rejected ballots Scotland-wide fell from 1.95% in 2017 to 1.85% this year, the Commission said it would do further work to help minimise the problem.

Despite a right-wing fuss about prisoners being allowed to vote, only 49 inmates registered to do so. 

Nearly all voters (97%) reported being satisfied with the process of voting. 

However, the Commission said the resilience of electoral administration teams remained a concern, with many councils reporting challenges in recruiting polling station staff. 

Overall, 2,548 candidates were nominated to contest 1,226 councillor vacancies across 32 local authorities, with 357 standing as independents and the rest representing 26 parties.

An electorate of 4,222,332 filled in 1,1892,215 counted ballot papers, a turnout of 44.8%.

Sue Bruce, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said: “Voter confidence in elections remains high, thanks to the dedicated work of election teams across Scotland. However, further action is needed to ensure everyone understands how to complete their ballot paper so their vote can count.

"We will be taking forward urgent targeted work with the electoral community to trial new approaches to tackling voter information at council elections.”