Friday, 29 May 2009

A bumpy ride?

As a (relatively) young woman in politics, and one very aware of the gender dimension of politics – having both studied gender politics and also convening the SNP Women’s Forum for a time – I am disappointed that women are under-represented in this vital area of public life.

There was some debate in a number of blogs in recent months over the issue of all women shortlists in the Labour party. I personally disagree with that particular measure, but I don’t know what things are like in the Labour party, and if they feel the need for such measures, then it’s not my place to comment. I don’t intend to tread that ground again either, but rather share a bit of good news.

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, I am a candidate for the next Westminster election. I was selected back in September 2007 for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East. But what many people won’t yet know is that I am expecting a baby in a few months.

Naturally, I was slightly apprehensive about telling people in my local constituency, because I didn’t want them to think that my commitment to the election campaign has lessened any. Don’t get me wrong – I knew people would be happy for me and Jamie on a personal level, but thought that they may have some concerns about my capacity to campaign as the bump grew. I’m also aware that Catherine Stihler was being criticised on the doorsteps for being pregnant - as a deliberate tactic to undermine her candidacy - by a certain political party (not mine!) in the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election. So I was aware of general prejudice out there I suppose, and the possibility of our political opponents locally utilising such tactics.

I shouldn’t have worried. Everyone in the local SNP and wider party is delighted for us, and as far as they are concerned, it isn’t an issue. I also found out that one of our local councillors was pregnant when she stood for the council. She said that canvassing was great, because everybody asked her in for a cup of tea and a sit down! I have been told not to overdo things, to avoid stairwells, and not to feel under pressure to do more than I feel up to just because I’m the candidate.

Interestingly, a handful of people have asked me if I intend to continue as a candidate now that I’m pregnant – but none of those people are involved in politics. Nobody in the SNP has asked me that question. So perhaps some people will look at me out campaigning and disapprove, but I’ve not had any negative reactions on the doorsteps so far.

I just wanted to share my experience and point out that women do not always get a raw deal in politics. I have never experienced any prejudice in the SNP because of my gender (or for any other reason), and I know that the expectation of prejudice is one common reason that women don’t put themselves forward for election. And now, as a pregnant youngish woman standing for parliament, I feel 100% supported by my party – nationally and locally.

And my commitment to the campaign? Well, now that I have my very own little member of the next generation on the way, my resolve to help make Scotland a better place to live is stronger than ever.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The cost of politics

As a political activist, I have had been on the receiving end of many an insult (and even some threats) over the years. Ranging from the drunk man who approached me in Dundee city centre, asking me if I wanted ‘a punch in the face’, to the woman in Perth who shouted at me ‘you people should be shot’. There was the man in Livingston who told me he would like to take me ‘round the corner’ and do some unspeakable things to me... and then the young man in Glasgow who grabbed my leaflets, and then told Jamie (who came to my assistance) that he would leave him ‘in a pool of blood’. Then there is my personal favourite – the man who strode towards me, and informed me: ‘I wouldn’t p*** on Alex Salmond if he was on fire’. I must say, if I saw Alex Salmond in said state, it wouldn’t be my first instinct to relief myself on him either!

So what is the point of this stroll through memory lane? No, it’s not to panic my mum.

The point is, my experience of being involved in politics is a mixed one. On the one hand, I get a huge amount of personal satisfaction by working towards something that I feel passionately about, I have made a number of very good friends through the SNP, I met my husband through the SNP, and through campaigning I get to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t. On the other, I spend pretty much all of what should be my spare time on politics, which means I don’t get to see my family and friends nearly as much as I would like, it costs a pretty penny (all that travel to various by-elections, stamps, envelopes, SNP raffles, etc), I manage to wreck my gloves on rusty gates each winter and politics can be a very frustrating business.

There are times, such as now, that being involved in politics is particularly frustrating. The whole saga regarding MPs’ expenses has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths – and mine is no exception. There is no excuse for spending taxpayers’ money like water – recession or no recession. While it is clear that not all MPs have abused the system, many have taken advantage and a few have clearly cheated the system. I just can’t comprehend how anyone could square these claims with their conscience.

And it’s not just the money. What also worries me is the mindset of these MPs, and just how detached from reality some of them seem to be. If the rest of us want something, we have to pay for it ourselves. It really must be easier to spend other people’s money...

What will be the legacy of this whole affair? Will it put some people off getting involved in politics and standing for election? Will it turn some people off politics and voting altogether? I think it will.

As a candidate myself, I find it more difficult than I would as an activist to talk to people on the doorsteps about this issue. As somebody standing to become an MP at the next election, I am aware that some people will now be thinking, ‘Is she for real, or is she just in it for the money...’

And what can I say to people? ‘I’m honest. I wouldn’t claim these expenses.’

Why should people believe me? Would I believe me?

I don’t blame people for being cynical at all, and only hope that I am given the opportunity to prove myself.

As for MPs’ expenses, they need to scrap the whole system and only allow for the minimum of expenses. In my current job, I have to travel down to London and I naturally incur additional expenses as a result, for which I am reimbursed. I can claim for my train fare (with a receipt), lunch and dinner (up to £12 with a receipt) and overnight accommodation (with a receipt). Not a bad system.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Presidential Visit Today

I was out on the campaign trail with SNP President (and number 1 on the SNP’s list of candidates for the European Parliament election) Ian Hudghton today in Lennoxtown. Ian was visiting the area as part of the European Parliament election, which takes place on 4th June 2009. Also in the photo is Cllr David Key and my other half, Jamie. It doesn't quite show in the photo, but it was a lovely sunny day!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Back to Blogging!

After a short and unintentional break from blogging, I intend to get back in the swing of things. I've been under the weather recently, and didn't have the energy to put thoughts into words - and I've missed the chance to comment on some juicy stuff.

Some things never change though - Labour politicians are still more interested in their own affairs than what's going on in the real world. Am I the only one fed up of constant reports about who may or may not challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership? I hope I'm not the only one.

My main focus at the moment is on campaigning for the European elections in June. I spent a good chunk of the day delivering leaflets in the rain - don't you just love public holidays! I'm looking forward to work tomorrow, not least because I will be warm and dry and sat down at my desk. My boss is great, and bound to make me a cuppa too :o)

Anyway, I'm about to watch Endgame on Channel 4, so over and out for now.